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Mille Millnert closes the books

Mille MillnertAfter 38 eventful years at Linköping University, Mille Millnert is bidding farewell. He’s now leaving the office of Rector to be Director General of the Swedish Research Council.

“It feels a little sad. It’s been a fantastic time,” he says.After 38 eventful years at Linköping University, Mille Millnert is bidding farewell. He’s now leaving the office of Rector to be Director General of the Swedish Research Council.

“It feels a little sad. It’s been a fantastic time,” he says.

As a 21-year-old he moved from Norrköping to Linköping to study engineering physics and electronics.

“I still remember when the student’s corridor was on Rydsvägen 246C. I enjoyed my studies and student life was great fun,” Millnert says.

At that time, he had his sights set on a job in industry. But when he was close to his degree and Lennart Ljung, a newly-minted professor in automatic control engineering, asked if he wanted to start doctoral studies, he stayed on.

“I was his very first doctoral student,” Millnert says.

After his doctorate, he was offered a job as a research assistant at Uppsala University. But LiU countered with a lectureship. So Millnert stayed on.

Later, he divided his time between education and research for many years. As time went by, he also took on leadership tasks, and one thing led to another. He became the director of studies for automatic control engineering, took over the chair of the education committee for engineering physics and electronics, and was dean of the Institute of Technology before becoming Rector of Linköping University in 2003.

Seven and a half years later – how does he sum up his time as Rector?

“LiU has had strong development and gone forward in every area, on the whole. To say nothing of being able to strengthen our research, which in itself is a condition for continuing to be successful in undergraduate education. Otherwise, we won’t be able to attract the best teachers and students.”

As a long-time basketball player and coach, he doesn’t hesitate to use images from the sports world.

“The differences between various universities and colleges is growing. Today, there’s a small group that belongs to the major league. LiU is there and will stay there. This quest spurs us to do our utmost.”

Earlier during his tenure as Rector, he took the initiative for work in identifying and clarifying LiU’s strategic goals. This resulted in a strategy map that indicates the directions for how research and education should be strengthened so that LiU contributes to growth and the general welfare.

What Millnert sees as most important is what sits lowest on the strategy map: promoting awareness that LiU exists in a competitive world.

“A tremendous amount has happened over the years. In the beginning there was very little understanding for this way of thinking in many directions. Today, it’s widely accepted that this is how it really looks, whether you like it or not.”

Development has also come up against ever tougher competition. Research funds are allocated more and more to research environments that are already strong, and resources are redistributed among the various institutions of learning. The aspects of quality will influence the allocation of resources to undergraduate education from now on.

“And this is only the beginning,” Millnert says. “The unexpectedly strict evaluation regarding the right to award diplomas for the new teacher education programmes is a further example. Here, we showed how important it is to be well-prepared.”

On the whole, he thinks that the strategic goals that were set have kept well over the years.

“The emphasis has shifted a little. At the beginning of my time as Rector, we were in a weak financial position, we were operating on a deficit and had to dismiss staff. At that time, there was more focus on efficiency. Today, it’s more an issue of being skilled at recruiting to be able to use our tremendous resources in the best possible way.”

He sees staff recruitment as an issue of continued importance for LiU. This also presupposes better economic planning on all levels.

“For several years there’s been an exaggerated caution over hiring new staff. People wear themselves out in education and research projects are delayed, while money is piling up.”

“We’re not ready to find an organisation for the demands imposed on us, either. A university today needs to handle acting quickly and vigorously, but also needs far-sightedness and stability.”

What he is most pleased with from his time as Rector is the contact with the outside world.

“We’ve begun to build up a strong system of innovation around LiU. We have the largest business incubator in Sweden. And our fund-raising campaign has not only provided tremendous resources, but also strengthened the band and established new relations with various partners in the locality,” Millnert says.

New challenges await him in his role as Director General for the Swedish Research Council. There, he will be ultimately responsible for the allocation of 4.5 billion SEK to the Swedish research community.

“But I won’t decide personally how the money is to be allocated. My task is primarily to see to it that the process is a good one and retains high quality.”

He is a little concerned over the fact that many financial backers of research follow the herd.

“A couple of years ago, everyone was investing in strong environments and excellence centres. Now they’re talking about the importance of supporting younger researchers. But we can’t forget those in the middle – those who are no longer young but haven’t yet become world leaders!”

He also hopes to find space for more money for high-risk projects that could lead to huge breakthroughs.

Several years ago, Millnert returned to Norrköping and the new job doesn’t mean he’s now moving to the big city.

“I’m counting on commuting. It doesn’t take more than an hour and a half, door-to-door – if the trains run on time – and I can work for at least an hour in both directions. And if I need to stay in Stockholm, my oldest son is there.”

“Being Director General of the Research Council wasn’t anything I’d planned for. But when the question came, I decided quickly. Now I have an opportunity to influence research in Sweden for a number of years to come.”

Photo: Göran Billeson



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Last updated: 2011-02-09