Rector Dag Rune Olsen: An international mind
UiB’s new rector Dag Rune Olsen looks forward to building on the university’s successes in past years. But what are his own plans for taking UiB further?
Professor Dag Rune Olsen is rector of UiB, starting 1 August 2013. We met up with him to ask a few questions about the university’s international plans and ambitions.
Do you have a special memory from your travels as an academic that you would like to share with us?
“A couple of years ago, I did a series of lectures at Chengdu University in China, where I was touched by the students’ emotional engagement. To my surprise, the students embraced me when my tenure there was over.”
So how do you plan to take this emotional impact you have to your work as rector of UiB?
“Being embraced isn’t exactly something that happens every day, (laughs), although I do consider myself a reasonably good lecturer. What I do find important is to engage with the students and to sit down and work together with them.
“This approach is also extremely important when you are the rector. Being present and visible in the university is incredibly important. You have to care about the day-to-day activity. At the same time you need to be visible outside the university, both locally and internationally.”
When you campaigned to become rector, you were talking about the Bergen region as an educational powerhouse – Kunnskapsregionen Bergen. Why is this local connection so important to you?
“For us to become a major global institution, we need the ability to cooperate with others local institutions here in Bergen. This way the whole Bergen area can become a key player in the creation of knowledge even outside the region.”
So the old adage of ‘thinking globally, acting locally’ still matters?
“Absolutely. In my four years as dean at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences I oversaw a lot of international work. Not the least our participation in development-related research in Africa. Capacity-building is a key word for our work there, and this is something I want to build on as rector.
“I am also very pleased with UiB’s contribution to theoretical particle physics research at CERN. And most definitely our international climate research environment, with members on the United Nations’ climate panel, who are regularly quoted in international media.”
So is there any particular research and education work that you will highlight in the years ahead?
“As rector I look forward to promoting all the international relations that have been built at our faculties and departments. But development-related research and marine research are the key focus areas of UiB. There is a lot of international activity in both and we must continue to develop this.”
Your rector team comprises several members with international experience, such as Vice-Rectors Anne Christine Johannessen and Oddrun Samdal. How important is this experience?
“If we are to further develop our international profile, it is essential that we as a team have worked internationally and know what this means. The ability to interact with politicians and diplomats to facilitate international cooperation is of the essence.”
You mentioned capacity-building as a key word. How can UiB contribute to this in developing countries?
“As in past years, we will set aside funding on the UiB budget for capacity-building in select African countries. But if we are to develop and strengthen this work, we need more external funding. In effect, Norway as a nation must decide that it is important to have a high profile in this area. We must also apply for international funding where possible.”
Six UiB researchers have been awarded advanced grants from the European Research Council, and there are four Norwegian Centres of Excellence. How important are these research environments for the university?
“First of all we need to ensure that research environments that are at the forefront internationally have a framework that promotes growth, and also that they are an inspiration for others. For us as a university, it’s important to identify others who can get to a similar international level and make sure that they receive proper funding.”
So I guess you will encourage more people to apply for international grants and scholarships?
“Absolutely. International financial support is essential, not least to reach our scientific and educational goals. But it is also crucial for us as an international university, because it is through some of these schemes that we build our international networks and can facilitate international cooperation.”
You mentioned educational goals. At UiB the connection between education and research is very pronounced. What plans do you have for UiB’s international education programmes?
“We already have a lot of students at the PhD level. This is excellent. But I want to see more international students already at the bachelor and master levels. This is necessary if we are to be a truly international university.”
You have held a number of positions in international organisations. How will you use this experience to promote UiB outside of Norway?
“It’s really about talking to other researchers and university leaders, but also international decision-makers in politics, business and diplomacy to show them how our activities can help their work. So basically it is about promoting UiB at every conceivable opportunity, for it to be more or less a reflex. I believe that will come naturally as I grow into the job.”
(Translation: Sverre Ole Drønen.)