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Annual University Celebration

Rector’s speech 2023

Dear Minister, dear mayors, dear Board, dear collaboration partners

Dear staff and - not least - dear students,

Recently, I had a vivid dream. I was catapulted into the future to the year 2030, and I found myself in the heart of Odense. Driven by a desire to be sure that SDU was doing all right, I immediately jumped on the light rail going towards campus.

The carriage was jam-packed with people. On the way to SDU, several passengers grumbled that the light rail 'probably should have been made a bit bigger'.

On the seat next to me was the day's edition of Fyens Stiftstidende. I noted with some satisfaction that the cup final match in the Danish Premier League for the fifth year in a row was between OB and Sønderjyske.

However, my increasing good mood received a particular boost from the front-page story, which had the headline 'Prime Minister guarantees: university reform pause extended by 175 years!'

The first thing that struck me when I arrived at campus was that the University had expanded. New buildings had shot up. A small forest of signs indicated where you could find new halls of residence, a municipal day care centre, newly established research units and a new MedTech Innovation House in the area between SDU and New OUH.

I immediately headed for the rector's office, where I found 'my future self' reclining in the office chair.

The first thing I noticed was that, unfortunately, it wasn't only the University that had expanded in the years since 2023.

'One kilo for every year,' my future self sheepishly quipped in response to my enquiring elevator gaze.

Change the subject. Quickly. A wee bit awkward.

'You look very contented. Is SDU doing well here in 2030?' I asked.

Instead of answering directly, my future self stood up and said, 'Come with me.'

We went out into the bustle of SDU's long corridors. Large crowds of people moved more or less purposefully between auditoriums, offices, canteens, libraries and study zones. Students, researchers, lecturers and technical-administrative staff wove carefully through the crowd.

Along the way, we stopped at new buildings and laboratories, newly established research units, bulletin boards reporting on research breakthroughs, and crammed auditoriums. And at every stop I asked: 'Is this the source of your great enthusiasm and joy?'

And each time the answer was pretty much the same: 'It's tremendous, but there's something else.'

When we finally reached the end of the University's longest corridor, my future self turned around, pointed down the corridor and said: 'There, right there - that is the source of the University's enormous success and my great joy.'

I looked a little sceptically through the thousands of figures crowding the corridor.

But at that very moment it dawned on me - and my present and future selves exclaimed in one voice: 'It is the people of SDU who make the difference!'


Dear all,

Welcome to the present and the 2023 Annual University Celebration!

For me, the annual celebrations at SDU are something very special. They are the recurring celebration of the sciences, of academia and of our fantastic institution - the University of Southern Denmark.

It is the day we set aside each year to pay tribute to the uncompromising quest for knowledge. The curiosity-driven immersion. And the courage to devise and test bold hypotheses. We celebrate the development of new research-based solutions to some of society's greatest challenges. And then we party together with our amazing, talented and energetic students.

But the annual celebration is perhaps most of all the occasion when we celebrate and honour the people who populate the University - individuals as well as groups. Researchers, lecturers, VIP, TAP, students, board members, external, internal - all of the people who together are the University of Southern Denmark.

For SDU is not just a collection of campuses spread out all over Southern Denmark. SDU is, above all else, people. And my celebration speech is all about them. The people who together embody the University of Southern Denmark.

First of all, it is the people at the University of Southern Denmark who create the very special SDU spirit. A spirit that pervades, informs and manifests in the way we do things here at the University.

It is a spirit characterised by a towering level of ambition, desire for knowledge, creativity and the courage to take new paths. In research. In our education programmes. And in our many collaborations with the world around us.

But it is also a spirit exemplified by decency, a willingness to cooperate, and a pragmatic 'we must find a solution' approach. SDU is a community where you care about each other. Where you rejoice and celebrate the successes of colleagues. A community where the sense of reciprocity and a shared responsibility prevail.

That spirit exists only by virtue of the people who live and breathe it every day.

For the same reason, 2023 has also been a difficult year. A hard-pressed economy meant that in the spring we had to close education programmes and bid farewell to skilled colleagues. It hurt.

Secondly, it is the people at SDU who are the essential cornerstone for us to deliver the highest international quality that creates value for and with our surroundings. Infrastructure, laboratories, buildings and up-to-date IT systems are important elements. But talented people and excellent environments are vital.

And we have a lot of extremely talented people at SDU. The shower of prizes that have rained down on us in 2023 testifies to that.

- In January, Professor Donald Canfield received the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Grant.

- In September, Professor Anne-Marie Mai was awarded the Carlsberg Foundation's Research Prize.

- And only recently Professor Christine Stabell Benn was honoured with the George Macdonald Medal.

Talented people are the indispensable starting point for a successful university. This acknowledgement is also the key element of the University of Southern Denmark's new strategy. The main thrust of the strategy - which bears the title 'Value. Quality. People.' - is a focus on retaining, developing and attracting talented people. VIP, TAP and students.

It is in view of this that we have decided to implement the minimum grade requirement of 7 for admission to virtually all of our degree programmes. We have a high level of quality in our auditoriums and classrooms. We want to have that in the future as well.

There will be a need to focus on quality in the coming years. The master's degree reform adopted by a broad majority in the Danish Parliament in June is going to challenge us.

It is the most intrusive education reform in living memory, and we are genuinely concerned that the restructuring of 30 percent of places on our master's education programmes will lead to a loss of quality.

Dear Minister,

We have repeated our arguments and objections to you ad nauseam. But the decision has been made - we might have wanted a different outcome, but we will now take a constructive approach to the difficult implementation work. And as they say in Danish Defence: The best gifts are tasks.

I would like to thank you for attending SDU's Annual University Celebration. We greatly appreciate that. I would also like to acknowledge your efforts to speak out in support of universities at a time when it is not difficult to find critics.

I - and many others here at the University - consider you a strong and powerful advocate for the classical, liberal university that emerged from the Enlightenment. It takes one to know one.

Having said that, we are more than happy to engage in a discussion about pausing reforms - and for slightly less than 175 years would probably be OK too.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you who are SDU. The people of the University of Southern Denmark. Your dedicated efforts make SDU an institution of which I am proud to be a part. A university of international class with strong roots in the Region of Southern Denmark.

The sun is shining on SDU. It will do so in 2030 as well. And that is, first and foremost, because of you.

Thank you for that, and thank you for your attention.

Jens Ringsmose

Last Updated 30.10.2023