Lennart Johansson's work has gone hand-in-hand with KTH's internationalisation. (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

Helping KTH take its place in the world

Published Apr 24, 2014

Like some academic Tintin of our time, Lennart Johansson has traversed the globe and visited universities in 62 countries. He has seen how the role of KTH Royal Institute of Technology in the world has grown.
After a 47-year journey, together with KTH Royal Institute of Technology, this veteran traveller is now set to retire.

“To be involved in building something from the ground up gives enormous satisfaction,” he says and talks about the path he has taken; from being a student of Mechanical Engineering, to becoming a project leader, administrative director and then, for some 20 years or so, his work for KTH’s internationalisation.

Of all the international projects that Johansson has worked with, the Tempus (Trans-European Mobility Programme for University Studies) projects are those he is perhaps most proud of and where he has played a leading role in over 20 years. Tempus provides collaborative support for teachers and administrators at higher education institutions in, for example, the EU, Russia, Ukraine, the western Balkans and countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

“I’ve worked with 42 countries, had projects in all the former Soviet republics, except Azerbaijan, and most other partner countries,” Johansson says. “I have also been responsible for many collaborative projects funded by the Swedish Institute.”

International projects with Tempus are very rewarding. Apart from the fact that they contribute to placing KTH on the world map, the economic returns are not inconsiderable. The projects have more or less been fully funded, Johansson says, pointing some of the most successful projects from an economic viewpoint.

Lennart Johansson came to KTH in 1967.

“Olga and Viktor Kordas, who come from Ukraine, are good examples. They have attracted projects to KTH valued at more than SEK 100 million.”

Took off in 1976

Johansson was early to grasp the internationalisation wave. In response to the question of when he started to sense that it would be an important project for the universities, his answer comes fast: 1976. Back then, the National Board of Universities and Colleges, as it was then known, arranged a trip to Venezuela. Ten professors from KTH and ten from Lund travelled there to advance the cause of internationalisation.

“I had the privilege to travel along with them,” he recalls. “We were there for two weeks and, after that experience, many of the professors realised that we must do something to address the issue of internationalisation.”

It was autumn 1967 that Johansson, just 20 years old, first arrived at KTH to study Mechanical Engineering. After taking his degree he remained, largely due to a coincidence. A friend of his was working at the Department of Solid Mechanics. This friend, a reserve officer, had to go away for two months’ service and wondered if Lennart could stand in for him.

“I had just completed my degree and had nothing in particular arranged. There were young mouths in the family to feed. Gradually, I received other offers at KTH and things have been rolling on ever since.”

Digitalised results

Besides the fact that interaction with the outside world was starting to develop, the unsatisfactory student achievement was an important issue on KTH’s agenda. At the start of the 1970’s, the academic performance was very poor – the Institutes of Technology in Sweden were reporting more or less disastrous results, he says.

Many students abandoned their studies early and the educational establishments wanted to find out what lay behind this. A joint investigation was initiated on behalf of the Institutes of Technology, Studieavbrottsutredningen (The Non-Completion Enquiry). Johansson became project leader for this enquiry, working with the Vice-Chancellor of the time, Anders Rasmusson.

It’s the right time to retire, says Lennart Johansson.

During this period, another project arose at KTH - whether they should change over from examination books to a digitalised mark data system.

“When I was a science student, one had an examination book which was placed in the mailbox of the department concerned.”  Whereupon the courses that one had successfully completed were entered. “Once everything was properly filled in, one went to the degree administration office, handed in the examination book and then got one’s grade.”

Johansson’s task in this early digitalisation project was to convince the departments about the advantage of introducing the new system.

“Thanks to this work, I was able to build up my personal network within KTH. I was able to meet all the heads of department and also other people in the different departments.”

First Administrative Director

In the middle of the 1970’s, he received an enquiry from Mechanical Engineering asking whether he would like to work there.

“Then, I believe it was 1976, they told me they wanted to build an administrative structure. And that was how he became the Administrative Director.

Johansson was to remain at the Department of Mechanical Engineering up to 1990. By then, he and his colleagues had built up a series of international collaborative programmes. This meant that they were in the front line within the internationalisation process at KTH.

Why should it be efficient for everyone to learn everything?

The year before this he had been summoned by the President of KTH. The request was to work on international issues in a central position serving KTH as a whole.

“At the time I said no. I liked being at Mechanical Engineering so much. The following year I was summoned again and was asked the same question. Then I thought that I couldn’t say no once again. If the President comes and asks twice, then one has to say yes.”

The job description was wide-ranging. Lennart Johansson’s task was to foster KTH’s internationalisation – and he was given a free rein.

“Part of the job also was to prepare KTH for participation in the Erasmus programme which Sweden joined in 1992. That’s why I built up an infrastructure surrounding internationalisation at KTH.”

After 47 years, he believes that it is high time to hang up his boots.

“I’m really not impressed with how KTH functions today,” he says. “It worked much better and was more user-friendly 10 years ago. Everything has become much more bureaucratic.”

Weight of bureaucracy

Projects are weighed down more and more by administration and paperwork, he believes. This steals time that could be used more profitably on other things.

He is also critical of the fact that the Schools at KTH are obliged to carry out more and more tasks of an administrative nature.

“Formerly we used to say that the Schools and the Departments were responsible for the academic content and we were responsible for the rest – which, in fact, we’re good at doing,” he points out. “Now they say that the Schools have to run themselves. But why should it be efficient for everyone to learn everything? It’s really much better when one collaborates with others.”

At the same time, he is certainly grateful for all that he has had the opportunity to do during his years at KTH. All the projects, all those trips, all that trust placed in him and the privilege, moreover, of being able to shape his own working assignments.

“Like when I built up the administration office at Mechanical Engineering, for example. How many times do you come to a place where you are able to appoint all the persons yourself? To be able to build something from the ground up, that gives enormous satisfaction.”

Håkan Soold

Snapshot: Lennart Johansson

Lennart Johansson
Age: 67 years
Occupation: Project Director
Appointment of which he is proud: Honorary Doctor at the Technical University of Moldova: “That, I feel, was a fine recognition of what we achieved there”.
Home: Gärdet, 800 metres from KTH.
Family: Wife and two adult sons – 42 and 31 years old respectively, 3 children from former relationship and 6 grandchildren.
Leisure time: Travel and being together with the family. Spending time at one or other of their getaways on Vindö and Gotland. An enthusiast for the outdoor life, including skiing, ice skating, hiking and cycling.
Lunch preference: Fish at Östra Station.
Hidden talent: “I’m a fan of Wordfeud. This is due to having played a lot of Alfapet when I was a student.”