New pro vice-chancellors want strategic investments in research

Lund University needs long-term strategies with clear priorities from the faculties of what type of research to invest in, agree the two new pro vice-chancellors Stacey Ristinmaa Sörensen and Bo Ahrén. They also recognise the difficulty of achieving this at a university as comprehensive as Lund.
“Our breadth is definitely our strength, but it can also present problems”, says Bo Ahrén.

Bo Ahrén 0 Stacey Ristinmaa Sorensen LITEN

The two new pro vice-chancellors, Bo Ahrén and Stacey Ristinmaa Sörensen. They are both working half-time in the university management.

Stacey Ristinmaa Sörensen comes cycling from the Department of Physics down to Universitetshuset and joins the meeting with LUM a couple of minutes after Bo Ahrén. She has special responsibility for research infrastructure and he has special responsibility for external engagement. Where does one end and the other begin? Where is the dividing line?

“We haven’t actually had time to discuss that with each other”, they admit, but expect it will be an interesting conversation.

Stacey Ristinmaa Sörensen says that they are two quite different people, with different experience and backgrounds that can complement each other.

“Bo, you’ve been dean of the Faculty of Medicine for so long, and sat on so many boards and committees. You know the University so well”, she says.

He points out in reply that she also has a lot of experience, for example from when she was pro-dean of the Faculty of Science and from her work for the Swedish Research Council.

She has now left the Faculty Board to make time for the post of pro vice-chancellor, and Bo Ahrén is cutting some of his travelling and conferences, but will continue to practise as a doctor at the University Hospital. Both of their new management posts are half-time.

The reason why Stacey Ristinmaa Sörensen accepted the post is that she can see a lot of strategic work to be done that could benefit the University in the long term.

“Not just in relation to the major research facilities, but in general.”

She is a professor of synchrotron radiation physics and is often associated with MAX IV and ESS, and the developments and collaborations surrounding them.

“But it is first and foremost about how the University can make best use of them. ESS has huge potential when it comes to materials science, and Lund should benefit from it in many fields. MAX IV is a national facility and will be just as important for other universities that have contributed to its development.”

For her, the role of pro vice-chancellor is just as much about getting a hand on the rampant growth of research in all directions – identifying areas where strong investments can be made and directing funding there.

“The faculties must prioritise. There is usually a limited budget for co-financing. Heads of department have got to think before they sign applications, and a dialogue is needed with the funding bodies. The link between calls for proposals and investments must be strengthened”, she says.

Bo Ahrén agrees, and adds that it is not easy to direct research when it is eighty per cent funded by external grants that are also fairly dependent on individuals.

“I hope that our new Minister for Research makes good her intention to increase direct government funding for research”, he says.

Among comparable universities, Copenhagen is good at working strategically, according to the two pro vice-chancellors. They say there is good collaboration at grassroots level between researchers in Lund and Copenhagen, but higher up in the organisation and on an administrative level, collaboration with Denmark has not worked as well. This brings us into Bo Ahrén’s new area of responsibility: external engagement.

“Lund University has a large number of contacts to look after”, he says, listing the municipality, the business sector, the regional authority, the hospitals, foundations and Lärosäten Syd. Then there’s the whole area of innovation, with Lund University Innovation System, LU Open, the FIRS Innovation Council, the University’s specialised centres, and more. A motley group, one might think, but Bo Ahrén is confident about the challenge.

“We should be playing a key role in southern Sweden in particular, and there is a lot that works well here but that can no doubt improve even further.”

He has approached this role by taking a seat on the boards of the various bodies. He is careful to point out that it is the vice-chancellor who is the external face of the University; the pro vice-chancellors work to create opportunities for good external engagement and new forms of engagement. Physical meeting places like the research facilities and Medicon Village are important in his view, but engagement can take many forms.

“The key point is that we have expertise in education and research that is beneficial to society as a whole.”

Education must not be forgotten, says Bo Ahrén. On the contrary, it needs to be emphasised even more.

“The symbiosis between education and research is important. A research institute is not the same thing at all. The students are important.”

In particular, students often have good ideas that can be combined with researchers’ potential business ideas to produce new products and companies.

“It is important to safeguard a good structure to take care of this”, says Bo Ahrén, referring principally to the innovation system at the University.

Text: Maria Lindh

Photo: Gunnar Menander