The Vice-chancellor's speech at the installation ceremony 29 September 2017
It is a great honour to stand here today as the new vice-chancellor of Karolinska Institutet, one of the world’s leading medical universities.
I would like to thank you all for the trust you have placed in me and I promise to do my utmost to live up to it.
I am well aware that my tenure starts as a consequence of the crisis that Karolinska Institutet has suffered: a crisis that chairman Mikael Odenberg and pro-vice-chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright have addressed in their remarks.
The efforts of the Karolinska Institutet management over the past year are of great importance. Thanks to provice-chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright, in your role as acting vice-chancellor, we are no longer on a downhill slope. Under your watch, decisions were made on the measures that needed to be taken to create the ethical preparedness and work culture that KI needs. Under your leadership, many such measures were put into effect.
We stand firm. We can look ahead. And we can start to work on a more far-sighted strategy and vision for our university.
For this is what I consider my overriding mission as the new vice-chancellor of Karolinska Institutet: to ensure that we will all look ahead, see the opportunities the future holds and to be inspired by them. We need to recover the sense of pride and joy that energizes and vitalizes all academic work.
When we look ahead, we must do so with the wisdom that this crisis has given us. We shall always strive for the scientific excellence that has made Karolinska Institutet famous. But research must be built upon solid ground. Excellent research is research that is excellent precisely because it is rooted in critical reflection and precisely because it welcomes debate on the boundaries of science and medicine. Excellent research must serve society and must obey the rules and laws that society establishes. The rules must be understood and observed – but it must also be easy to do the right thing.
KI is a university that leads the way in the development of new insights and new technologies. The value of our research is evident only when it serves patients and the community. My vision is that KI should lead the world also in this process: turning research into better means of prevention, diagnosis and therapy. I am talking about translational research.
Translational research requires physical proximity – that research is conducted close to the patients it is meant to serve. Few places are better suited to this than Stockholm. We can find such proximity on our campus in Flemingsberg and, of course, here in Solna. Here, in Aula Medica, we are in the middle of what will be a power-house of translational research. Biomedicum is soon ready for occupancy and is just a stone’s throw away from Science for Life Laboratory, which has already attained world-class status in the development of new technologies. And across the road is a new hospital with a research centre physically linked to our own buildings. The bridge over Solnavägen will be both the symbol and the embodiment of the cooperation between Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital. We can look ahead.
Translational research requires not only physical proximity – but also proximity between scientific disciplines. New technologies and pioneering breakthroughs in medical treatment will challenge our values and raise ethical dilemmas. This implies that social science and the humanities must be within easy reach. We need interdisciplinary research and reflection on how new technologies meet the individual and society. In this regard, Karolinska Institutet – a medical university – is completely dependent on effective collaboration with Sweden’s multi faculty universities. I am pleased that this collaboration is already in place. Together we can take Swedish life science and health research to new heights. Together, we can look ahead.
My desire when developing our new strategy is that we look ahead all the way to 2030. A long time-perspective will inspire creativity and innovative thinking with respect to our research, organisation and collaboration. Equally important: a long time-perspective will direct our attention to the career paths of our junior researchers and emphasise the importance of education.
It is in this future perspective that you are so incredibly important.
You – the leaders of tomorrow – are the ones who will be grappling with great challenges facing our nation and the world. You will make a vital contribution to our research and innovation, to our partnership with Stockholm County Council, to our hospitals and to society at large. By 2030 – and hopefully long before that – my vision is that Karolinska Institutet will have just as strong an international standing in education as in research.
2030 is not a randomly chosen timeframe for our strategy and vision. 2030 is also the timeline for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. These goals should inspire our research and require us to think innovatively when structuring our educational programmes. The development goals have a key role to play when we take on the pressing global challenges that lie before us.
Medicine might be about molecules, but it is first and foremost about people, wherever in the world they may live. Health is synonymous with global health – not only because the world is tightly interconnected but also because our responsibility as academics reaches far beyond our nation’s borders.
In a global perspective the health inequities loom large, but with insight, engagement and research we can do much to bring about vital change. Academic leadership will be of the essence.
As I see it, the most important task of an academic leader, as it is for me, is to make provision for sustainable development, to safeguard academic freedom and to ensure that the university earns society’s confidence, even when under pressure to deliver new results and innovations with short term impact.
As a university, we must accept and even welcome the growing demands and expectations placed on us by the government and society in general. At the same time we must make sure that these expectations are met by nurturing unbridled curiosity and ethical awareness, rather than by imposing new directives and regulations.
History teaches us that universities succeed best when we take the lead as intellectual and ethical compass, not without dialogue with the outside world, but also not without maintaining a critical distance to the demands of other actors. And historically speaking, we have seen that universities also succeed best with collegial involvement. With support from the KI University Board I have proposed that a collegial advisory board be established in our university, so as to ensure that research and teaching are duly taken into account when decisions are made.
I would like to close on a personal note.
In my first year as a young medical researcher at the University of Oslo, it was KI that opened the door to international research. The head of my department, Fred Walberg, worked closely with Karolinska Institutet and was continually inviting researchers from here to give seminars and attend discussions. This acquainted me with world-leading brain research. Many years later, Hans Rosling inspired me to work with global health and to train my spotlight on the severe health inequalities in the world. Now, I am vice-chancellor of the university I have looked up to and been inspired by throughout my career. It is with humbleness, gratitude and great expectations that I now will be looking ahead together with you, my new colleagues. I will take great pride in joining forces for better health, sustainable development, and a fair and tolerant society – in Stockholm, in Sweden, in the Nordic region and in the world at large.
Thank you for the confidence you have placed in me.