From 1 July 2021, a new sentence will be added to Chapter 1 Section 5 of the Higher Education Act: “Higher education institutions are to promote lifelong learning in their activities.” Thus, in addition to our education activities in the past with first- and second-cycle courses and study programmes and contract education, a new activity has been added.

“This means a change in our education organisation – the addition of another activity in education,” says Lena Strålsjö.

Lena Strålsjö is the project leader for Uppsala University’s one-year lifelong learning project. The project was initiated by the Vice-Chancellor in order to prepare the University for this new activity in education.

“The project’s purpose is to establish a framework to enable Uppsala University to develop this new activity. We are looking at areas such as rules, marketing and target groups for the initiative, as well as how we can work together internally with our course offering for lifelong learning.”

The project presented an initial interim report in June, with the final report scheduled for completion in December 2021. In the meantime, a landing page entitled “Education for working professionals” has been launched on the University’s external website.

Solutions to societal challenges

This new activity is part of the Swedish Government’s strategic innovation partnership programme to find innovative solutions to major challenges faced by society and to contribute to Swedish competitiveness.

“When major changes occur in society such as digitalisation and adaptations to become more sustainable, skills requirements also change. As a result, there is a need for skills development in both companies and organisations.”

In what way does this initiative differ from contract education?
“The lifelong learning initiative is about courses for the individual. Under our normal rules, individuals apply to courses. Contract education is about customised courses and programmes paid for by the employer.”

Is there any specific funding for this initiative?
“At the moment, there is only funding for a year that has been distributed between each of the disciplinary domains. However, three calls for proposals issued by Vinnova also link up to this initiative.”

There have been previous initiatives for lifelong learning. Will this one actually happen?
“Previous initiatives have often been about personal improvement, while this initiative is based on society’s need to transition to a more sustainable future and the supply of skills needed for this. This change is being introduced into the Higher Education Act on 1 July and we have just received a Government Bill for comment that sets out the possibility of sabbatical years or reduced working hours to enable this kind of study. This Bill is part of the historic Employment Protection Act agreement (LAS överenskommelse) between Sweden's unions and employer associations for dealing with the need for retraining. There is thus much to indicate that this will be implemented this time in the form of a substantial initiative rather than being some kind of fad. That means Uppsala University needs to be on its toes when it comes to this matter.”

What can we do right now as individual employees?
“If you have ideas for courses – or even the embryo of one – then please talk to the project team. We would love to get some dialogue rolling at the departments: what can we offer and what can we offer in combination with other departments or subject areas? However, it’s also important to consider what there is in terms of research that can be developed into courses for lifelong learning. Or how we might develop our partnerships. And don’t forget to engage with your own personal lifelong learning. What do you find interesting and what would you like to add to your own skills set?”