Responsible internationalisation is a must for Swedish universities

I have returned to the topic of responsible internationalisation here on the blog on several occasions. This topic is now more relevant than ever before.

Over the past few years, we have seen a development to the worse when it comes to the conditions for open international collaboration. The relations between China and the US have continued to deteriorate with a significant impact on research and innovation. The conflict between the West and Russia is deeper than ever, challenging and even undermining possibilities for collaboration. Recently an alleged spy was caught at a Norwegian university. These developments force us to ponder how we responsibly and safely can uphold international mobility and free movement of researchers between our universities.

International solidarity should be seen as an essential element in our internationalization efforts. We must continue to support students and staff that fight for democracy and academic freedom under suppressive regimes. We must remain supportive of students and fellow academics that courageously are making their voices heard, be it in Belarus, Hong Kong, Turkey, Afghanistan, or Iran. And our engagement for colleagues and students in Ukraine must be sustained and strengthened.

This autumn has been a period when much time has been spent on developing international collaborations closer to home. I have attended the Nordic University Days in Brussels and the Magna Charta Universitatum signing in Bologna. Both of these events were fruitful opportunities to meet fellow presidents and vice chancellors and discuss current trends in the global academic community.

At KI, I am pleased to see the work of the Internationalisation Advisory Council that we set up in order to assist us in achieving our strategic goals  in Strategy 2030. We have also established an international expert panel to help us navigate in a world characterized by democratic backsliding and geopolitical turbulence. This panel has now been assigned a new mandate to serve as a resource not only for KI but for all Swedish higher education institutions as  SUHF’s (Sveriges Universitet och Högskoleförbund – The Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions) advisory group on global relations. The group’s mission is to advise Swedish universities and higher education institutions on matters concerning internationalisation, global political issues, human rights, and academic freedom. To navigate safely, we need competence, we need a moral compass, and we need to be vigilant. In this context, the international advisory group is of utmost importance.    

STINT report

In September the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT) published their report Recommendations to higher education institutions on how to work with responsible internationalisation. This report provides interesting and concrete suggestions.  However, I argue that we can, and need, to go further. As I put it when I was asked to comment the report in University World News, competence for responsible internationalisation  ought to move beyond  a  ‘nice to have’ to a “must” in order to adequately  safeguard the academic networks on which our universities and our societies so strongly depend.   


Responsible internationalisation is a sine qua non, without it, our work as a university is not possible. There is a fine balance to be struck. On the one hand we cannot afford being naïve when it comes to the possible impacts of lobal conflicts and democratic backsliding on research and education. On the other hand, we must cling to the idea that universities are –  and should remain – global in their nature.

Without responsible internationalisation, our work as a university is not possible

Karolinska Institutet is certainly a global university – more than 70 percent of our articles have one or several international coauthors. In a turbulent world we have to uphold and communicate our academic values when we cooperate with our partners. And when we navigate troubled waters, we have to do this safely and responsibly, not with naivety but with competence. I encourage you to visit KI’s page on responsible internationalisation which offers relevant links and resources.

International cooperation is the lifeblood of a leading university. It gives us the richness of perspectives we need. It helps us study and handle global challenges. The value of international academic networks was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Virus sequences, scientific advances and real-world data were shared at unprecedented speed and helped bolster our response to a virus that came with no manual or instruction book. The lesson learned:  Our interconnectedness in terms of health – vividly displayed during the pandemic – has to be paralleled by an interconnectedness in terms of academic cooperation.


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