Dear students, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen!


Vice Chancellor Martin Hellström gave a much-appreciated speech at the opening of our International Week. You can read the speech in its entirety here:

"Dear students, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen!

When I visited Rwanda last year to participate in a conference celebrating 20 years of collaboration between universities in Rwanda and Sweden, I was surprised, not to say touched, by the fact that the conference started with a visit to the “Kigali Genocide Memorial”, followed by a speech and then a panel discussion about how the country moved on after the genocide.

Not every country in the world deals with the dark sides of its history in such an open and explicit way. But even given that it is difficult to compare the history of different countries, we can see parallels when it comes to the question how the most brutal abuses against ethnic groups begin. Wherever it happens, it always starts with the attempt to single out ethnic groups, calling them less worthy than others and dehumanizing them. Scholastique Mukasonga describes that in her book “Notre-Dame du Nil” (2012), when one of students at the Catholic boarding school in the highlands of Rwanda says:

“But I also learned that Tutsis are not human beings: here we´re inyenzi, cockroaches, snakes, rodents; to whites, we´re the heroes of their legends.”

The genocide in Rwanda took place between April and July 1994 and cost the lives of one million people. The world community was warned but chose to look away and did not intervene. And we have to remember that the former rulers, in this case Germany and Belgium (the “whites”), laid the groundwork for the genocide by classifying the Tutsis being the superior “ethnic race” (over the Hutus) and giving them access to higher positions in Rwanda.

In other words, the world community has a great responsibility for the genocide on several levels. Both the international action and the lack of international action with its disastrous consequences cannot be ignored in this context.

This year Mälardalen University´s International Week has a special focus on Rwanda. We commemorate the genocide in Rwanda 30 years ago and honor the victims of the genocide. And we want to learn more about and from each other, in order to develop knowledge in mutual cooperation between our countries. Together we want to make positive impact on the sustainable development of our countries and the world.

We want to comply with the UN´s Sustainable Development Goals and I want to point out goal no. 17 in particular which is about revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda is universal and calls for action by all countries – developed and developing – to ensure no one is left behind. It requires partnerships between governments, the private sector, and civil society. The Sustainable Development Goals can only be realized with a strong commitment to global partnership and cooperation to ensure no one is left behind in our journey to development. 

Speaking here today as vice-chancellor, I want to add and emphasize, that we must involve all our students in the global partnership to a greater extent, and we have to do that as an explicit and regular part in higher education. Not ranking lists and academic storytelling about excellence, but our students are the force that can really make a difference for the future of our world.

Therefore, we must redesign our higher education programs and address multidisciplinary and real international collaboration in order to reflect and tackle the world´s complex challenges together with students and teachers from other countries. Easily, technology can facilitate for students at different universities all over the world to meet across the boarders of our countries and disciplines. In that way we could educate our students to become game changers based on a global citizenship. Mälardalen University will do that. And I firmly believe that people who jointly develop knowledge together, try to solve global problems and learn about and from each other, will not start war against each other.

Another reason for rethinking our higher education programs is what professor Yuval Noah Harari says about the paradox of knowledge in his book “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016)”:

“Knowledge that does not change behavior is useless. But knowledge that changes behavior quickly loses its relevance.”

So, when knowledge contribute to change, we have to realize that that change must begin with our selves, and that we must develop more knowledge together. Quickly. That means that we need to develop more knowledge all the time, but even that knowledge needs to become accessible for everyone. Our universities must open up för everyone!

Change is needed. Everyone´s change is needed. For a green and circular transition. For democracy and freedom. It is not a winning concept for our future to invoke academic freedom in order to not care about the question of how to use knowledge to strengthen sustainability, democracy, and peace. Universities have a great responsibility to conduct a responsible internationalization where openness and generosity are basic attitudes. We must include students with all backgrounds to become part of our joint journey for a better world. We must stand outside governmental influence and protect academic freedom to develop knowledge in a global perspective with trust. Fear of failure or fear of meeting people from different backgrounds and countries is not a good idea. 

“Fear and suspicion […] always […] are prime causes of irrational behavior”, Dag Hammarskjöld said in his speech given at Amherst College in June 1954.  

And I want to end with the beginning of that speech at Amherst College 1954, where Dag Hammarskjöld quoted the famous poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) as follows:

"In one of the poems of Walt Whitman, published after his death, he said

                That in the Divine Ship, the World, breasting

                               Time and Space,

                All Peoples of the globe together sail, sail

                               the same voyage, are bound to the same

                               destination." (sic)

Welcome to Mälardalen university!"