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Annual University Celebration

Speech by the Chair of the Board of Directors 2023

Dear Minister and mayors,

Dear staff and students,

Dear guests, business partners and Board,

A warm welcome to SDU's annual celebration.

SDU's logo is an apple branch. But do you know the story of the University and the apple tree?

The story begins in 1966, just a few kilometres from here. The opening party for the new university in Odense is in full swing. The auditorium is thronged with the royal family, the minister of education, university rectors, proud students and city leaders. Everyone wants to welcome the University into the world.

The atmosphere in the auditorium becomes particularly ceremonious when the then rector, Mogens Brøndsted, receives a gift from Odense Municipality: a rector's chain with the University's new seal - an apple tree. And from that day on, the apple tree and the University have been inextricably linked.

The apple tree symbolises the University's ambition to put down strong roots in the area and contribute new inspiration, nourishment and knowledge that creates value for and with society. It was formulated like this: 'To promote the skills that the times demand'. That was good thinking; it was well said!

And as we gather for the annual celebration of the University today, we can confirm that the high ambitions have been more than realised -

an impressively large, beautiful and productive tree has grown. Back in 1966, the University's population totalled 180 students and 12 professors.

Today, some 20,000 students and 4,000 staff are spread across the University's campuses.

The roots and crown of our tree extend over large parts of Southern Denmark and Zealand. Education campuses have sprung up in Odense, Kolding, Sønderborg, Esbjerg and Slagelse. And more will follow.

And it is impossible to quantify how much value, relevance and quality the University of Southern Denmark has created and continues to create in the form of talented graduates, groundbreaking research results and innovative collaborations that promote growth, dynamism and development both here in Denmark and in the rest of the world.

For me, the story of the University and the apple tree is a tale of how good ideas can grow strong when we have the courage to make our dreams long term, ambitious and big.

It is a tale about how curiosity and dedication can yield substantial contributions when given the space to germinate, blossom and bear fruit.

And a tale about how roots grow strong when universities, politicians and the business community work together towards common goals.

300 days as chair of the Board

I have been chair of the Board of the University of Southern Denmark for just under 300 days and a member of the Board since 2018. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much for electing me, for your trust and for your warm welcome. I am both proud and humbled.

Being involved in the university environment is deeply fascinating. You constantly learn new things as you keep pace with the rapid development of the University.

For example, at the Sønderborg campus the Board met a group of engineers who are developing solutions that are now on the threshold of revolutionising battery technology.

And we recently reached a fantastic milestone in Odense when teaching began at New HEALTH, which uniquely brings together SDU and Odense University Hospital. New HEALTH represents a fantastic study and research environment that will pave the way for new advances in health and society.

Soon, the Maersk McKinney Institute 2.0 will be inaugurated, which will build on the groundbreaking results created so far at the Institute - including a superb collaboration with the business community. And there is more to come - watch this space!

The most important organisation in the Region

On behalf of the rest of the organisation, it is a great privilege to help uphold the Southern Danish tree of knowledge - filled with new ideas and insights - and cultivate the opportunities that ensure the University can continue to grow and bear fruit.

For me, the University of Southern Denmark is perhaps the most important organisation in the Region. The University - unlike many others - operates with a long-term perspective and therefore excels in developing society and influencing and shaping our future. Here, the most talented young people are educated for the mutable labour market of the future, and here researchers are dedicated to developing tomorrow's solutions.

And thanks to the University's fundamental ambition of sharing its resources, a strong symbiosis with the business community has developed in both education and research. A symbiosis that benefits the University, the business community and the whole of Southern Denmark.

At universities, we are dedicated to making the symbiosis even stronger - and there are great opportunities for doing so. That is why we are focusing on developing our continuing education programmes to meet the growing demand for high-quality lifelong learning.

Why cut back on quality?

The University represents optimism and sustainable solutions that advance our society. And we need these in times when we've probably never had it better, when a lot of good things are happening, but at the same time it can seem like wars and crises are mounting up all around us.

So it's no wonder that the political winds are blowing at gale force across the country's universities these days. But why is the quality of our best education programmes being risked with a master's degree reform that embodies the biggest change for universities in living memory - that includes making programmes shorter?

What will happen to quality, good ideas and motivation when we have to think in the short term instead of the long term?

How will curiosity and dedication be affected when the spaces to flourish and bear fruit are restricted?

And what about the strong roots? Can they sustain the ever-changing goals of the universities?

Is the new reform in line with the ambition of our founding: 'To promote the skills that the times demand'?

We are certainly curious about that here at the University of Southern Denmark.

But one thing we know for sure is that our impressively large and abundant apple tree will be able to weather the storm. With our strong roots and good growth conditions here in Southern Denmark, we have an excellent basis for realising our clear ambitions to develop talented graduates and groundbreaking results.

And with SDU's new strategy, we have a clear vision for how we will create value and shape the future for many years to come through high quality, talented people and excellent environments.

On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank the entire SDU organisation - all employees and students - for the great, unshakeable and excellent efforts you make - even in difficult times. It is a great asset and something you can be proud of.

Finally, I would like to thank Rector Jens Ringsmose, Pro-Rector Helle Waagepetersen and University Director Thomas Buchvald Vind for leading SDU with great diligence, skill and expediency. It is a pleasure to work with you, both on the tough decisions, such as the round of adjustments in the spring, and the long-term goals of the University's new strategy.

Finally, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to this year's honorary doctorate and award recipients, whom we have gathered to celebrate today.

Thank you very much for your attention and have a great celebration.

Søren Klarskov Vilby

Last Updated 30.10.2023