The developments of recent years, encompassing pandemics, wars, unrest and increased polarisation, affect us across various spheres – both local and global, personal and professional. Among these is the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel.
At our University, impacts of the ongoing war is felt by both staff and students, in various ways, and we live in a city where many have strong ties to the Middle East. As a result, several people now urge the University to take a stance on the matter, drawing comparisons to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Swedish universities, however, answer to the country’s government and act in accordance with its decisions on foreign and security policy matters. After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the government suspended all cooperation with Russia.
The University’s commitment to fostering human rights and democracy is not always visible to everyone. Yet, it remains a central focus in various contexts within the University management and in different meeting forums, often multiple times a week, as well as in discussions with other national and international actors.
Malmö University is also involved in several international associations that share our core values. We have signed the Magna Charta Universitatum, standing up for academic freedom and the autonomy of universities, while also recognising the great responsibility that we as a university bear. Additionally, as a member of Scholars at Risk (SAR), we have hosted a couple of researchers who have been unable to work safely at their home institutions. Given the sensitive nature of these endeavours, as these academics are at risk and do not want to advertise their presence, such activities are conducted discreetly, and the process of hosting SAR researchers is extensive.
Internationalisation in research and higher education holds significant importance for several reasons. A diversity of perspectives enriches knowledge and provides a greater understanding of different traditions and ways of thinking. However, contemporary discussions highlight the risks inherent in international collaboration, and the government has commissioned UHR (the Swedish Council for Higher Education), The Swedish Research Council and VINNOVA to investigate responsible internationalisation practices.
Malmö University is one of the higher education institutions selected to engage in dialogue with the investigators. In a polarised world, we must carefully consider who we collaborate with, mindful of potential security and personal risks. Every employee shares this responsibility. Nevertheless, we must also remind ourselves of the opportunities. Academic partnerships are long-term commitments and can lay the groundwork for new knowledge in the future.
For a few years now, the University’s Memorandum of Understanding has included statements affirming our commitment to the core tenets of our strategy, including human rights and democracy. This enables us to contribute to improvements in academic freedom, democracy and human rights. The Advisory Board for Global Engagement has identified specific issues we must pay attention to in terms of responsibility (read about responsible internationalisation, in Swedish).
We also recently adopted our new ‘Guideline for the handling of victimisation, harassment and sexual harassment against staff and students’, which forms a crucial component of the University’s efforts to combat both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In addition, we collaborate with several societal actors to address these issues.
At our university, support is available to students and staff who experience worry or anxiety. Information about these support services can be found on both the Staff Web and Student Health pages (read more about this on page ‘The University in a troubled world’).
We foster open dialogue, discussion and debate on important issues. There must be space for such exchanges at the University, and everyone should be afforded the opportunity to express themselves freely. Perhaps even more importantly, we should listen to others to learn and dare to reconsider our position. Such conversations, grounded in research, lie at the heart of academia, as they contribute to knowledge development and lead to well-founded positions. As a university, we recognise our responsibility to contribute with knowledge and perspectives on current topics. We can explain, but also critically examine, complex issues.
We want to continue our work on these important issues with greater visibility. One upcoming initiative is our ‘Open Conversations’ series, through which we aim to provide nuance and fact-based insights on pressing issues. We plan to start with a discussion focusing on the role of universities in navigating complex and tense situations. Later in the spring, we hope to continue with another conversation. You are welcome to share your perspective and learn from others.
Rebecka Lettevall, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor
Kerstin Tham, Vice-Chancellor and Professor