“The basic personality of the two roles is the same, but being a dean is lonely. I had a good deanery and office around me, but, at the end of the day, the only person making the decisions is you. As deputy vice-chancellor, I’ll be working as part of the university management, so it’ll probably involve more teamwork – and I really like the sound of that. You’re part of a clearly defined group that creates clear conditions that allow the university to develop and take new steps forward.”
You could call Karin Axelsson a product of LiU. She studied Systems Analysis here between 1988 and 1991, and later did a PhD in Information Systems Development. She has worked as a director of graduate studies, deputy head of department, manager for a centre, programme co-ordinator, pro-dean and, during the last four years, dean for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
New programmes – with a Linköping twist
A lot has happened in the last four years. Programmes have been scrapped and new ones started.
“Getting rid of programmes is never fun, and it’s always a sensitive subject at the time. But it’s about prioritising – what should we do if too few are applying to our programmes?” asks Karin Axelsson rhetorically.
Among the new programmes that have been developed under Karin Axelsson’s leadership is the bachelors programme in Global Studies, a programme that attracted many applicants when it started in the autumn of 2021. The programme is available at other universities, but this one has a Linköping twist.
“Attracting more students is an important, wide-reaching issue for LiU”, says Karin Axelsson. “And you can’t just do it with better brochures. You also need new, attractive programmes and courses. This is something I’m hoping to work on with in my new job as deputy vice-chancellor.”
“Linköping University has always been good at interdisciplinary work – it’s something of a trademark for us, both on our programmes and in our research. But you can’t rest on your laurels. You’ve got to be developing constantly. And this isn’t something that should only happen at the faculty level – you have to drive it from the top”, says Karin Axelsson.
“What I bring to the role of deputy vice-chancellor is the ability to show what the humanities and social sciences can contribute to programmes outside of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. I want to show people that they’re not just an afterthought. They are about understanding how people, political systems, societal structures and historical processes work. A multi-faculty university like LiU has the potential to use interdisciplinary studies to strengthen itself, both between faculties and institutions as well as between programmes and research.”
Leaving a life of research and education to take on the role of dean, and now deputy vice-chancellor, is a big step in a new direction.
“But I haven’t let go of my research, not completely”, Karin Axelsson admits. “I’ve written a few articles every year, been a co-supervisor for PhD students and been consulted as an expert. But I mostly do this kind of thing for fun.”
Becoming deputy vice-chancellor could be seen as yet another step away from the world of research. Did you have a long hard think before accepting the offer?
“I was delighted to be offered the role, naturally. I was both pleased and honoured. I think it was my self-characterisation as an ‘enterprising team leader who’s not afraid to take decisions’ that clinched it in the end. I’m willing to take decisions, but also prefer to work together with others – it’s always better together. What’s more, I can contribute with my perspective from the faculty. And my specialist background in information systems, with a good eye for digitalisation and organisational change, probably helps.”
Karin Axelsson is beginning her role as deputy vice-chancellor in the new year. How does one prepare oneself for this role?
“One of the main tasks is to hand over my current role to my successor, Ulf Melin. When starting in a new role, you’re always thinking about it. When I took over as faculty dean, I made a habit of writing down questions, thoughts and observations, just as kind of key words. It almost became like a manifesto in the end, and it was really useful for me. I’ve started with a new list just like that now.
- Name: Karin Axelsson
- Age: 53
- Family: Husband and three adult children
- Lives: In Linköping
- Spends free time: Preferably at my country place in Svartmåla. I also read books and exercise now and then
- Listens to: Swedish singer and songwriter Lars Winnerbäck and history podcasts
- Likes to watch: Sport, both live and on TV
- Currently reading: Donna Leone’s book About Face, about the venetian police superintendent Brunetti.
- New role: Deputy vice-chancellor at Linköping University, 2022–2024
Translated by Benjamin Davies