Conclusions from The Green and Digital Transition: A research perspective

On May 25 the Universities South Sweden Brussels office organised The Green and Digital Transition: A research perspective in the Nordic House, Brussels. A session which came to focus not only on the research of the two speakers but the importance of engaging with society in order to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

On May 25 the Universities South Sweden Brussels office organised The Green and Digital Transition: A research perspective in the Nordic House, Brussels. With welcoming remarks from Ann-Charlotte Larsson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor responsible for internationalisation and innovation, and societal driving force at Linnaeus University in her capacity as chair of the Universities in South Sweden Brussels network the session was opened. A session which came to focus not only on the research of the two speakers but the importance of engaging with society in order to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Emphasis was placed on widening the perspective from the Europe-centricness to a global perspective in order to truly tackle the challenges.

Following the introductory remarks Kevin Bishop, Professor at the Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment; Division of Geochemistry and Hydrology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) gave his presentation on Big open ecosystem science for the Green Deal – one careful field study at a time. Followed by the presentation from Carl Magnus Olsson, Associate Professor at the Department of Computer Science and Media Technology at Malmö University on Calling for trustworthy and intelligent systems to drive the evidence-based digital transition. 

Both presentations provided research perspectives on the policy matters currently highlighted in the European policy context. Nevertheless, for researchers to be able to prioritise bringing evidence informing policymaking, Universities must both merit the work and review how the Universities themselves work to become more digital whilst working to decrease the climate impact. Ann-Charlotte Larsson, therefore, brought these two aspects to light in her presentation on the role of universities in the transition.  

Following the presentations, the session transitioned into a panel discussion with the core topic of evidence-informed policymaking. Kevin highlighted the importance of evidence-informed policymaking, and that citizen science is crucial to achieve the green transition and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Carl Magnus emphasised that SMEs:s need more support to challenge the big companies to become greener and fairer. Ann-Charlotte underlined the importance of universities’ support of curiosity-driven research and creative, critical thinking driven by intersectional research collaborations. Common for all speakers, triggered by Stijn Verleyen, session co-moderator working at the Joint Research Center, was the need to both engage better in the policy dialogue and the need for the policymakers to better request and value scientific evidence. 

The session conclusions were that there is a need for excellent research to make the transition to both green and digital a reality, however, it will not reach its full potential if there is not an ongoing dialogue with the policymakers and society not only in Europe but globally.   

The session was moderated by Stijn Verleyen Coordinator for interinstitutional relations at the European Commission DG Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Caroline Sundberg EU Policy Officer for the Universities in South Sweden Brussels office.  

The presentations from the speakers can be read by following the link  

Nordic University Days 2022

Nordic visions for the European Knowledge Area

Event report

The Nordic university days 2022 were held under the presidency of Iceland of the Nordic university association. Nordic University Days (henceforth NUD) 2022 took place 26th–27thof September in Brussels, following the successful first event in 2019. The general purpose of NUD 2022 was to:

  1. Raise awareness of Nordic universities’ positions on EU research and education policy agendas.
  2. Position Nordic universities in the context of the revived European Research Area (ERA) and the development of the European Education Area (EEA).
  3. Showcase Nordic universities’ strengths in relation to policy agendas such as: sustainability/green transition, climate sciences, citizen science, gender equality and science-based policymaking, among others.
  4. Build knowledge about EU research and education policy priorities, funding programmes and networks.

    Further, NUD 2022 formed a platform for dialogue between the rectors and European decision-makers. The programme included interactive seminars with representatives from DG Research and Innovation; DG Education, Youth, Sports and Culture; European Research Council; the Swedish permanent representation to the European Union; Members of the European Parliament as well as a dinner reception programmed by the Icelandic Rectors ́Conference hostingExecutiveVice-President of the European Commission Margrethe Vestager and representatives from the Icelandic Embassy. The programme organisers of this year’s Nordic University Days were the Gothenburg European Office, Greater Copenhagen EU Office, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) Brussels Office, Universities in South SwedenBrussels Office, University of Bergen (UiB) Brussels Office, University of Eastern Finland EU Office, University of Helsinki and the Icelandic Rectors’ Conference. Disclaimer: the linked report contains short summaries of each of the meetings, as well as the key messages highlighted during each session, as understood by the programme organisers. The speakers are not to be held accountable for the content based on the programme organisers’ perception of the discussion.

Key messages for the Nordic University Days 2022  

Leaders of the Nordic Universities Come Together for High-level Conference to share their visions for the European Knowledge Area through the delivery of a set of Key-messages.

