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Inauguration of the Vice-Chancellor

On September 8th professor Eva Wiberg was inaugurated as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg.

The ceremony was held in the university's main bulidning, Vasaparken.

Eva Wiberg's Inauguration Speech

State Secretary

Colleagues and students

Ladies and gentlemen

You have probably heard that behind every successful man, there is a strong woman. Behind me, I have always had two warm-hearted and supportive parents. We don’t choose our parents, but they are the ones who shape our first years of life. My dad was an archaeologist and his work brought us to Rome, where he headed the Swedish Institute. The Institute is a remarkable place. No place for children, really. But for me, this bubbling academic melting pot became the natural environment of my childhood.

Science and art merged at the Institute, yielding a vibrant forum for education and growth. It attracted, and continues to attract, scholars, researchers and students, from Sweden and elsewhere. They converged in Rome to share ideas. I was a privileged child in many ways. But my childhood formed me as a person and created in particular my need for, and desire to be part of, the intellectual meeting, the multifaceted dialogue and reflection. The very things that ought to characterise a university.

When I was a very young girl in Rome, I met Professor Axel Boëthius, the first director of the Swedish Institute. What I didn’t know, as a kid in the early 1960s, was that he had served as rector of Gothenburg University College for five years. As I accept the Vice-Chancellor’s chain for the University of Gothenburg today, more than half a century later, l feel both pride and joy. I have finally come full circle.
What I will bring with me of this to my work as Vice-Chancellor is the experience of the synergies that may arise between history, science and international platforms.

Time is nothing, wrote Swedish author and multi-talent Hans Alfredson. Thus, after a stopover of nearly 30 years in Lund (with occasional visits to Italy), the step from ancient Rome to present-day Gothenburg does not feel very long. As a professor of Italian, I have in fact done research on time references in language learning.

The University of Gothenburg is Sweden’s third oldest university. It has its roots in Gothenburg University College from 1891 and has since its inception been firmly grounded in the city of Gothenburg and the region. But the fact is that already in 1864, 27 years prior to the founding of Gothenburg University College, the idea of a free academy in Gothenburg was presented in an article in Göteborgs Handels-och Sjöfartstidning.

Gothenburg University College offered public lectures from the very beginning – a feature that remained unique among Swedish higher education institutions for a long time. The University of Gothenburg sees it as important today as it was back in those days to be open to the outside world. At present, the University offers a wide range of public lectures around the city, and every year we co-host the International Science Festival in Gothenburg. Continuously throughout the year, the study programmes in the arts arrange performances and exhibitions, and University researchers frequently serve as experts in the media.
The openness to the surrounding society is also manifested in the large number of research projects and innovation programmes carried out with businesses, the public sector and other actors in society.

If we for a moment return to Gothenburg University College, it consisted of what we today call the ‘philosophical faculties’ – those engaged in the humanities, social sciences and partly the natural sciences. Gothenburg Medical School was established in 1949, and in 1954 when it merged with the Gothenburg University College, the new entity gained official university status as the third university in Sweden.

The University of Gothenburg is the first university in the country to grow not only organically but also by adding previously stand-alone institutions. In this way, the University of Gothenburg has grown to become one of the country’s largest and most diverse higher education institutions.

In 1891, the first seven professors taught the first 22 students. Today, the University has over 6 000 employees and almost 38 000 students. We have eight faculties and 39 departments.

In other words, it is a university rich in terms of both tradition and knowledge that I, together with all of my colleagues, will have the great honour to lead and develop further. It is also with great humility I take over the baton from my predecessor Pam Fredman. In her 11 years as Vice-Chancellor, she has made invaluable contributions in the work to unite and put the University of Gothenburg on the map.

Pam has also been a tremendous asset in the work to highlight the importance of higher education institutions for social development, in particular as chair of the Association of Swedish Higher Education. She has successfully helped draw attention to the demands and wishes of the higher education sector at the political level. Fuelled by a seemingly inexhaustible stream of positive energy, she has never missed an opportunity to address and pursue key issues.

’Tra:dita inno’va:re inno’va:ta ’tradere. This is the University of Gothenburg’s motto in Latin. To renew what has been passed on and pass it on renewed.

Let’s think of it as a three-stage rocket. In the first stage, you pick up where your predecessor left off. In the second stage, you let your own visions shape the development, and in the third stage you hand it all over to the next generation.

So what’s the University’s role today? There may of course be a wide variety of opinions regarding what the University’s most important task is. It all depends on whom you ask. The politicians want innovations that will lead to increased growth and a higher standard of living. Employers want new skills and effective employees. Society in general wants functional and responsible citizens. So how should we deal with all of this as a university?

The University’s main task is to create, update and disseminate knowledge. We must equip students and researchers with skills so that they can pass on the knowledge and help ensure it is utilised by society to yield a practical benefit. But we have other important responsibilities as well.

