Swedish Universities Work as Building “Blocks”: Societal Challenges Tackled by Strategic Collaboration

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KLOSS project, also known as the Knowledge Exchange and Learning platform for Strategic Collaboration is an ambitious project formed in order to create a space of shared knowledge, experiences, and goals for long-term collaborations between the universities and wider society. KLOSS is the Swedish word for block, which works as a symbol of how these collaborations continue to grow and reinforce one another.

The rationale of the Project

The KLOSS project was initiated by KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in 2013. The university took the first step and began to attract other Swedish universities to join in. The rationale for the development of the project is the realization that a more efficient and sustainable result could be achieved by harnessing the knowledge, experiences and best practices of HEIs in the country. As such the project followed a more strategic and collaborative approach towards tackling the emerging societal challenges of the region.

The specific objectives of the project were

  • To develop the strategic collaboration capacity of HEIs
  • To facilitate the strategical profiling of participant institutions
  • To facilitate the sharing of good practices
  • To create a platform where as other strategic and relevant issues affecting HE could be discussed.

Project phases

The KLOSS project was carried out under two phases. The first phase with 9 HEIs, taking place before 2015, focused less on action and more on the exploration of ideas that would share knowledge in both familiar areas. In turn, this naturally created trustworthy relationships among the first nine universities involved. It signified that future collaborations could and would occur.

As the KLOSS project progressed to the second phase, two universities joined making the participants 11 in total. The second phase focused in facilitating the implementation of output and understanding generated in phase one. The main theme of the second phase was outward mobility of academics to external organization. Specifically, all the participating universities had subprojects with a minimum of 3 outgoing mobility schemes.

In 2017 KLOSS further expanded its initiative with the formation of KLOSSnet, a learning network for leadership persons responsible for collaboration at Swedish HEIs. All 37 out of 37 universities of Sweden participate in KLOSSnet.

In parallel with the formation of KLOSSnet the Swedish National Innovation Agency (Vinnova) initiated a program to stimulate the capacity for collaboration at Swedish HEIs. The framework of the program was developed in dialogue with KLOSSnet and resulted in 17 development projects that will run for 3 years, 2017-2020. The portfolio of projects covers many aspects of the collaboration theme, such as strategic partnerships, indicators, quality systems, mobility. Between 6 to 17 HEIs are engaging in each project.

The potential of the KLOSS project is great, but it will continue to need external funding for keep joint development projects ongoing.

Why join the project?

The primary challenges faced by the Swedish universities revolved around facilitating these collaborations as well as establishing incentives to engage other HEIs (see next section for detail). However, it became clear that there are several incentives and motives to be part of this collaboration. They can be simplified to four main categories: learning networks, commercialization, access to in-kind resources for academic activity and access to pecuniary resources for academic activity. These are all related, despite being separate categories. Every company and university could benefit from the different categories mentioned above. Access to in-kind resources for academic activity, for example, allows companies to use the university’s facilities such as research labs, equipment, etc. for the company to conduct its own research. On the reverse side, the students are able to work or do research at the company. The university already has the facilities, the collaboration allows the company to get access, and the university benefits from student involvement.

Biggest challenges of the initiative so far

At different stages of the initiative’s development KTH has faced a number of challenges. At the beginning of the initiative building trust in the steering committee and agreeing on prioritized focus areas and specific project scopes were the biggest challenges. Once trust is established and a consensus is reached the following set of challenges arose: Keeping commitment, focus and time for the steering committee; managing and honoring but also renewing cultures in the steering committee when people are replaced; and leverage learning between Higher Education Institutions. Currently, the initiative is faced with the following challenges: keep anchoring the national network among vice chancellors; structure and process established for the network.

Success so far

So far, the KLOSS project has brought together great amounts of knowledge and experience from various universities and turned them into new ways of undertaking the research. The initiative has worked with big Swedish companies, such as SAAB and Ericsson.  The goal was to implement several projects that would not only make research better in quality, but also more relevant to the society. This would allow an easier information and knowledge flow among educational institutions and the wider society.

Image credit: KLOSS Project