Astrid Söderbergh Widding
President Astrid Söderbergh Widding. Photo: Anna-Karin Landin.

The Autonomy reform – ten years later. The original purpose of the Autonomy reform, which was based on the bill “Academia for the modern era  – increased freedom for universities and university colleges”, was threefold: to facilitate collaboration – internationally, with the business community and other higher education institutions; to provide space for qualified international academics on the boards of higher education institutions; and to enable academia to take a more long-term, strategic approach to research and education. The reform has resulted in the broad deregulation of internal organisational structures within higher education institutions – including the elimination of the requirement for faculty boards.

Looking back, we can now say that no earth shattering changes have been implemented at the larger universities. Critics of the reform still contend that it has watered down collegial governance, for example, in terms of quality issues in education and research, especially at the higher education institutions where collegiality is not as well established.

The fact that the reform gives higher education institutions responsibility for recruitment to fill teaching posts is in itself positive and significantly improves Sweden’s position in the EUA’s Autonomy Score Card – where we otherwise fall in the middle of the pack in comparison to other European countries. At the same time, the reform has generated a degree of confusion around important issues, such as promotion paths, designation of or requirements for employment at various levels, etc., which hampers the mobility of individual researchers and academics. In this case, greater coordination at the national level would be desirable.

At SUHF’s (The Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions) most recent assembly, a position paper was adopted that highlights the need for strengthened legal protection for academic freedom and a new system of qualifications that is based on a thorough investigation performed by the union. Autonomy is an issue that is likely to remain high up on the agenda of higher education institutions for years to come.

This article is written by Astrid Söderbergh Widding, President of Stockholm University. It appears in the section ”Words from the University’s senior management team”, where different members of the management team take turns to write about topical issues. Words from the University’s senior management team appears in every edition of News for staff which is distributed to the entirety of the University staff.