Published: 01-05-2023 20:56 | Updated: 01-05-2023 21:11

Government decision to shorten term of office for university board comes under fire

The government’s decision to shorten the term of office for new board members for the country’s higher education institutions has sparked critical reactions from the sector. Annika Östman Wernerson, president of Karolinska Institutet, shares their concerns.

Rektor Annika Östman Wernerson
President Annika Östman Wernerson. Photo: Martin Stenmark

“The government’s decision to reduce the term from three years to only 17 months will cause problems and raise a whole lot of questions,” says Annika Östman Wernerson. “It’s also quite remarkable that we get to hear about this so late in the process, just a few days before their term of office starts.”

The Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF) has also reacted to the government’s decision. In a sharply worded missive to the government, it writes:

“This decision implies nothing but a distrust of the current boards’ competence and their appointment procedure. Ultimately, the decision risks undermining the autonomy of our higher education institutions and thus their ability to critically search new knowledge, which by extension would pose a threat to academic freedom.”

Annika Östman Wernerson shares the SUHF’s views.

“The principal aspect is crucial here. Changes of this kind can lead to constraints on the autonomy of higher education institutions and a restriction of academic freedom. The government should therefore engage in prompt dialogue with us about this and explain why they have made this decision, which I find very vaguely worded.”  

The government explained in a press release published on Thursday that the reason for the curtailed term of office is the prevailing international security situation. In interviews, Minister for Education Mats Persson has said that the boards need fresh competence, telling Dagens Nyheter, for instance, that:

“It is an extraordinary decision we’ve taken. Our aim, of course, is to always have long appointments and continuity. But we have a war now in Europe and we must have the humility to understand that we all need competence in these matters.”