Management openly discussed new vision

21 January 2019

Follow the drafting of a new vision for 2020–2025. At a hearing on 17 December, discussions covered the theme of sustainability in the new vision and why the Vice-Chancellor wants to give more power to the organisation.

A first version of the new vision for Umeå University for 2020–2025 was published in Swedish with a rough English translation between on 16 January.

On 17 January, the Vice-Chancellor and the University Management held a hearing in the Teacher Education Building to present the main outlines of the vision and the underlying reasoning. The hearing was open to all students and employees.

Annakarin Nyberg, senior lecturer in informatics, led the discussions and posed questions to try to clarify the meaning of the new vision.

But first of all, Vice-Chancellor Hans Adolfsson presented his thoughts on the most important key points in the vision: the Umeå University spirit, taking responsibility for the future, joint development of future, and competitiveness and pride.

You can view a recording of the entire hearing below. The hearing was held in Swedish.

Creating a full picture from common grounds

Hans Adolfsson points out his ambition to build a vision strongly influenced by faculty and staff.

Annakarin Nyberg's first question was how the University Management has worked to safeguard the breadth and vast number of voices from all co-workers at all departments and offices.

"We've had an immense amount of responses and input, and for that we've had help to sort out and create a full picture. Following that, we've had workshops looking at all the material with the aim to paint up a joint picture ," said Hans Adolfsson.

Annakarin Nyberg goes on to ask what priorities have had to be made to boil all input down to a joint vision for the University.

"Priorities are necessary. But what we've done isn't quite that. Instead, we've tried to find common grounds and what can characterise us as a whole," said Hans Adolfsson.

The Umeå University spirit – a unique strength

The new vision starts by describing the spirit at Umeå University as the vision reads: "The closeness fosters a dynamic and open culture. We find pleasure in the success of others. We call it the Umeå University spirit."

The hearing also showed a pre-recorded video where members of staff and students presented their own impressions of the Umeå University spirit. Vice-Chancellor Hans Adolfsson was asked to describe his opinion of this spirit:

"It's how we relate to each other in our everyday work," suggested Hans Adolfsson. "Distances are very short and cross-border collaborations close at hand. This is a strength that not all universities possess."

The wide span of sustainability

The next keyword on the agenda was sustainability. To discuss this, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Katrine Riklund, deputy vice-chancellors Heidi Hansson and Dieter Müller and Deputy University Director Per Ragnarsson were invited onto the stage.

Katrine Riklund was asked to pinpoint what the key elements for our future work on sustainability would be.

"Sustainability is huge and most aspects can be either sustainable or unsustainable. We live in a time where many facets of society are unsustainable, and that is not acceptable. This can't go on. The sustainability that we suggest in a vision must naturally cover all aspects of sustainability." She continued: "We must have a sustainable environment and act in a sustainable fashion, and we must conduct sustainable research and education. Focus does not just rest on financial sustainability."

Annakarin Nyberg asked the Management to develop on the top priorities in all of this sustainability work.

"No priorities need to be made in a vision. The vision is supposed to be a very all-embracing document. However, when it boils down to setting up strategies and activity plans, we need to start making priorities, of course," suggested Katrine Riklund.

Hans Adolfsson added:
"Interestingly, if you look at the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development established by the UN, the University runs an organisation that ties into all 17 goals."

Dieter Müller established that the focus on sustainability needs to play a greater part in researchers' choice of subjects to study and questions to pose:
"I hope that people will start reflecting on: 'Why are our doings important in accomplishing these sustainable development goals?' That could also be a guideline in identifying relevant topics to study and make sure they come into use in society."

Travels and our international responsibility

Deputy University Director and budget director Per Ragnarsson was asked if our sustainable focus means that members of staff need to stop flying to conferences in favour of the train:
"Environmental issues are an important part of sustainability, but it is also a wider concept. Due to our geographical location, it is natural that we travel more than other Swedish universities. One solution is to further develop the opportunities for digital meetings. We've only just started, really," said Per Ragnarsson. "But at the same time, face-to-face meetings are important too. So, I don't suggest we stop all travels. It is of critical importance for our visibility to venture at the scene where decision-making takes place, in person. And sometimes, taking the train just isn't suitable."

Heidi Hansson was asked what a sustainable focus may mean for the university's teaching and education:
"One of these sustainable development goals is 'access to life-long learning for all', and that's a sustainable issue not least for our region. It's revolves around skills enhancement and creating a future for the north of Sweden. Another part is the equality aspect, which also is an important issue of sustainability," said Heidi Hansson. "Then there is the question: 'What is our international responsibility in these questions?' To international students, we need to convey the social sustainability perspectives specific to Sweden."

More governance to departments and individuals

Annakarin Nyberg asks Hans Adolfsson to develop on some comments in a preparatory conversation they had prior to the hearing in which he said that the power will now be reverted from the Management out to the organisation. What has caused the need for this change?

"I want to see a more long-term perspective on our leadership and governance, and hence an increased trust in knowing that all faculty and staff, both at departments and administrative offices, are best capable of carving out the priorities and investments necessary. And they must be given that freedom. We all know what to deliver, what overall objectives we have," said Hans Adolfsson.

Heidi Hansson, Katrine Riklund and Dieter Müller added to the discussion that such a shift in power also involves a greater responsibility for departments, offices and other units to pinpoint a direction, gain the support for and propel the own development without necessarily basing it all on management decision.

Questions by the audience

The hearing was rounded up by three questions to the University Management by members of the audience. Those revolved around: utilisation and commercialisation, strategies to improve the Umeå University profile internationally and how to facilitate students' transition from students to workers.

This was just a starter before the big test beginning on 28 January when the proposed vision will be sent out for consideration and comments to the organisation and the unions.

Hearing from 17 January in full (in Swedish)

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