First Vice-Chancellor looks back to 1983: settler spirit and societal involvement

January 16 marks the start of Halmstad University’s 40th anniversary. In 1983, Halmstad University became an independent university, with its first Vice-Chancellor, SvenOve Johansson. Today, looking back at those years, he remembers them as creative and exciting. The first education activities were programmes for engineers, pre-school teachers and after school teachers, courses in sports pedagogy and economics.

”We attained an enormous external involvement, different partners who found the development of the University important as well as fun.”

SvenOve Johansson, Halmstad University’s first Vice-Chancellor

 An older man in a blue suit jacket is visible to the left and he is talking to someone sitting to the right. Photo.

SvenOve Johansson was the University’s first Vice-Chancellor, between 1983 and 1997. He remembers the University’s early days as an independent institution as very creative and exciting. Photo: Dan Bergmark

“We really had to build from scratch. There was a very creative settler spirit, and the leader assignment was great fun. Many dedicated and talented people had gathered in the same place, heading in the same direction. The group of students that joined was also somewhat different. The innovation engineers had applied specifically to our new engineering programme, which was very much characterised by innovation. They cared very much about the University and their education, and among them this settler spirit was obvious as well. They were great at helping!”, says SvenOve Johansson.

SvenOve Johansson understood right from the start the importance even for a new university to conduct research and doctoral education.

“We invested a lot in doctoral education. Some thought I was crazy for doing so, but it is clear from the Swedish Higher Education Act that it should be that way. We reserved some money for it, and our first doctoral student to graduate was Hans Bengtsson, in Political Science. We did not have our own rights to award doctorates, but thanks to collaboration with the larger universities, many could pursue their doctoral education and obtained their doctorate there.”

Students received help to start a business

The contact with the municipality and the business sector were important from the beginning, creating conditions for the students to be able to start and develop new businesses. This also bestowed the University with a special profile.

“We attained an enormous external involvement, different partners who found the development of the University important as well as fun. Halmstad University was the only one of the smaller universities to receive money when the governmental employee funds were discontinued in the mid-1990s. We received SEK seven million to invest in developing entrepreneurship and business. I was also the only person from a smaller university to become a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), which I still am, and the reason for that was that the University was so good!”

Man standing outside, next to a large sign with the old Halmstad University logo on it. Black and white photo.

In 1988, the University moves to Larsfrid in eastern Halmstad. In the picture, the University’s first Vice-Chancellor, SvenOve Johansson, can be seen next to the University’s former logo, which was to be mounted above what was then the University’s main entrance, today the F building.

Long way to the campus area

A crucial issue for the newly started university was to find a better and more long-term location. The first premises in the Eketånga area in western Halmstad were judged to be unhealthy, due to mold, rot, etc. Local politicians as well as ministers became heavily involved in the issue.

“It was plain hell at the time. People became so sick in the premises. We had to perform our education at several different places in Halmstad. A lot of people meddled in the issue, for example the Minister of Education of that time, Lennart Bodström. I told him that “you can decide what you want about universities and education, but you can’t decide where in the city they should be located”. The fact that we finally got to move to Larsfrid and could be in one place was incredibly important. Everyone was involved in the move. We all went around, moving chairs and other things together. Everyone just helped, no question.”

SvenOve Johansson left his position as Vice-Chancellor in the end of 1997. Since then, he has followed the University at a slightly larger distance, although he still lives in Halmstad. In 2009, he received the Halmstad municipality's certificate of honor for his efforts as Vice-Chancellor, developing Halmstad University.

Text: Selma Sedelius