Dear Academia, Distinguished Guests, Dear University of Gdańsk Community, and Friends!
We have just listened to a poem by our renowned poet and Nobel Prize winner, Wisława Szymborska, entitled 'Virtually Every Poem'. What draws attention there is the extraordinary respect expressed for words, thought, and the value of reflection and perception. This is nothing other than the poetic dimension of beauty retained in a poem, enchanted in a word.
A beauty that has different dimensions and sources – and will certainly not be generated by artificial intelligence.
The year 2023 is dedicated - as is our solemn day today - to the memory of Wisława Szymborska. But why do I mention artificial intelligence?
On the university’s social media, on the university’s website, and also today - before the inauguration - you could watch a spot of our latest advertising campaign, Memories Can’t be Generated. You Can Create Them with Us. The posters preceding the spot were actually created with the help of machine learning software, but the accompanying video - showing real young people against the backdrop of our city, our campus - carries the message that what really matters is what we experience in person.
Artificial intelligence has dominated the public and academic discussion over the past year - the biggest IT giants, co-creators of this, so to speak, revolution of everything, have faced the need to recognise all the implications of this extraordinary technological achievement. We have also – at the University of Gdańsk and other universities – faced the need to define the place of artificial intelligence in our research, in academic teaching, and finally, in a completely new format for protecting intellectual property.
A year of many events is behind us, some of which we had the opportunity to celebrate for the first time, like the entrusting of Named Chairs to the first distinguished scholars a year ago. The Maria Janion Chair was taken by the philosopher Professor Agata Bielik-Robson, the Wacław Szybalski Chair by the molecular biologist Professor Andrzej Dziembowski, and the Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski Chair by the economist Professor Leszek Balcerowicz. At this point, I would like to thank them sincerely for agreeing to and devoting their valuable time to our university. Thanks to their presence, the University of Gdańsk’s academic community has had the opportunity to listen to lectures by eminent scholars. It has also been able to join in the various initiatives arising around these prestigious chairs.
This year, the chairs named after Janion, Szybalski and Kwiatkowski will be held by lawyer Professor Hanna Suchocka, physicist Professor Harald Weinfurter, and archaeologist Professor Mariusz Ziółkowski. In the past year, due to the next edition of the Visiting Professors programme we created, we learned about the research results and scientific perspectives of twelve female researchers from all over the world. These meetings are an opportunity to learn about eminent scholars' research and make numerous acquaintances and contacts, which we believe will enable our scholars to internationalise their research even more intensively to form consortia that lead to excellent joint scientific projects. In turn, thanks to the internship programme for young scientists implemented last year, eight doctoral students received a kind of ticket to excellence - the opportunity to complete an internship in the best centres in the world.
An example of cooperation that has resulted in a beautiful long-term friendship is the research into quantum physics phenomena by Prof. Marek Żukowski and Prof. Anton Zeilinger, who celebrated receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics a year ago. We also have the honour and pleasure of working with the second Nobel Prize winner, Alain Aspect. I would now like us to stay on the subject of quantum physics. Thanks to our support, the first Doctoral School of Quantum Information Theory in Poland, and perhaps even in Europe, was established this year under the direction of Professor Łukasz Rudnicki.
A beautiful underlining of the high position of quantum physicists from our university was that Professor Ryszard Horodecki from the International Centre for Theory Of Quantum Technologies at UG received the highest honour awarded by the Polish Physical Society - the Marian Smoluchowski Medal.
But there is also a spoonful of tar that I must mention on this occasion: our physicists and their colleagues from all over the world work in the oldest building on this campus. In the past three years, we have been able to renovate part of this building thanks to the commitment of our resources and the one-off grants we are constantly seeking. Unfortunately, a large part of the building is still waiting for a major refurbishment, for which our ministry refuses to provide us with funding. These decisions are simply incomprehensible to us because, after all, where else but a centre of world science, a breeding ground for the talents of young researchers, a meeting place for Nobel Prize winners, is funding supposed to go? We call for these unfortunate decisions to be changed.
Our scientists are traditionally among the winners of the so-called Pomeranian Nobel, the Jan Hevelius Science Prize of the City of Gdańsk. In the humanities and social sciences category for 2022, it was awarded to Professor Jacek Zaucha - a researcher of the economic values of space and the maritime space category creator. On the other hand, Ariadna Łada-Maśko, MSc, from the Faculty of Social Sciences, received the prestigious Jan Uphagen Award of the City of Gdańsk for Young Scientists in the humanities and social sciences category for her outstanding achievements in clinical psychology of the child in the family system. Also receiving congratulations during the past academic year was an exceptional scientist from our university, Professor Grzegorz Węgrzyn, who was once again elected president of the Gdańsk branch of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The Director of the International Centre for Research on Anticancer Vaccines, Professor Natalia Marek-Trzonkowska, and Dr Łukasz Rąbalski from the Department of Recombinant Vaccines received the Minister's Awards at the Polish Science Gala. In turn, medals of Merit for Polish Science were awarded to Professors Piotr Mickiewicz and Jan Wendt from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Professor Artur Świergiel from the Faculty of Biology. The βeta Award for outstanding achievements in the field of financial management was awarded to Professor Julia Koralun-Bereźnicka and Dr Dawid Szramowski from the Faculty of Management.
