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President Sigbritt Karlsson and Jens Zander and Amelie Eriksson Karlström answer questions from the staff. On the right, Åsa Ankarcrona, chair and Head of Communications, on the far left Annica Fröberg, Head of Human Resources and Mikael Östling, Deputy President. (Photo: Marc Femenia)

Halfway to a new school organisation

Published Jun 20, 2017

Why do the schools have to be merged? Can’t we just cooperate over school boundaries? And isn’t there a risk that we will lose momentum by devoting time and energy to reorganisation? These were some of the questions that were raised during a hearing about the change in the school organisation.

During the spring, two working groups have worked on developing proposals for the integration of six KTH schools into two. The review has now come halfway and a hearing was held on Wednesday 14 June about the planned changes.

Two groups of schools are directly affected by the reorganisation. The President’s assignment is to combine the Schools of Biotechnology, Chemical Science, and Technology and Health into one school. Amelie Eriksson Karlström , Dean of the School of Biotechnology, is leading the working group for these schools.

The other group contains the Schools of Computer Science and Communication, Information and Communication Technology, and Electrical Engineering. This grouping is supervised by Jens Zander , the Dean of the School of Information and Communication Technology.

President Sigbritt Karlsson and Jens Zander and Amelie Eriksson Karlström.

Interest in the reorganisation has been considerable, and the auditorium in Building D on the KTH Campus was full by the time the hearing began. Many KTH employees had also taken the opportunity to submit questions or comments online.

The online comments/questions were portioned out in aggregated form by KTH’s Head of Communications Åsa Ankarcrona , who chaired the hearing. The first question that was asked was why a reorganisation is needed.

Greater competition

President Sigbritt Karlsson  started off by explaining that the KTH Board has given her a clear mandate to strengthen KTH’s competitiveness. But she stressed that the issue here is not that performance is currently poor, but rather that KTH wants to take the step to the next level. Larger schools that cover related topics will provide both economies of scale and open up new development opportunities.

She also referred to the ideas behind previous reorganisations.

“Changes have not been made to solve problems but to provide a platform for the future. I have a vision that involves KTH being an excellent educational environment in all respects.”

The two working groups have each submitted a sub-report, and these were presented during the hearing. In his presentation, Jens Zander highlighted digitalisation in society as being one of the driving forces behind the need to make concerted efforts in the field of IT at KTH. He noted that nine partially overlapping programmes are currently provided in the area of ICT by four schools.

“Stockholm is a centre for digitalisation and KTH must be an engine for this development. But our range of courses, from the students’ point of view, is complicated and fragmented.”

Breaking up schools

The auditorium was packed.

But do we have to spend time and energy breaking up and changing schools that work well – can’t we just be better at cooperating across school boundaries? That question appeared both online and within the working group for the IT schools.

No, says Jens Zander, research collaboration in various projects works across school boundaries, but in terms of long-term issues such as recruitment to the faculty and educational programmes, things are more complicated. The schools’ “ownership” of the programmes creates lock-in effects that prevent structural changes.

“It is of course natural that everyone is protective of their courses and school. But to be able to take the next developmental step, we need to move away from internal competition within the same subject area by introducing common ‘ownership’ of programmes.”

The assignment issued to the working groups by the President was to propose how the three schools in each group could be integrated into one. However, the working group for the IT schools has not been able to agree on such a proposal.

Instead, they presented two options in their sub-report, one with one school and one with two schools. In the latter option, two schools would be left essentially unchanged while the third, the current School of Information and Communication Technology, would be split.

Sigbritt Karlsson noted in her comments to the IT group’s report that only the one-school option fulfilled the requirements of the assignment.

Better balance

The staff asked questions.

The conditions for the other school grouping differ quite considerably from the situation regarding the IT schools. The Schools of Biotechnology and Chemical Science are schools with a substantial focus on research and a relatively small range of courses. There is also no major overlap between the three schools with regard to programmes.

The review of the school organisation aims, among other things, to create a better balance between education and research at all the schools. That objective is not automatically achieved by merging three schools that are generally dominated by research.

However, the merged school would be a strong constellation in the area of health and the environment, which in due course would open up new opportunities in the field of education, Amelie Eriksson Karlström pointed out. At this stage, however, no proposals have been made regarding changes to the range of courses.

“But I believe in the potential of this subject area, and if we can get the organisation in place, we can then perhaps review the programmes.”

On the web, KTH employees expressed concern that the reorganisation would take time and energy from the development of research and education. Similar questions were also raised during the hearing, to which the President replied that changes have to start somewhere.

“But that doesn’t mean we can ignore everything else that we have to do.”

Work on implementing a change in the school organisation is now entering the next phase. During the summer, more detailed organisational proposals and overall transitional plans will be drawn up, and personal and economic consequences will be analysed. The final reports of the working groups are to be submitted to the President by 15 September at the latest.

Text: Ursula Stigzelius

The sub-reports in brief

The working group for the Schools of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and Electrical Engineering (EES) have broadly agreed on eight overall subjects that constitute the schools’ scientific and educational basis.

However, the working group has not been able to agree on a proposal for an integrated school organisation based on these subjects. The sub-report therefore presents two main options:

  • A school with either 6–10 or 11–16 departments, formed by merging existing departments covering related subjects from the different schools.
  • Two schools mainly based on the current CSC and EES schools. The School of ICT would be divided so that the Department of Software Engineering and Systems Technology is transferred to the CSC School and the Departments of Communications Technology and Electronics are integrated with the EES.

The working group for the Schools of Biotechnology (BIO), Chemical Science (CHE) and Technology and Health (STH) has a proposal that incorporates the three schools into one. The sub-report presents three different possible models for the integrated school.

The preferred model contains eight departments, one of which consists of the current STH in its entirety. Two current institutions, chemistry and fibre and polymer technology, would also have their own departments in the merged school. The other departments would be formed by merging units with related subject areas from the current biotechnology and chemical science schools.

See a video of the hearing