SULF’s (the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers’) new report, Ett spel för galleriet? Om anställningsprocesserna i akademin (roughly “Just for show? Recruiting processes in higher education”) highlights one of the most important issues in colleges and universities: our processes for recruiting teachers and researchers. Through investigating employment over the course of six months at three different faculties – the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University, the Faculty of Medicine at Uppsala University and the Faculty of Social Sciences at Stockholm University – it found an ongoing pattern of calls for applications that were quite short, few applicants, quick processing and jobs going to internal candidates. In other words, there could be a suspicion that a major part of the processes could be rigged to recruit certain people. You can take issues with some methods used: that the investigation draws an arbitrary line at five applicants or a three-week processing time. Regardless of these factors, the report points to the largest problem in the Swedish university system – that the recruiting processes are often focused on individuals and favour local candidates.

The report states that there are systematic differences among the three faculties included in the study. I won’t comment on them here because the principle problem is the most important. It’s easy to assent to Mats Ericson’s preface – that the results are important for quality in research and teaching, legal rights of the individual, anticorruption and public trust, and for academic mobility. One can also agree with the three proposed action steps for universities: to secure longer-term budgets as well as activity planning processes, to create routines that make it impossible to rig job announcements, and to ensure clear, transparent, and legally compliant recruiting processes in the internal quality control system itself.

When I became president of Stockholm University, I stressed that I see decisions about appointments as the most important our university makes, and our strategies affirm that our hiring processes must be open and transparent. I have repeated this a number of times since then and have also stated the need for long-term thinking and courage in our recruiting.

We have taken a number of actions in the last five years. Gunnar Svensson’s report on fixed-term hiring showed that we were at the top for the number of temporary employees. A series of actions led to a large reduction. However, the number of temporary employees seems to be growing again and the university senior management team is following up on this. The issue must be carefully watched so that the university itself doesn’t misuse the important possibility of fixed-term hiring.

Both our academic areas, human science and science, have received the charge to review their recruiting processes and routines. This has led to an increased number of academic appointments boards and that trial lectures and interviews are the rule throughout the university, among other improvements.

In 2015 we assembled statistics from our recruitments from the previous five years: appointments of associate senior lecturers, senior lecturers and professors (temporary employees not included). We went over the number who had received their doctorates from Stockholm University and those for whom Stockholm University was their last employer. (The SULF Report requires that someone must work elsewhere for two years to not be counted as an internal applicant.) Of a total of 222 new employments in Human Science Academic Area (Humanities, Law and Social Sciences), 101 had received their doctorate from Stockholm University and 87 had Stockholm University as their most recent employer. The analogous statistics in the Science Academic Area were 64 new employments, 12 with doctorates from Stockholm University and 18 with Stockholm University as their last employer. But it’s not time to celebrate yet. To leave the focus on individuals in favour of openness and transparency in the employment process is a change of culture, and change like this takes time, as is well known. Our ongoing strategic work continues to focus on recruiting. This is work that everyone with management duties at our university is part of – not least I as the president – and must continue to steadfastly pursue.