The end of this week marks the end of the first year of the Perspectives conference and event series, a new annual series that explores various current topics. This year the theme has been 'societal transformation in the North'. The final conference brings together around 150 people from academia, business, government, and civil society. Together we discuss some of the challenges linked to the ongoing industrialisation and, not least, the role of academia in addressing them.
The idea of a conference and event series can be traced back to various roots. In principle, the campus should be a place where people meet and where science is at the centre. This realisation has been particularly strong after the pandemic, which meant that the physical meeting places disappeared. Perspectives has therefore been seen as an opportunity to contribute to the academic public dialogue at the university. In this context, it has been particularly important to organise multidisciplinary events that not only make use of the breadth that actually exists at the university, but also show that it is possible to see challenges from different perspectives and thus counteract simplified notions of scientific knowledge.
With Perspectives, Umeå University also wanted to invite representatives of different societal interests to participate in the debate. In many parts of the world, science has no obvious and independent role in society. Even in Sweden, some stakeholders have a functionalist view of universities as suppliers of trained labour. Encourage dialogue and debate at the university is also a step towards counteracting this type of tendency. It is also in line with a commitment to open science and public participation.
Another reason for organising Perspectives is, of course, to spread the knowledge produced by university researchers. As a higher education institution in the north, it is not always easy to draw attention to the expertise found and built up at universities. Emphasising a theme for a year has been a way of establishing the image of a university that is knowledgeable and committed to issues relating to societal transformation in the north, and of ensuring that researchers have a place to pass on their knowledge. The large grant from the Riksbankens jubileumsfond that Rikard Eriksson, Department of Geography, received at the beginning of the year has been a grateful starting point in this context, and in particular Rikard himself has become a sought-after speaker at various conferences even beyond Perspectives.
Has Perspectives otherwise worked as intended? It is of course very difficult to answer this question. However, it can be said that we managed to organise a number of highly appreciated seminars, on site and in cyberspace, and podcasts. It is also pleasing that the university succeeded in reaching out with the conference series outside the university and attracted many participants from industry and society. It gives you a taste for more and shows the importance of the university taking place and providing perspectives. At the same time, I hope to see more staff and students finding their way to our own events. The future will show how we can be better at this.