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Minister urged to increase contact hours

Helene Hellmark Knutsson at CMIV. Camilla Georgsson to the right.Helene Hellmark Knutsson, Swedish minister for higher education and research, visited LiU on Friday. The previous day, a student union at LiU had published an opinion piece on its most important issue: when will the students get more contact hours?

At a lunch at the University Club, the students – through their student union chairperson – got a little contact time with the minister.

Martina Johansson is chairperson of StuFF, the student union for students at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and in Educational Sciences. In her article she wrote:

“Unfortunately there is currently no desire from the political sphere to address the problem.”

However in a comment after the lunch, the minister disagreed:

”In the autumn of 2015 we decided to allocate nearly 900 million Swedish crowns of special funding for quality in the humanities, social sciences and teacher’s training during my government’s term, in order for universities to increase contact hours. We’ll continue this initiative to the end of our term, and will follow up on it to ensure that the funds were actually used for this, and didn’t disappear into a black hole.”

The purpose of the minister’s visits to universities around the country is firstly to give them a chance to show different aspects of their operations and to engage in a dialogue on various issues, and secondly to allow the minister to hear first hand how the universities are implementing the government’s targets.

”It’s about the future, such as gender equality and more diverse recruitment of students,” the minister said.

Important issues for the future must surely include climate change and sustainability, which are also supposed to permeate higher education. This isn’t the case – yet. But as a minister, what can you do to help this become reality?

”The universities were commissioned to work with sustainability ten years ago. Now we have instructed the Swedish Council for Higher Education to carry out a systematic follow-up of how this has proceeded. I hope that the very fact that we have told them to do this will send a signal that these questions must be incorporated into educational programmes.”

The reliance on external funding for research, the short funding periods for research projects and the increased competition facing universities have been much debated issues in the wake of the Macchiarini affair. For LiU there is the recurring question of increased direct government funding for research. When can one expect a change on this matter?

”In the next few years at least. The government’s upcoming research bill will prioritise increased direct government funding, which will be aimed at strengthening systems for qualification and career advancement in academia. In terms of research we want to see longer time periods, from the current three to four years, to ten-year perspectives. But of course the bill has to be passed first.”

Helene Hellmark Knutsson at CMIV, Helen Dannetun to the left in the picture.Medical imaging and visualisation (photo, right), cognitive behavioural science, working life research and thin-film physics are part of what LiU presented at Friday’s ministerial visit.

For Camilla Georgsson, political adviser at the Ministry of Education and Research since 2014, the visit to LiU brought back fond memories.

”It’s a fantastic feeling. This is where it all started, this is where I studied my political sciences degree and started to work in StuFF, the student union for students at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and in Educational Sciences. The choices I made then laid the foundation for the job I have today.”

You were also head of the Swedish student unions for a year. The issue of contact hours for humanities students has been debated for decades. Was it an important issue during your time?

”When I was at StuFF the big issue was the removal of mandatory student union membership. That was the biggest change that was ever made in the student world in Sweden. When I was head of the Swedish student unions a big issue was quality of education, alongside the removal of mandatory student union membership and student democracy.”

Photo: Thor Balkhed

Gunilla Pravitz 2016-04-15

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Last updated: 2017-02-13