01 June 2017

Professor emeritus Ingemar Ingemarsson is behind much of the pioneering work in the development of education in graduate engineering in Sweden. But development must never be allowed to stop, and this is why he has established the Ingemar Ingemarsson Prize, a substantial amount of money to reward talented and committed teachers active anywhere at Linköping University.

Ingemar IngemarssonIngemar Ingemarsson, professor emeritus, Photo Anna Nilsen“You can learn anything, as long as you believe you can. You have to get through the ‘I can’t manage it’ barrier.” These are the words of Ingemar Ingemarsson, professor emeritus at Linköping University and even now, 14 years after retiring, just as obsessed with learning and teaching as ever. He still experiences true delight when he sees that a student has reached insight in a question.

The intensity of his passion leads him to help out with maths homework at an upper secondary school (Birgittaskolan) one evening a week. It has also led him to establish Sweden’s largest prize for talented and committed teachers, active at Linköping University. And we’re not talking about small change here. He has donated shares in Sectra AB, a company that he founded together with others, worth nearly SEK 18 million. The dividend from these shares is to be mainly used for a prize awarded to “a person who is making, or who has made, a major contribution to education and its development at Linköping University, with a lasting effect on student learning,” as it says in the foundation deed.

The teachers, their commitment, their knowledge, their interest in the students and in developing the courses are all crucial in the work of the university.

Few prizes for teachers

“There are so many prizes, but few of them are intended to reward teachers. The status of the profession has fallen since the 1970s, and it is now high time for us to increase interest in the role of the teacher. The most important thing that a university does is to educate people, and teachers who stimulate others to learn are worthy of all the encouragement we can give them,” he says.

He gives a particularly relevant example: hearing aids. He uses a hearing aid himself, and the one in his ear was invented by a student at the Department of Electrical Engineering, where Ingemar Ingemarsson himself was professor and head of department. He founded Sectra AB together with three students in 1978. The share capital at the time was SEK 5,000, so the four initial shareholders each put in SEK 1,250.

“At the time, we had no idea of how the company would develop. Sectra AB today has more than 600 employees, largely due to the skills that students develop at Linköping University. Who else can take credit for this, if not the teachers?” he asks.

Problem-based learning

Ingemar IngemarssonIngemar Ingemarsson, professor emeritus  Photo: Anna NilsenHis own interest in teaching arose during his military service in the navy, when he was given a posting as teacher, being already at the time a skilled telecommunications engineer. He took a degree in engineering at Chalmers University of Technology and a doctorate at the Royal Institute of Technology. He was, however, then attracted to the newly founded technical university on the plain of Östergötland.

“Neither my wife or I had been to Linköping before we moved here for me to begin teaching in 1971. My wife subsequently became a teacher at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. The university was quite small when I arrived, and I knew most of the teachers. It’s great to have been here right from the beginning,” he says.

When his wife Margareta took teacher training in nursing, she came into contact with problem-based learning, PBL.

“We discussed this a great deal at home over the dinner table. I was sceptical. I suppose I thought it all sounded very waffly, but it also aroused my curiosity. Education in technical subjects at the time suffered from deficiencies, and this led me to giving it a try.”

And that’s how it all happened. Ingemar and Margareta Ingemarsson held hundreds of lectures about problem-based learning all over Sweden.

Founded the new IT programme

This was a time when the Swedish government provided money for the renewal of education in engineering, and Ingemar Ingemarsson was commissioned by the government for a project entitled “NyIng”.

“There was a desire and an interest in reforming Swedish education.”

In 1993 the government provided new money to encourage young women to study technology, particularly computer technology. Ingemar Ingemarsson asked several colleagues, including Viveke Fåk and Helen Dannetun (who is now vice-chancellor of Linköping University), to get involved in developing new courses in computer technology. The result was the IT programme, started at LiTH in the autumn of 1995. The programme was initially a success, with 35% of applications coming from women.

“We celebrated the 20th anniversary two years ago, and concluded that the fraction of women taking programmes in computer science is now significantly lower. I just don’t understand why: there’s nothing in the courses themselves to frighten them away,” he sighs.

In the 1990s, LiTH, Chalmers University of Technology, the Royal Institute of Technology and MIT in Boston started a joint project to renew engineering education. The idea was to make the courses more project-oriented, and adapted to the day-to-day reality of graduate engineers. The Wallenberg Foundation was the principal source of funds and the result was the CDIO initiative (Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate). Participants from LiTH included Mille Millnert and Ingemar Ingemarsson.

The aim was, and remains today, to give students a comprehensive overview of the engineering profession. CDIO courses are now given in most of the engineering programmes at LiU and are extremely popular.
Ingemar IngemarssonIngemar Ingemarsson, professor emeritus, Photo Anna Nilsen
In 2000 Ingemar Ingemarsson was appointed principal secretary of the Council for the Renewal of Higher Education, tasked with developing and improving education. This body has since been dissolved.

Foundation for renewal of education

Just over 10 years ago, Ingemar and his wife Margareta established a foundation for the renewal of education. This foundation uses the return from investments, and teachers at all levels within the Swedish schools system can apply for grants. The projects funded are to develop and renew education, and grants are awarded every other year.

“These awards are most often given to the younger levels of school education, and in the most recent round of funding in 2016 the theme was ‘Teachers are leaders’. A total of more than SEK 500,000 was distributed to six projects.”

He is, however, not satisfied. Teachers at universities and university colleges also need encouragement and so he is now offering a prize, a really impressive prize, for such teachers.

“Linköping University is to be pioneer and role model also when it comes to rewarding skilled teachers. The teachers at a university are just as important as the researchers,” he says.

The exact sum to be awarded each year is unclear. It depends on how well the bank does its job of managing the shares.

“I hope that it will be approximately one year’s salary, so that teachers are given the same opportunity that many researchers have to take a sabbatical, and possibly spend time at a university abroad. There are no requirements associated with the prize, but I would like to see the money used for betterment.”

The Ingemar Prize

The Ingemar Ingemarsson Prize is to be awarded once a year, preferably during the academic celebration in which new doctors are promoted and professors installed. Anyone may nominate candidates, and a prize committee will subsequently review these and select the best ones. The prize winner will finally be decided by the board of the foundation, which currently comprises LiU professors Mille Millnert, Kajsa Ellegård and Mats Hammar.

“These are exactly the right people for the board,” says Ingemar Ingemarsson, who is truly looking forward to meeting the talented teachers awarded the Ingemar Ingemarsson Prize, unique to LiU and the largest individual teaching prize in Sweden.

The Ingemar Prize

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