The Young academy of Sweden (YAS) participated in the Swedish vice-chancellor delegation during the Research and Innovation week 2023 in South Africa. In collaboration with the South African Young Academy of Sciences (SAYAS) YAS arranged two workshops on academic leadership.


Sverker Lundin, Ronnie Berntsson,Thashree Marimuthu, Dustin van der Haar, Mia Liinason and Soraj Baijnath Photo: YAS

The Swedish delegation was represented by vice-chancellors and university management from 13 universities in Sweden, as well as STINT (the Swedish foundation for international cooperation in research and higher eductation) and the young academy of Sweden. In an extensive program the delegation visited universities and funders during the beginning of the week and ended in a sustainability forum with workshops, networking and future planning.

Sunday March 26 - Opening

The delegation arrived in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, and program coordinator Gustaf Cars from Uppsala University briefed the group on the background of SASUF and the purpose of the trip. Andreas Göthenberg, executive director of STINT, presented what the collaboration had resulted in so far and important aspects of internationalization. Erik Esbjörnsson, Africa correspondent of the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, gave a much appreciated introduction to South African historical, political and cultural climate. 

Monday March 27 - Pretoria

The day began with a visit to University of Pretoria and the delegation was welcomed by vice-chancellor Prof. Tawana Kupe. Prof. Kupe spoke about the Universities role in transforming society and how Sweden and South Africa are linked through a long history of political and cultural support. Vice-chancellor of Uppsala University and head of the Swedish delegation, Anders Hagfeldt, spoke about the importance of collaboration and what it had already resulted in. For the afternoon the delegation visited the National Research Foundation (the equivalent of the Swedish Research Foundation, Vetenskapsrådet) and discussed the funding landscape and strategies of South Africa. Allocating funding for emerging researchers is a current important strategy to build a strong base for the future research of South Africa. For the evening, the delegation as well as South African vice-chancellors of the area was welcomed at the Swedish embassy. YAS and SAYAS had the opportunity to meet in person for the first time in several years.

Tuesday March 28 - Johannesburg

The delegation visited University of Witwaterstrand (WITS) and vice-chancellor Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi welcomed everone with an introduction to the research at Wits and the ongoing collaborations with Sweden. The group then divided and was able to visit Gauteng City Region Observatory, Tshimolong ‐ Digital Innovation Precinct, Evolutionary Studies Institute or the Global Change Institute. After this the whole group visited University of Johannesburg and was welcomed by vice-chancellor Prof. Letlhokwa Mpedi as well as brief presentations of the research at the university.

Wednesday March 29 – Cape Town

This day the group first visited the University of Cape Town (UCT) and was greeted by the vice-chancellor prof. Daya Reddy. The group discussed among other things how UCT works to increase diversity to make the university accessible to individuals without previous academic background in the family. The group also visited a research group with an ongoing Swedish partnership with successful industry collaborations. After lunch the delegation headed for the main host of the week – the university of the western cape. Here all university managements from 13 Swedish universities and the 23 South African universities met for the first time. Greeted by deputy vice-chancellor José Frantz, the vice-canncellor the group then discussed Opportunities and challenges for collaboration between South Africa and Sweden. After this session the SASUF Sustainability forum was officially opened in a grand ceremony with dinner.

Thursday March 30 – Visions for the ideal academic leader

Finally, the day had come where the young academies held a workshop together with the vice-chancellors from all the unviersities on the topic Visions for the ideal academic leader; challenges and possibilities across diverse academic systems. In a much appreciated format members from each academy took turns in outlining visions for the ideal academic leader as well as challenges and solutions how this leadership can be nurtured and developed in the current system the respective countries. Prof. Lynn Morris from WITS and prof. Hans Adolfsson from Umeå University had been invited to give a short reflection on the panel’s discussion and after this all attendees were invited to discuss the subject together. The topic was well appreciated and many interesting remarks where put forward, one reflection was the importance to develop the future leaders by giving actual authority and mandate early on in a research career, but also as an established leader to make time to be accessible for the collegium.

Friday March 31 – Academic Leadership for Enhancing Knowledge and Social Development

This day SAYAS and YAS held an interactive roundtable open to all participants in the Sustainability forum. In a fully booked session with 60 registered attendees the academies discussed Academic Leadership for Enhancing Knowledge and Social Development for 2 hours. The attendees were divided into four groups that rotated through four discussion themes: climate action, mental health, technology transformation and gender equality and social equity. Each discussion was led by a member of the academies and covered how academic leaders can be expected to drive change in each respective area as well as improving the current state and obstacles. The workshop was concluded by a plenary summary.

After the ceremony the vice-chancellor group was visited by Swedish ambassador Håkan Juholt. Håkan was thrilled to receive a copy of the Beginner’s guide to Swedish academia which he gets questions about all the time.

Other activities

Mia, Ronnie and Sverker stayed for a few days and enjoyed the nature and culture surrounding Cape Town, and arranged a visit to STIAS – the Stellenboch Institute of Advanced Study, where young academy alumni Magnus Jonsson currently holds a fellowship.

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