How can universities become more open to society and still maintain a protected space for knowledge generation? What support structures and assessment mechanisms need to be put into place to develop both healthy competition and fruitful collaboration across disciplinary boundaries? How can we ensure a research culture that fosters both excellence and inclusiveness?
These questions were brought to the fore by the current pandemic, and their relevance is highlighted by the complexity and cross-sectoral nature of the challenges ahead. For a medical university like Karolinska Institutet we must work across disciplinary boundaries and remain open to society if we are to contribute to the herculean task of building a society that is better prepared and more resilient in the face of new health crises – be they acute like COVID-19 or more protracted as the climate change that already takes a substantial toll on human health worldwide.
The current pandemic has taught us that a global health crisis requires engagement across disciplines – and an engagement of the basic sciences, not least. What has traditionally been coined as “global health” is now moving quickly into the realms of basic science: fundamental research in fields like immunology, genomics, virology and molecular biology is entering into a symbiotic relationship with expertise in epidemiology and public health. This development should be embraced and nurtured for the betterment of our universities and for the betterment of our societies at large.
Obviously, the need for interdisciplinarity and inclusiveness transcends the range of disciplines that a medical university can possibly offer. COVID-19 has amply demonstrated that in order to “connect the dots” we depend on expertise in economy, social sciences, technology, behavioral research, ethics and even research on communication and misinformation, as highlighted in a recent thesis from Karolinska Institutet In this context our collaboration within Stockholm Trio and with Uppsala University stands as particularly valuable. Taken together we command the breadth of disciplines that must be seamlessly integrated to fill the knowledge voids unveiled by COVID-19 and to stand as better prepared when the next crisis hits.
The current pandemic has demonstrated how the two parts of our vision are inextricably intertwined – “advancing knowledge about life” – our fundamental research – is a prerequisite for the second part of our vision – “to strive for a better health for all”.
EuroScience Policy Forum
The need for interdisciplinarity is one of several issues that will be addressed next week, June 29-30, at the very first EuroScience Policy Forum. Karolinska Institutet is, through Stockholm Trio University Alliance (KI, KTH and Stockholm University), one of the organizers of this forum, together with EuroScience, the Wellcome Trust, the University of Vienna and the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF).
The upcoming conference will focus on changes in societal expectations on academic institutions and identification of potential new pathways to a more sustainable academia in the future; questions that are closely related to the current discussions here at KI in connection with our Strategy 2030, our vision and, not the least, the experiences and lessons learned from the pandemic.
The webinar sessions also aim to raise policy issues of importance to universities and society in a European perspective. The themes include policy for research and research as a basis for policy decisions. Higher education, science and research must take a significant part in developing and shaping our common future. Evidence based knowledge is the cornerstone in this important mission.
Opportunity to reflect
The EuroScience Policy Forum will provide an opportunity to reflect on what is required to strike an appropriate balance between short-term responses to urgent societal needs and the long-term perspectives of curiosity driven blue sky research. I invite you to take part in the upcoming webinar. It is open and free for all.