BRUSSELS – Monday to Tuesday 62 Rectors and Vice-Rectors from Universities in Denmark, Finland, Iceland,  Norway and Sweden came together for a High-level Conference to share their visions for the European Knowledge Area. Visions are structured around six key messages for the EU institutions and the Member States in the future development of research, innovation and higher education policies and programmes. During the two-day conference the university leaders met with and engaged in discussions with Margrethe Vestager Executive, Vice-President of the European Commission, Christel Schaldemose, Member of the European Parliament, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Signe Rastso, Acting Director-General, European Commission, DG Research & Innovation, Maria Leptin, President of the European Research Council, Maria Cristina Russo Director, European Commission DG Research & Innovation, Global Approach & International Partnerships and Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of Unit, European Commission, DG Education, Youth, Sport & Culture. The Nordic Universities presented their visions to the European stakeholders.

  1. Academic freedom and values; a priority for Nordic universities  

Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are fundamental for Nordic universities to develop knowledge and science which is needed to solve global challenges. Freedom of teaching and learning, freedom in carrying out research without commercial or political interference, freedom to disseminate and publish one’s research findings, freedom from institutional censorship, including the right to express one’s opinion publicly about the institution or the education system in which one works. Lastly, freedom to participate in professional and representative academic bodies, including trade unions should be accepted as a university core value.  

Many Nordic universities are signatories of Magna Charta Universitatum5, supporting principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy. However, academic freedom is not a given in a time where scientific findings are being discredited and universities’ independence is being challenged – also in Europe.  

Academic freedom is an essential element of a democratic and free Europe and therefore a fundamental value of the EU and a principle of international cooperation. Institutional autonomy is a key component of academic freedom. Academic institutions should have the freedom to manage their core activities of research and teaching without fear of societal, political or religious interference that would impact scientific research or teaching. 

Both the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Education Area (EEA) need to fortify and support in particular the efforts of academic organisations concerning academic freedom which is an indispensable prerequisite for social, political, cultural and economic progress and resilience and yet still today in acute danger in many countries.   

Nevertheless, moving the discourse from Academic freedom to academic fundamental values allows the debate to become more inclusive. It allows for greater global partnerships funded on these values in contrast to the concept of ‘European values’ which remains undefined. Universities are global by nature, and so are their values.   

2. Science-based policy making 

As universities, we are aware that the knowledge that we produce serves as a key input for sustainable high-quality policymaking and regulation across policy areas, i.e., climate change, health crises as well as developing research priorities. For example, it requires a strong interdisciplinary scientific evidence base, across natural, technical, medical and social sciences and humanities to address the complexity of challenges that are part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ roadmap towards 2030. Nordic universities are at the EU’s disposal to contribute to help improve policies collectively and we are open to entering into dialogue with both the EU and the Member States on how to improve the structures of engagement of science-based policy.  

The most frequently reported barriers in science-based policy making to relate to problems with disseminating high-quality information effectively namely because of lack of time, support, resources and incentives for scientists to engage in dissemination activities. Studies suggest that scientific evidence is often not presented at the correct time and scientists are unable to anticipate a demand for information to solve a specific problem quickly. Further, society sometimes lacks the research skills to understand scientific evidence. Scientific evidence and research should be an important component of policymaking and therefore be addressed through the ERA actions such as action 7 knowledge valorisation and action 14 citizen science. 

It is an increasing problem that researchers who contribute with scientific evidence to policy-making processes and engage in public debates risk being victims of harassment and threats, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a tendency, which may undermine academic freedom if researchers refrain from contributing to science-based policy due to the potential personal costs of doing so. This can also harm the attractiveness of choosing a research career.  

In addition, the time horizons of basic research need to be better understood by policymakers. The ERA should place more emphasis on the so-called “curiosity and blue skies” research, as their long-term funding and development are critical for society and its citizens, both in Europe and in the rest of the world. 

The representatives from the EU institutions invited us to continue dialogue to form evidence-based policy. It is in our hands to develop our research communication to foster a better debate.  Despite research results never being 100% we need to communicate why this is to counter the development of research resistance.

3. Joint implementation of the European Research Area and European Education Area 

Higher education and research policy are primarily national competencies and in accordance with the subsidiarity principles, joint EU initiatives should bring added value to address common challenges. Actions and reforms proposed by the European Commission have a better chance of succeeding if the Commission’s plans are aligned with the needs of the Member States and the respective Higher Education system. Without an alignment, there is a risk that the reforms will not materialise due to a lack of political or financial support. Therefore, it is crucial to have a proactive national debate on the strategic objectives of EU research and education policies and their alignment with national objectives and universities’ long-term strategic objectives.  

