Eventful years marked by change and development

Not even a month is left of his time as Vice-Chancellor, which has lasted for seven and a half years. Does he remember his first day as Vice-Chancellor? Björn Brorström leans back and pushes up his glasses onto his forehead and is silent for a while when asked.

"Yes, I remember," he says. “It was 1 August 2011. The following day I took a holiday as my son was getting married in Finland. That meant I went away on my second day and it was a bit special that I did so," he says, laughing.

However, he had been Pro Vice-Chancellor for more than four years before this and the board had decided that he was a candidate for Vice-Chancellor nearly a year prior. It was a natural and easy transition.

"I was well informed about the questions important for the university and how we work. At the same time, there was a big difference both mentally and in substance. There is no one else, which makes it a little lonely. It has, then, been important to build up a network with others in similar positions outside the university.

Pro Vice-Chancellor who pushed for research

During his time as Pro Vice-Chancellor, he began the work of getting the university to build complete academic environments--education at all levels.

"Since then, I've been closely associated with research and doctoral education issues. But that was nothing I did in my previous work as Head of Department at the University of Gothenburg. There, I worked with undergraduate and Master's degree education," he says.

But he brought with him the conviction that the link between education and research is extremely important.

"We began to change how financing was distributed so that it went to projects instead of people. In addition, we decided that research should be divided into six areas, and those still apply.

Then, in 2009, new legislation was passed that was a perfect fit for the University of Borås. It meant that universities could apply for rights to grant doctoral degrees within unique, well-defined areas.

"It was an exciting time. We had strong applications, but it still felt uncertain because we did not know how high the bar would be set. We applied within all six areas and we received four rights within three areas. And then we received rights in the Human Perspective in Care, as well, one and a half years ago."

And with graduate schools, good recruitment and collaboration with other institutions, he thinks that the university is well on track when it comes to Pedagogical Work and Business and IT.

A meaningful issue along with the way has been the desire for the University of Borås to receive formal university status from the Swedish government, which it has not yet achieved; it is today a university college. That question has been a part of much of the work. Further education at the doctoral level, more research, more international collaborations--all of these have been a driving force to give the institution the qualities of a university.

"We are not politically naive but know that it is the government that makes this decision. But that we are pushing the question shows that we have ambitions," he says.

"And it feels good that we have strengthened the University of Borås. I'm happy and pleased about it. And the external research funding has gone from 30 million to 100. It's been a big change over a number of years, which has been good for the university and very important for the future."

Development processes drive him

But being a leader is nothing he's actively aimed for; what drives him is development.

"I've never thought in terms of ‘I'm going to be the boss,’ yet I've often ended up there. What drives me is doing new things. Not going aimlessly from one thing to another, but driving development processes based on the conviction that it is necessary to improve," says Björn Brorström.

Examples of development work he is proud of are those around sustainability and equality issues. And the formation of Science Park Borås. Another development process was the reorganisation that took place in 2014. That decision was based on seeing that the former organisation had gotten stuck.

"I thought that I had to take responsibility and do something. Therefore, I made a proposal that I presented on 11 February 2013," he explains.

"I started on Monday morning in the Advisory Council, then I met with the board chairpeople, and then I met with the union representatives. By coincidence, all the meetings were booked for the same day, so I met everyone and gave them all the same presentation. And after that, we established an investigation that suggested partly new constellations based on my proposal."

But in the autumn of 2013, Björn had it tough. There were many who had views on the reorganisation. Things got easier when the Deans of Faculty were recruited and then the Heads of Department.

"In retrospect, I am pleased. There may be reason for my successor to change things up. But I think it has only gotten better and better. If you see it from an operational perspective, it was necessary and it proved to be a good thing," he says.

Dreams of writing by the sea

He is leaving his post but not the university. In 2019, he will immerse himself in the question of what an effective university landscape is.

"Should we do as we have done--build up a large research base linked to educational programmes--and what possibilities do we have when it comes to the funds we receive from the government?"

At the same time as he leaves his post as Vice-Chancellor, he also leaves his position on the board of the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions.

"It will be a natural change; it has been very fun. All my national assignments and visits to Stockholm have been great," he says.

In the coming time, he will also write about academia from different aspects--equality, sustainability, student influence and so on. He is also planning, together with the City of Borås and in preparation for its 2021 anniversary, a project called "City in transformation." In addition, board assignments will continue at Østfold University College and work with the Danish Accreditation Institution, and he will be chairperson of the evaluation of KTH Royal Institute of Technology's quality system.

"There will probably be plenty to do. But the dream I have had since I was 25 years old, to get up early in the morning, sit and write and look out over the sea, that I will realise," concludes Björn Brorström.

Read the Vice-Chancellor's blog (external link)

Follow Björn Brorström on Twitter (external link)

Text Anna Kjellsson
Photo: Anna Sigge, Patrik Svedberg, Frida Klingberg
Translation: Eva Medin