Rektors installationstal. Foto: Eva Dalin

“I am taking over an exceptionally well-functioning university,” said Astrid Söderbergh Widding during the introduction of her inaugural address, in the presence of nearly 500 members of staff in Aula Magna on 20 February.

Astrid Söderbergh Widding used the year 1878 as a point of departure.

“This was the year when Stockholm University College was founded as a radical alternative to the traditional universities – a modern university with the goal of serving society. The openness and community involvement that characterised Stockholm University College at the start are just as characteristic of Stockholm University today.”

Clear basic research profile

“The University should be an independent actor in society, free of political micromanagement, free of narrow profit requirements. Our academic freedom should never be jeopardised. The primary task of teachers and researchers is to think freely, to think critically, and to innovate,” said Astrid Söderbergh Widding.

According to Astrid Söderbergh Widding, basic research is Stockholm University’s greatest strength, the core of our operation, which we must continue to both protect and develop. With 64,000 students, Stockholm University is Sweden’s largest university. Many students go through full programmes, but many also take individual courses at Stockholm University of out pure interest. These students should not be underestimated, she emphasized.

Lecturers should do research

Astrid Söderbergh Widding said that she wants get the University out of the deadlock caused by the government’s allocation of funds into two separate pots, one to education and one to research which cannot be transferred between activities.

“This is at odds with the autonomy reform and is a typical bureaucratic construction, decided upon far away from the actual activities. Higher education and research go hand in hand. They are communicating vessels and should be allowed to operate as such.”

Astrid Söderbergh Widding also emphasized that a divide, where teachers are sometimes seen as a kind of “B team” to the researchers’ “A team” is fatal to the University.

“The most prominent professors should also be involved in first-cycle education. Lecturers should also do research.”

The importance of recruiting strong candidates

According to the University’s new Vice-Chancellor, recruitment is the single most important issue going forward. Announcements should go out openly and internationally, and the University needs to work even more actively to recruit strong candidates. Clear career paths for young researchers are also needed.

New strategic partnership provides SEK 100 million

The new Vice-Chancellor also has strategic partnerships very much at hart. Astrid Söderbergh Widding emphasized that the concept is broader than fundraising. It is a long-term process that is more about building stable relationships with partners outside of academia. The University has a written platform for this work, which speaks of what Stockholm University stands for. Within this framework it will then be possible to pursue individual projects. For this work with strategic partnerships she has appointed Johan Kleman as Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor, which is a new title at Stockholm University.

Astrid Söderbergh Widding also announced a concrete result within this area. The foundation Baltic Sea 2020 has decided to fund the newly established Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre. The funding comprises SEK 100 million over five years.

More collaboration

Astrid Söderbergh Widding also addressed the issue of internationalisation. This process must be research-driven and motivated by the needs of our research and existing research collaborations – but it must also be driven by management.

Astrid Söderbergh Widding concluded with commenting on the University’s collaboration with KI and KTH and the vision of a merger into one single university. The vision has currently been put on ice, but the active dialogue between the three universities will continue, and collaboration on concrete issues related to education and research will continue.

Questions and mingling

After the speech, there was a question and answer session. Ken Benson, professor of Spanish, asked about the new Vice-Chancellor’s views on the teaching of foreign languages other than English.

Astrid Söderbergh Widding answered that Stockholm University, unlike many other universities, has no plans to reduce the number of taught languages.

“As the capital university, we have a particular responsibility to ensure that there is education in many languages,” said Astrid Söderbergh Widding.

Ebba Ringborg, Vice President of Stockholm University Student Union, wondered how Astrid Söderbergh Widding sees the criticism that the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education has directed against the quality of some courses.

“This indicates that there may be problems with the theses and we are working on these issues,” said the Vice-Chancellor, adding that it is also important to extend this work to look at how exams work in general.

There were also questions about Astrid Söderbergh Widding’s views on applied research, the University’s practical work with internationalisation, and distance learning.

After the question and answer session there was mingling in the Galleriet in Aula Magna and there was also an opportunity to continue to mingle and ask questions to the Vice-Chancellor at the Faculty Club during the evening.