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More applicants and new programmes - but also teacher shortages and website issues

This and much more was discussed at a network meeting for biology educators in Sweden on February 10-11.

Ten Swedish universities that offer degrees in biology participated: the universities of Gothenburg, Linköping, Lund, Stockholm, Uppsala and Umeå, the University of Agriculture and the universities of Gävle, Halmstad and Skövde. But in total there are as many as fourteen universities with biology education in the country, so four were not present at the meeting (universities in Karlstad and Örebro, Linnaeus University and Kristianstad University). Still about forty people who participated. The meeting was digital and led by Jep Agrell and Lotta Persmark from the Department of Biology in Lund.


Revised and new programs

The longest session was a review of what the education looks like at the different universities and what has happened since the last meeting two years ago. All the large higher education institutions offer at least one Bachelor's programme with a broad biological and/or molecular focus, while the smaller higher education institutions generally have more niched programmes, for example towards nature conservation or biomedicine.

In many places, work is underway to revise existing programmes. In Stockholm, we have created two different study paths within the Bachelor's programme in biology, and both Lund and Gothenburg are revising their basic blocks in the Bachelor's programmes. Some examples of new programmes are  Linköping who started a new Bachelor's programme in Animal Psychology from autumn 2021, SLU will start the English-taught Bachelor's programme Forest and landscape in autumn 2022 and Uppsala is starting a new interdisciplinary Master's programme in Biophysics, also autumn 2022. The Environmental science programme in Uppsala, on the other hand, has been paused (or possibly terminated).

Anyone looking for more information online about the country's biology programmes will soon notice that many universities are in the process of redesigning their websites, something that causes a lot of work and a lot of irritation, we were told.


Plenty of students, few teachers

Happily, many higher education institutions are reporting increased numbers of applicants. The pandemic has not led to as large a drop in paid students as feared. The supply of students is in other words good and in some places it has caused a marked increase in the teachers' workload. Several higher education institutions are also concerned about impending retirements and that it may be difficult to recruit new teachers with the right skills (for teaching).


Important exchange of experience

The network meeting lasted for two half days and there was plenty of time for group discussions where routines were compared and experiences exchanged. Among other things, alumni surveys, recording of lectures, labor market connections, prerequisites for KPU, admission to late start of programmes, various models for distribution of money and internal quality assurance systems were discussed. The problems are largely the same in different places, but they are often solved in different ways.


Next meeting

In two years, it's time for the next big network meeting and the meeting ended with a discussion about the format: physical, digital or both? Advantages and disadvantages of digital meetings were ventilated and no agreement was probably reached. In any case, the participants from Stockholm agreed that pure information works decently on Zoom, but the most valuable thing about the network meetings - which have now been going on for 35 years! - is the personal contact with colleagues in other places. Nothing can replace the small talk and the informal company at a physical meeting!

Brick building against a blue sky.
The Biology building at Lund University. Photo: Jep Agrell.