Government-driven restructuring of Swedish university boards raises serious concern among French universities
France Universités, the National Rectors’ Conference, wishes to expresses its concern about the Swedish government’s unilateral decision to change the procedure for appointing external members to the country’s university boards, reducing their term of office from 36 to 17 months in order to allow for the participation of “security experts”.
The government justifies this unprecedented move by the need to combat foreign interferences that might threaten the intellectual property rights of Swedish universities, including patent protection
Without denying the reality of such threats in Sweden as in France, as evidenced in a recent Senate report, France Universités wishes to point out that this approach is not only detrimental to the autonomy of universities as much as to the protection of academic freedom, two of the foundational principles of academic institutions everywhere in the world, but that it also very likely it will have no effect.
The issue must indeed be tackled from a different perspective, since the commercial and industrial activities of universities are in fact managed by specialised departments, which are better able to raise the awareness of researchers and those concerned by such processes. In France, the Education Code (Code de l’éducation) provides that the “industrial and commercial activities department” is responsible for “developing and exploiting patents, licences, intellectual or industrial property rights and research work”.
In a joint press release issued in November 2022, at the end of a three-day visit to Sweden, the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF) and France Universités underlined that “University presidents in both countries share the view that EU member states which are governed, or supported, by political groups which might wish to undermine fundamental values on university campuses are particularly at risk.”
Some 6 months later, and even though Sweden currently holds the presidency of the EU Council, it is unfortunately to be feared that this prediction is becoming reality. France Universités therefore fully supports the action of its Swedish counterparts to urge the Swedish government to reverse its plans.