Striking a blow for physical meetings!
If the landlord Akademiska Hus does not push for the development of the physical environments, higher education institutions will be ruined, either because of the decline in student numbers or financial collapse due to unreasonably high rents, writes Viktor Öwall, dean of LTH.
– Publicerad den 1 October 2020
During a spring marked by the coronavirus we have noticed that a lot can be done digitally and remotely. However, there is something missing: physical meetings!
We hear this from students and teaching staff, as well as from large sections of society. Having solely digital activities is tiring!
One of Lund University’s and LTH’s strongest competitive advantages is the city of Lund and all our physical meeting places.
I consider that the place and physical environments will become even more important in the future, when competition from other actors for students get tougher. I therefore also think that we must endeavour to develop our physical environments – both with regard to the campus as a whole and our teaching facilities.
During my years as dean, I have tried to pursue the matter of developing the outdoor environments at LTH. We have a campus that unfortunately is very underused, but it has so much potential!
The LTH campus is a green lung that nowadays can almost be said to be “in the city centre”. We have Klas Anshelm’s distinctive architecture and thousands of students and employees who explore and create every day – for the benefit of the world.
Up to now, together with our landlord, Akademiska Hus, we have run many projects characterised by good ideas and positive discussions. Unfortunately, it has often been difficult to turn words into action.
Akademiska Hus should understand that their business model – despite their monopoly position – is threatened in the long term. This is because many Swedish higher education institutions will face a considerable downturn when we start getting serious competition from digital actors that include some of the world’s leading universities, such as MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley and Oxford.
What then would be LTH’s and Swedish universities’ unique selling point? The physical surroundings and personal meetings!
Therefore, the physical environments must be developed so that they become considerably more attractive than is often the case at present and this applies both indoors and outdoors. It is high time that Akademiska Hus took a greater responsibility for the University’s physical environments being designed so that they attract students, researchers and staff – and support external engagement with society.
All essential investments for the future cannot be paid for by increased revenue from rents.
If the landlord – who in their remit from the Swedish parliament is to “work for the long-term sustainable development of higher education institutions’ campuses” – do not push for the development of the physical environments, the higher education institutions will be ruined, either because of the decline in student numbers or financial collapse due to unreasonably high rents.
Is it perhaps time for the Government and Swedish parliament to review the commission to Akademiska Hus?
At the start of next year, I will leave my post as dean of LTH after six exciting years. The future of the physical environment of higher education is one of the really big fears that I have, and I am hoping for good cooperation in order to find a solution.
So that Sweden – in practice – will stand strong as a knowledge-based country.
Dean of LTH