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Published: 21 Jan, 2016

Professor Lars Westin: “To build on Campus Umeå is positive”

NEWS "I have long since said that campus should be more densely built upon, with a combination of accommodation and other buildings. Having a campus without accommodation is rare on an international scale, where a blend of buildings with various purposes is usually standard,” says Professor Lars Westin, director of Cerum, Centre for Regional Science at Umeå University.

Lars Westin, who at an early stage of the campus development plan, advocated for more accommodation and a blended campus, as well as opening up for some traffic, now has reason to be pleased about the new campus plan entailing most of his wishes.

Having been red listed by the Swedish National Union of Students (SFS) is not just altogether a bad thing, he says.
“What’s positive is of course that many people want to study at Umeå University. But if the listing means that the housing market is dysfunctional, it can be a problem. In the case of Umeå, both reasons play a huge part.”

“It is also unrealistic for new students to expect the perfect accommodation already at the term start. Most often everything works out after a few months. But if the lack of accommodation lasts until the end of term, it is a sign of an insufficient capacity and a sign of the pace of new builds not meeting the needs,” Lars Westin continues.

An increased blend is beneficial

The current lack of student housing is partly due to Akademiska Hus’ previous attitude, he says and means that both the university and the municipality should urge for property managers and building companies who can and would be interested in managing various kinds of buildings – both research and education facilities, accommodation, offices and business premises. All of that could have positive effects on both students, staff and other parties involved.

“One example being the kitchen of Universum being unused for a large part of the day. By extending three to four floors on top of Universum to house accommodation for students and visiting professors; and offering both breakfast and dinner would be a possibility instead of using this huge kitchen for lunch alone.”

Campus is large enough – but not open enough

Lars Westin sees no risks in letting go of some areas previously reserved for the expansion of the university in aid of the building of housing.

“We don’t need more land as Campus Umeå is so sparsely built and at the same time, the need for huge premises in the ever more digitalised research climate is not as dire.

Yet, he wishes for more research institutes – not least independent ones. This could be made possible with a privatised school of business, which includes a business incubator for the social sciences and the arts.

“It’s slightly tricky with a city where a rather traditionally ruled government somewhat has monopoly over research. Central structures within Umeå University root back to the 60’s.” 

Kollage av byggnader på campus
Independent research institutes at or neighbours to Campus Umeå?

Diversity provides a versatile labour market

Other authorities such as the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and the Swedish Transport Administration – who both conduct research – can position themselves in Umeå to constitute an independent research institute focusing on building. This could be achieved by new collaborations with consultancy companies such as Sweco and Tyréns, both of which have expanded in Umeå in recent years, or by all means with other parties in the sectors of building, finances and real estate.

“Umeå could also invite internationally operative universities to establish research and educational facilities in Umeå. It would provide for an extended diversity of thoughts and a more versatile labour market for researchers in Umeå,” concludes Lars Westin.

Editor: Anna Lawrence