News from the world of higher education
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Lund University Vice-chancellor: Minister doesn’t seem to understand

Mats Persson, the Minister for Education, does not seem to understand that academic freedom also applies to the boards of higher institutions, says Erik Renström, vice chancellor of Lund University, following a meeting between vice-chancellors and the Minister for Education.

MarieLouise Samuelsson
Erik Renström, vice-chancellor at Lund University, is one of the vice-chancellors who criticizes Minister of Education Mats Persson (L). Photo: Kennet Ruona/Kristian Pohl

There has been widespread turbulence and anxiety in the higher education sector since Mats Persson, the Minister for Education, announced on 27 April that the members of the boards of higher education institutions will now be appointed for 17 months instead of the 3-year period that applied previously. He said that the decision was made “in light of the current national security situation and the importance of including such competence on the boards”.

Mats Persson (L).

When the vice-chancellors met the minister
The issue was on the agenda when the minister invited the vice-chancellors of all the country’s higher education institutions to a meeting at the ministry on 3 May.

“The minister explained that we now have a new national security situation, not least due to Sweden’s pending membership of NATO,” says Erik Renström, vice-chancellor of Lund University, who was at the meeting. “We vice-chancellors agreed with the analysis of the national security situation, but emphasised that the boards of higher education institutions are not the best places to conduct national security policy. We also raised concerns about academic freedom if politicians are to specify what special competence the boards are to have.”

Erik Renström.

The minister assured the vice-chancellors that academic freedom is important, but seems to regard it mainly as freedom to choose research.

“There are many layers of academic freedom – for researchers, students, teachers – but the government does not seem to understand that it also involves institutional matters and the boards,” says Renström.

Unanimous criticism
The higher education sector has been unanimous in its criticism and protests regarding the government’s decision. Statements have been issued by SULF, the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF), the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS) and many others.

Lars Geschwind, Executive Director of SULF, believes that the change is a clear threat to academic freedom, and he says that he also has difficulty understanding the minister’s reasoning.

Lars Geschwind.

“Everyone is aware of the deeply worrying security situation in the world, but Mats Persson has not been able to explain how shorter higher education institution board appointments would improve security policy competence. It is difficult to see the logic behind the proposal, which of course increases the anxiety in the sector further.”

Universitetsläraren has sought Minister for Education Mats Persson in an effort to ask questions about the decision and about the criticism, but the ministry has declined to comment.

MarieLouise Samuelsson

Higher education institution boards and nomination processes

Universities and colleges are state agencies with management boards, which means that the board that is collectively responsible to the government for the activities of the institution.


The government approves boards for 30 state sector higher education institutions.


Within the process, the government appoints two board nominators per higher education institution. These are responsible for proposing nominees and chairs for their respective higher education institution’s board.


The boards comprise the vice-chancellor, eight members appointed by the government, three teacher representatives and three student representatives.


The government states that the boards are to decide on matters regarding ”the overall direction of the higher education institution and its organisational structure” and ”to ensure that the higher education institution has well-functioning internal governance and controls”.

Universitetsläraren conforms strictly to journalistic principles and follows the media industry’s rules on publication and professional ethics. The magazine is free and independent of its owner, SULF – the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers.
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