Following a few intense days, first in San Francisco and later in Washington DC, I am now back in Stockholm. In Washington, the Swedish Embassy hosted the US-Swedish University Dialogue, jointly with American Public Land Grant Universities, for the second year running. Swedish participants included Vice-Chancellors and other representatives of the university administration in Gothenburg, Lund, Stockholm, Umeå and Uppsala.  It started with a well-attended alumni event in the beautiful House of Sweden, with speakers Carina Bergfeldt of SVT and UN Ambassador Olof Skoog and moderator Dag Blanck of Uppsala University, who jointly presented an informed and outspoken analysis of the current political situation in the US.

Mingling with the guests, I enjoyed speaking with an alumnus who had moved from Cameroon to Stockholm and studied business for five years, and who, following completion of a master’s degree, was now established in the USA. For him, the years at Stockholm University had been life changing – as academic studies are for many people. Alumni are fantastic ambassadors of our academic institutions, and this type of event is an excellent opportunity to cultivate and nurture our contacts with our international alumni.

An open seminar was held the following day, with American participants from university administration and research financiers as well as other interested parties – the house was full. The theme of the day was “Higher Education and Research as a Vehicle of Change in Turbulent Times – the Balancing Act of Modern Universities”.

Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, who was the main speaker, stressed that universities must address major challenges in society, and that lifelong learning is needed in this context. She also spoke of the three pillars of society – government, business and academics – arguing that the first two pillars have stopped supporting the third. Universities must, she argued, contribute to the recreation of values of both governments and business. Finally, she emphasized the need for universities to contribute to a greater extent to the public conversation in order to overcome the emerging conflicts in today’s society.

Her keynote was followed by two panels, the first on “Research as Engine for Economic Growth” (I participated and took the liberty of redefining the subject matter: first, research should not be specifically identified as engine, but rather universities as a whole, as demonstrated among others in a LERU report; and second, the discussion should not be restricted solely to economic growth – in particular in the context of the theme of the day, the universities’ contribution to the development of society in a broader sense is of interest). The other panel concerned lifelong learning, highlighting both common needs and differences between the countries.

In the afternoon, round tables on the theme “Academic Leadership in a Runaway World” were held with specially invited participants from the USA and Sweden. There were meandering discussions about education, academic leadership and collaboration, which will be summarized and distributed thanks to rapporteurs at each table.  The brief accounts held presaged a promising outcome. Finally, the day ended with a reception at the residence of Swedish Ambassador Karin Olofsson – another opportunity for more informal exchange of experiences and ideas in magnificent surroundings.