Preparations for actions should be based on the views and concerns expressed by universities, and jointly seek solutions at both national and EU levels if harmonisation and compatibility between higher education systems within Europe should be achieved. The EU has a role to play in encouraging new European education and research initiatives, but it is important that universities are included in the process of developing these and that they respond to an actual need and have an added value.  

Universities are the main actors in implementing the ERA policy agenda and the European Strategy for Universities and therefore their perspectives and experiences should play a more prominent role in the decision-making process. Higher Education stakeholders should have a stronger say in designing and implementing the new ERA e.g., through the ERA Transition Forum and the ERA policy agenda. The European Higher Education stakeholder community will need to be involved in the development and implementation of the initiatives that will shape the universities of the future. 

We look forward to the engagement we will have with our national implementing bodies of the ERA actions taking the driver’s seat for some to form a European Research Area in which Universities can thrive.

4. Research and education based on excellence 

Excellence must continue to be the primary principle guiding investments in research, education and innovation to enhance the sustainable growth and resilience of our societies. Quality and global excellence must be the criteria for which funding should be allocated. Excellent science is a must if we are to find solutions that can realise the green and digital transition in Europe and globally, and the challenges of the future.  

Strengthening societal resilience based on greener, digital and sustainable solutions requires joint actions and investments in science and innovation, as well as participatory and empowered citizens. Blue-sky research, breakthrough technologies, social innovations and applications are required for the global transition to a greener and more digital society and it is needed to develop robust evidence that supports or rejects the added value and viability of solutions, approaches etc. 

Universities enhance the green transition and wider societal impact through education. Universities empower learners of all ages with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to address the interconnected global challenges we are facing. The new ERA and the European Strategy for Universities have in large part been conceived to facilitate the contribution of European R&I to the twin transition. 

5. Universities in a global landscape 

To boost competitiveness and generate solutions to global societal challenges such as pandemics and climate change and deliver the twin transition, international R&I cooperation with partners outside Europe is essential. “Open to the world” should therefore remain the leading principle of Horizon Europe and the EU’s approach to international collaboration.  

Foreign interference in research and innovation is identified as a growing threat in an increasingly internationalised field. EU-level guidelines on foreign interference are important to raise awareness. The guidelines should first and foremost help universities develop comprehensive and preventive approaches for tackling all forms of interference and facilitate responsible collaboration. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made visible the critical role of international collaboration on the frontiers of science. The pandemic is also a robust example of how removing open science policy obstacles impacts the free flow of research data and ideas, and thus accelerates the pace of research, critical to combating the disease.  

The EU should promote science collaboration globally and enter into strategic differentiated R&I partnerships with third countries based on common values and principles that promote the importance of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, research integrity & ethics, open science and gender equality.    

It is not only a matter of foreign interference; it is a matter of political interference which can be domestic as well as foreign.

6. The future of EU research and innovation programmes: excellence and openness   

The EU’s research and innovation programmes have long been the most international and open to the world. Openness is a necessity and should remain the core of Horizon Europe in the last three remaining years and the future. Global challenges can only be solved through global collaboration.  

Excellence must continue to be the primary principle across Horizon Europe and in future EU research and innovation programmes. Quality and global excellence must be the criteria on which research funding should be allocated, from theoretical to problem-driven research and across all technology readiness levels. 

Nordic universities are committed to preserving and protecting the freedom of research and to maintaining research environments that are open and that promote the free exchange of research results. 

How do we scale up Africa-Europe academic and scientific cooperation?

This is how Universities in South Sweden and our African partners want to contribute

4 February 2022 | 13:00-15:30 | Event held digitally

In the European Commission’s policy communication towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa, it proposes that the EU partners with Africa to rapidly enhance learning, knowledge and skills, research and innovation capacities, and that it scales up EU-Africa academic and scientific cooperation with a view to creating a knowledge society and economy.

The role of universities and the capacities for African and European researchers to cooperate will be vital to deliver on this challenge. The universities that make up the network of Universities in South Sweden all have long-standing collaborations with African partners and a clear and strategic ambition to deepen these ties.

This event will present some examples of our current work and it will create a space for discussion on what are the shared needs and ambitions of European and African universities.

The event will also hear the thoughts of the European Commission on the future of EU-Africa cooperation through instruments such as Horizon Europe, in the wake of the EU-AU summit that will set out the joint strategy for the years ahead.

