Northern transformation of society is a huge opportunity for the University

16 September 2022

Intense activity is taking place in the Norrbotten and Västerbotten counties in the north of Sweden, and it shows at Umeå University too. Umeå University has long been an important force to reckon with in the regional development of Northern Sweden but the level of interest in and expectations on the University have varied over the last decades.

The rapid ongoing transformation of society means that large investments are made in new industries, which in turn leads to a need for investments into community building and talent acquisition. At the moment, the transformation is most noticeable in Skellefteå, where the establishment of the Northvolt battery factory and the building of the culture centre Sara kulturhus takes place, which have also received attention in national and international press.

Dieter Müller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

In the latest development, focus lies particularly on talent acquisition and generation of knowledge. Commitment can be found not least in municipalities and the business sector in the north and involves all possible aspects of the transformation, including aspects far beyond industrial ones. To meet the interest in and expectations of the University, the Vice-Chancellor has given me a new assignment to work with these issues in the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

Personally, I find my new role very exciting. My background as a geography professor with an interest in regional development issues feels relevant to the assignment – as a side issue, I would just like to mention that the national coordinator of northern industrialisation, Peter Larsson, once pointed out that he wishes he had studied human geography.

I represented Umeå University already at the first meeting with the Northvolt management. This was in Skellefteå back in 2017 and I have since then participated in several meetings that, in various ways, have touched upon industrial establishment and the consequences thereof. This semester, I have already met with trade and industry in Skellefteå about provision of knowledge and I have participated in the opening of a new office for the coordination of industry establishments – an office run by the Swedish Public Employment Service.

My role does not only involve representing the University and travelling the north – even if that is also a vital part – but also mobilising a workforce at Umeå University to commit to and make use of the ongoing developments. Currently, preparatory work is underway in some large research initiatives that I am looking forward to following. Several activities take place within the University's strategic collaborations with Skellefteå municipality and Region Västerbotten that in various ways are aimed at establishing new collaborations, learning together and developing further initiatives that will benefit everyone. The transformation of society will be the theme of several university events and activities in the near future, such as Aim Day held this autumn, Kunskapsnoden during the Västerbotten weeks in Stockholm early next year, and also for a large upcoming conference.

Umeå University is already contributing to the ongoing developments by providing education and research, but this situation is still unique. The transformation Northern Sweden is currently facing is something many other regions around the world will have to face to adapt to a future with a reduced dependence on fossil fuels. But this is where the changeover takes place first. The geographical position of Umeå University allows us to study changes close by with all the associated challenges and possibilities. And the influx of exciting research topics is never ending.

To those who have read Vision for Umeå University, our commitment for the northern transformation of society comes as no surprise as the vision starts by stating: "Northern Sweden, Sápmi and the Arctic region are undergoing massive changes regarding culture, climate, health and living conditions. The geographical position of Umeå University provides us with unique opportunities to contribute new knowledge of global importance, inspired and propelled by the Sustainable Development Goals in the 2030 Agenda."

It is now time to take action and utilise these unique opportunities.

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