How to foster good academic leadership and collegiality

Yesterday KI hosted a symposium on cooperation and collaboration in research and higher education – “Kunskap i samverkan”. This symposium is part of a series of meetings that were initiated by the Ministry of Higher Education and that serve to follow up on the white paper published in November last year.

Ole Petter Ottersen at the KI symposium Kunskap i samverkan. Photo: Erik Cronberg

There is no doubt that society will benefit from a more extensive and seamless interaction between academia and public and private actors. This will require an academic leadership that is attentive to increased expectations yet steadfast and uncompromising when it comes to ethics and academic freedom. My reflections on this issue were just published in Times Higher Education Journal.

Fundamental task of academic leadership

As I see it, the most fundamental task of academic leadership is to safeguard academic freedom, trust and tolerance in the face of increasing outside pressure. We as universities must accept and even welcome increased expectations from the government and the society at large, but at the same time ensure that these expectations are met by nurturing unbridled curiosity and frontier research, rather than by imposing new directives and regulations. When it comes to internal conflicts and crises, good academic leadership implies that these are met by responsibility, transparency and culture building and not by increased bureaucracy and control.

It requires leadership on the part of the universities to ensure that the focus on technology development is matched by research on how new technologies are absorbed and put to good use by the individual and the society at large. History is rife with examples of how progress has been hampered when technologies are introduced in societies that are ill-equipped to handle them. Ethics, and insight from the social sciences and the humanities are required for technologies to successfully drive development and new economies.  Standing alone, new technologies are fragile edifices.

A collegial advisory board

As I see it, academic leadership is inextricably intertwined with collegiality. I have suggested that a collegial advisory board be established at KI, so as to ensure that research and teaching are duly taken into account. This idea appears to be embraced by the KI board although no formal decision has been made as yet.

The increased pressure on the universities and the increased expectations of their performance naturally translate into a demand for innovation and for excellence in research and education. Increased expectations should also encourage the universities to serve as breeding grounds for academic leaders that can cope with the complexity and challenges at hand. As I state in my piece in THE Journal: Universities must rise to the occasion and offer leadership programs that attract and groom those that see a future career at the vibrant interface between academia and the society at large.

It is with this thought in mind that I look forward to KI’s leadership program this fall!


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