Read more and register for the event

Lärosäten Syd successful in the Horizon 2020 Green Deal call

The European Commission has officially launched the start of the 73 projects selected for funding under the Horizon 2020 European Green Deal Call worth €1 billion. This was the last call under Horizon 2020 and the funded projects will be a milestone on the road to achieving the European Green Deal objectives, contributing to the EU’s response to the twin climate and biodiversity crises while accelerating a fair and sustainable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Five of the 73 projects feature one of our member universities from south Sweden:

  • Blekinge Institute of Technology is one of 30 partners in the project SESA (Smart Energy Solutions for Africa), from the call Accelerating the green transition and energy access partnership with Africa.
  • Lund University is one of 31 partners in the project PAUL (Pilot Application in Urban Landscapes towards integrated city observatories for greenhouse gases), from the call European Research Infrastructures’ capacities and services to address European Green Deal challenges.
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences is one of 15 partners in the project StemBioAfrica (Innovative Large-Scale Production of Affordable Clean Burning Solid Biofuel and Water in Southern Africa: transforming bush encroachment from a problem into a secure and sustainable energy source), from the call Accelerating the green transition and energy access partnership with Africa.
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences is one of 44 partners in the project MERLIN (Mainstreaming Ecological Restoration of freshwater-related ecosystems in a Landscape context: INnovation, upscaling and transformation), from the call Restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences is one of 36 partners in the project SUPERB (Systemic solutions for upscaling of urgent ecosystem restoration for forest related biodiversity and ecosystem services), from the call Restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Moreover, from a south Swedish perspective, we also note that the city of Malmö is a partner in the project SchoolFood4Change, and the Helsingborg-based company GAIA BioMaterials participates as a partner in the project SISTERS on food waste reduction.

Read about the funded projects in detail (PDF)

The Brussels office strengthens our engagement in key networks

Lärosäten Syd Brussels Office, through Caroline Sundberg, has been elected as one of the new co-leaders of the working group Science & Education for Society in ERRIN (European Regions Research and Innovation Network).

The Brussels office is since previously also a co-leader of the ERRIN Policy working group, through Rickard Eksten.

The leadership of these working groups offers Lärosäten Syd visibility among European partner networks, as well as further opportunities to profile our universities in Brussels.

Stronger collaboration for universities in south Sweden

The universities in south Sweden have a long-standing collaboration on education and research for a better resource utilisation and higher quality. Today, the network, Lärosäten Syd (Universities in South Sweden), strengthens its position even further as Linnaeus University joins the network.

The universities in south Sweden* have been collaborating for a long time on several areas within education, PhD programmes, research and administrative functions. The purpose is to achieve higher quality, better utilisation of resources and improved contacts with industry and society, benefiting students and universities as well as society at large. Together the universities in Lärosäten Syd have around 71 000 full time students, 15 000 employees and around SEK 18 billion in revenue (figures from 2019). This corresponds to around 25 % of the Swedish higher education sector in these areas. 

As of 8 December the network will grow as Linnaeus University joins as a member.

–With Linnaeus University we will have a stronger voice, both nationally and in Brussels via our shared Brussels office. We can also increase collaboration and coordination of our operations, for example the development of education pedagogy, joint PhD courses and networking within joint education programmes, says Mats Viberg, Vice-Chancellor of BTH, which this year holds the chairmanship of the network.

The purpose of the collaboration is to benefit students and examples of benefits is that the universities cooperate regarding development of education pedagogy for digital teaching, a very topical subject these days. Within specialist nursing education, the universities plan to collaborate regarding placements as well as offering students different activities across regional borders.

The universities also collaborate in the area of research regarding the EU framework programme for research and innovation. The network has as a goal to work for shared issues in a regional, national and international context where the universities can make a difference and contribute to even better and stronger regions.

For further information, contact the BTH Vice-Chancellor Mats Viberg via e-mail:
Read more about Lärosäten Syd on:

*Lund University, Malmö University, Halmstad University, Kristianstad University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH).

Lund University rector electus to speak at European policy conference

The incoming Rector of Lund University, Professor Erik Renström, will take part as a speaker at an important digital policy conference on 18 January. The conference – Knowledge for a Better World: The need for Sustainability and Collaboration in a disruptive age – is organised by the Norwegian university NTNU, Elsevier and UnILiON. UnILiON is the network of universities that have a Brussels representative office, in which Lärosäten Syd is a member.

This conference will represent an opportunity to discuss the contribution that Universities provide in terms of research, innovation and education to sustainable development, and to debate on models and approaches that could be applied in the future.

Professor Erik Renström vill take part in one of the panels, and Lund University has been selected to share our testimonials as we are considered leading in the area of international climate collaboration (UN SDG 13).

Read more about the NTNU European Conference 2020