In an era in where facts and scientific findings are increasingly challenged, we as a university must do everything we can to resist this negative development. We do this best by giving our students the tools needed to analyse, understand and operate in an increasingly complex digital world. This is about more than just pure factual knowledge. They also need something that goes much deeper, what we in Sweden call bildning.

Bildning is not a subject area or discipline in a conventional sense. It is a continuous life-long process. Bildning is a responsibility shared by the entire educational system. It’s about motivating people to learn more, not just about specific subject areas, but about everything that belongs to the different parts of life, not least in the arts and humanities.

Bildning is about growth. You never regret growing and learning, you never regret the books you have read, the music you have listed to, the lectures you have attended. They add irreplaceable value to your life.

Arriving at the University as a new Vice-Chancellor is a great challenge, but I feel very fortunate as there are great assets to continue building on along with an active vision to guide the work. Let me mention a few of the assets:

The research evaluation RED10 gives a good overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the University’s research. It has led to a series of strategic decisions. And now a follow-up evaluation is being planned: RED 19.

The quality assurance work in education has come a long way and is something I know is inspiring other universities. We just decided on a new quality policy that will advance the work even further. Together with RED 19, the new quality policy will make us well prepared for the quality assessments that the Swedish Higher Education Authority will carry out in the next few years.

• The University features strong interdisciplinary research and education, both internally and externally. I would in particular like to mention UGOT Challenges, which is a unique University initiative aimed to help solve the big global challenges.

We take social responsibility. In addition to UGOT, I would like to especially mention the University’s strong commitment to inclusion of newly arrived refugees. The University is also taking a particularly great responsibility within the framework of the Swedish government’s initiative to promote gender equality in academia. These are just a few examples of everything we do that our vision prescribes: contributing to a better future.

In order to achieve the highest quality in our research, education and outreach activities, I want to bring attention to the following key factors:

A welcoming and inclusive University relies on a good work environment. Staff and students should feel comfortable and should believe they can grow. Consequently, gender equality and diversity are prerequisites for excellence in education and research – in fact in everything we do.

I have always felt strongly that we must focus on the students. Without you students, no university. You students are our future and tomorrow’s decision makers. You are our best critics. You give us other perspectives. I therefore see student influence as a prioritised issue. Thus, from now on, the students will also be represented in the University’s management team.

Professional management is a prerequisite for a good work environment and successful operations. You can’t get people engaged in change processes unless you can get them to trust and support what is being done. It is in this context important that our collegiate bodies work well together with the equally necessary line management.

In order to fulfil our mission, both the basic research and the strategic applied research must be given opportunities to develop. This is important not least for the University’s ability to help solve the global challenges.

The University’s education has a dual task. On the one hand, we must meet society’s needs for knowledge and skills. On the other, we must safeguard people’s opportunities to seek knowledge freely. It must be possible to study subjects that don’t primarily lead to a certain occupation.

Collaboration with other actors in society is an increasingly important success factor. The pressure to integrate well-developed strategic collaboration into research and education is becoming increasingly clear, from both the Swedish government and the European Union. Outreach and collaboration must be promoted both within and outside the University, with business and other actors in society in order to build new knowledge and disseminate it for the benefit of society.

The University's internationalisation work is an area with great potential for development. This is an area I have worked very intensively with both in Lund and internationally, and I hope my experiences will help advance the University’s positions even further.

We will participate in the higher education policy debate. A lot is currently going on at the political level, and many government inquiries are in the pipeline. It is important that we take part in discussions on issues that will affect our sector in the future. We must do this both internally and with external colleagues. It is also important to have an open dialogue with both the national Cabinet and relevant parliamentary committees.

Let’s work for the long term. Political wills often have a tendency to result in abrupt changes for the universities. Organisational changes, academic priorities and economic directions may offer some temporary excitement, but in many cases turn out to be fads that end up disappearing as quickly as they emerged. The University’s work and development must be based on solid decisions and we shouldn’t be forced into hasty interventions that may be difficult, if even possible, to remediate.

As I said earlier, it is with great pride and joy I take on the task of leading and developing the University of Gothenburg in the next six years. Although I will be the person ultimately responsible to our Board and the government for the University’s operations, I want to stress that this is very much going to be a team effort. By my side, I have Mattias Goksör, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and physicist. Throughout the organisation are all the staff members who together with us in the leadership group will make the University of Gothenburg an even stronger and more renowned university, nationally and internationally.

Thus, I hope to one day be able to look back at my time as a link in the University’s chain with even greater pride and joy than when I arrived. I hope to conclude that I honoured the University’s motto: ’Tra:dita inno’va:re inno’va:ta ’tra:dere. To renew what has been passed on and pass it on renewed.

Thank you!

Eva Wiberg, rektor Göteborgs universitet
Page Manager: hogtider@gu.se|Last update: 5/16/2019
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Print date: 2019-09-17

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