Increased focus on lifelong learning

22 september 2021

People moving up the stairs of a building

Since 1 July 2021, lifelong learning has become an area prescribed by law in Sweden’s Higher Education Act. But work on this national task has been in progress for a long time at the Faculty of Science and Technology at Uppsala University. Andreas Rietz, a senior engineer of mechanical integrity at Scania, is a person who has taken advantage of the Faculty’s new course offering.

Of course, working professionals and job-seekers have long been able to continue their professional development and deepen their knowledge at Sweden’s higher education institutions. But in 2020, the Swedish Government launched a new strategic innovation partnership programme on the theme Skills supply and lifelong learning. Its aim is to find innovative solutions to society’s biggest challenges and contribute to Sweden’s competitiveness. Universities and other higher education institutions were tasked with developing courses intended for both working professionals and those in need of continuing professional development or retraining.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020 the Government also decided to make it possible for more students to study summer courses or to start a longer study programme. Uppsala University received SEK 22 million for lifelong learning courses, and in June 2020 the first new courses could be held.

Aiming to capture the needs of society

At Uppsala University, Lena Strålsjö is the manager of the project for University-wide lifelong learning activities.

Project manager Lena Strålsjö.
Photo: Falkuggla

“This is a one-year project in which we are looking at what the University can do in the long term for lifelong learning – from courses offered and target groups to rules and regulations. The skills that our society requires are changing in pace with increased digitalisation, climate change and greater demands in relation to sustainability for example. Therefor the University’s efforts are very much about capturing the needs of the community so that we can design courses to meet those needs.”

From autumn 2021, a number of seminars, workshops and focus groups have been planned to identify what courses are needed and how work with lifelong learning should be organised. In addition, Lena Strålsjö and her project colleagues are hoping for positive news regarding a Government Bill on student finance for sabbatical years or reduced working hours for the purposes of pursuing studies as part of lifelong learning. The Bill is part of the LAS (Employment Protection Act) agreement with a number of unions and the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, and if passed into law will strengthen employees’ right to retraining and also offer a supplementary study finance system.

Wanted: flexible courses

Project manager Sami Vihriälä.
Photo: Mats Kamsten

In parallel, but working with the University-wide project, the Faculty of Science and Technology is designing courses for skills development and retraining. The aim is that lifelong learning courses will ultimately account for about 10 per cent of the Faculty’s total courses and study programmes offered, according to Sami Vihriälä, project manager at the Office for Technology and Science.

“Courses within lifelong learning are different from the usual course and study programmes offered because employers and employees want flexible courses that can be combined with working life. So we want to work with alumni as well as enterprise and government agencies to find out how the Faculty can work with lifelong learning effectively and in the long term.”

Broad introduction to batteries

One of the courses given by the Faculty since June 2020 is Batteries for electromobility. This distance learning course is worth 7.5 credits and provides an introduction to energy storage in the form of batteries for electric vehicles. Something that drew the interest of 47-year-old Andreas Rietz, a senior engineer of mechanical integrity at Scania in Stockholm.

Andreas Rietz, senior engineer of
mechanical integrity.
Photo: Private

“The subject matter of this course was very timely for me. The course provided a very good theoretical overview of different types of batteries, fuel cells and issues around electromobility. The lectures and workshops discussed everything from battery chemistry and battery manufacturing to the best way to recharge and recycle batteries. The only thing I felt was missing was that we couldn’t be there on campus. It would have been exciting to visit the Ångström Advanced Battery Centre.”

After completing his Master of Science in Engineering Physics and Electrical Engineering at Linkoping University in 2000, Andreas ended up starting work at Scania. For twelve years he has been working with exhaust aftertreatment systems, or silencers. He also works with how to arrange battery packs to fit as many as possible into a battery-driven lorry.

Learning useful immediately

When the pandemic broke out last spring, Scania engaged about 10,000 white-collar employees in short-term work, of whom about 3000 were employees working in research and development, and Andreas had his working hours reduced by 40 per cent. Akademikerföreningen (the local Association for graduate professionals) tipped him off about the battery course at Uppsala University.

Since taking the exam in July 2020, he has shared the course presentation material with colleagues from whom he has received many enthusiastic responses. At Scania, normal speed has now been resumed and Andreas is back to working full-time.

“Many engineers at Scania and also other vehicle manufacturers are going to be starting working with batteries, so really there are thousands of engineers who should take this course.”