The excellent cooperation with the City of Gdańsk, strengthened last year by, among other things, the signing of an agreement to open a new course, Art of Creative Writing, is also producing tangible results in the form of projects and research conducted by our staff for the benefit of the people of Gdańsk and the region. These efforts have been recognised with several prestigious awards, of which I will mention just a few: on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Gedanopedia, the President of the City of Gdańsk Awards in the Field of Culture were presented to Professor Błażej Śliwiński and Professor Sławomir Kościelak for setting up Postgraduate Programme in Gedan Studies (Gedanistyka). Dr Anna Sobecka received the Splendor Gedanensis Award of the City of Gdańsk in the Field of Culture for her book Obrazowanie natury w nowożytnym Gdańsku (Picturing Nature in Modern Gdańsk). Professor Miłosława Borzyszkowska-Szewczyk and Dr Marta Turska from the Institute of Germanic Philology received the Award in the Field of Culture in recognition of their charisma and first-class professionalism in their work to shape Gdańsk's culture. In turn, Dr Hanna Obracht-Prondzyńska from the Faculty of Social Sciences received the Award of the Mayor of the City of Gdańsk and the Gdańsk Scientific Society for Young Scientists for 2022, while the Marshall of the Pomeranian Voivodeship honoured Dr Magdalena Staręga from the Faculty of History with a special award for her passion and commitment to caring for the cultural heritage of the Gdańsk STOCZNIA (Gdańsk Shipyard).
Speaking of the successes and work of our scientists, I would like to emphasise the fact that they take an active part in solving unexpected problems that are a severe threat to the environment, as well as our lives and health. For example, Professor Hanna Mazur-Marzec was the first scientist to detect and confirm the presence of prymnesins in the disastrously poisoned Oder River - prymnesins are toxins produced by so-called golden algae. Thanks to the cooperation of three research groups led, among others, by Dr Łukasz Rąbalski of the University of Gdańsk, it was also possible to obtain very quickly the first sequence of the H5N1 influenza virus, which infected cats on a massive scale throughout Poland.
Not all research is 'in the media', and not all is of interest to non-scientific audiences. Yet, all of it has a considerable impact on our lives, not only in terms of biology but also intellectual aspects, without which societies do not develop and fail to benefit from what they receive as a gift from previous generations: history, tradition, language culture, scientific heritage, literature and much more.
This is why it is so important to appropriately and relevantly to today’s challenges fund science and research and development works, to encourage scientists to apply for grants, and to create clear, transparent application paths. These are actions from the ground up, as in the case of the Programme for the Support of the Gdańsk Humanities, established at the beginning of this term of office, under which project work continued last academic year, and the University of Gdańsk Publication Programme, in which we reward the authors of the most prestigious articles and monographs. Not only is the number of scientific publications increasing yearly, but also their quality as measured by standardised international indicators. Analysis of data from the two largest international databases - Scopus and Web of Science - confirms the increase in the quality of publications, as evidenced by the values of citation indices, which in the last two years have exceeded the world average. This confirms that publications by authors from the University of Gdańsk indexed in international databases have been cited more frequently than the global average of citations for publications in a given discipline.
It is also vital to raise funds for research from non-academic sources, which our scientists are doing successfully. In 2022, the University of Gdańsk was in 5th place among all Polish universities that raise the most funds from Horizon Europe. It is here, at the University of Gdańsk, that two International Research Agendas operate, financed in large part from external funds; it is also here that the prestigious ERC grant is being implemented, and in the academic year 2022/2023 alone, we received funding from the National Science Centre for the implementation of 56 projects totalling almost PLN 54 million.
On the one hand, our successes in this respect are gratifying. Still, on the other hand, we must realise that the funding of the so-called basic activities of Polish universities changes by just a few per cent from year to year and does not consider the rising costs of maintaining a university in times of unabated inflation. I would like to repeat the words of Rector Krzysztof Wilde from yesterday's inauguration at the Gdańsk University of Technology: unfortunately, Polish science is getting poorer. The budget we receive for our employees' salaries, compared to the cost of living, media and all those things that every one of us, including scientists, has to live with, means that we can talk about the progressive financial degradation of scientists. The average remuneration of a Polish scientist in relation to the minimum wage has decreased twice in the last dozen years. The minimum salary for a titular professor, a profession of the highest social trust, will – in a short time – not be much higher than one and a half times the minimum salary. As you have heard, we are doing what we can to counteract these trends; however, in the long term, we will not be able to stop the outflow of younger staff in particular, and we will not be able to attract the most talented young people to the profession of researcher or academic teacher.
Universities, higher education, research and science are our common good. We must finally make them the Polish raison d'état!
Anyone who follows my speeches closely knows that I keep repeating the importance of scientific cooperation. Without perspective and openness to what the world offers us in all areas of science and innovation - we will become a limited institution with minimalist requirements and such achievements. That is why we embarked on a wide-ranging effort three years ago to internationalise our university.
We expanded the Erasmus package to include not only students and academics but also administrative staff, allowing them to learn about structures and work in universities worldwide. For the past year, one of several Erasmus+ project service points in Poland and the InnHUB Gdańsk office have been operating in this building, supporting the development of Pomerania's socio-economic environment. As a result of the internationalisation policy pursued by the university authorities, the University of Gdańsk has received over EUR 3 million in funding under the Erasmus KA131 programme, which places our university third in Poland.
We have assumed the presidency of the SEA-EU alliance of European coastal universities, which already includes nine European universities. As President of our European partnership, I have decided to put more emphasis on specific joint activities, effective student and staff exchanges, online courses in specific maritime-related fields or projects such as the Blue Economy Observatory project, born out of the idea of sustainable development. In June this year, we hosted almost 150 people during the SEA-EU Governing Week at the University of Gdańsk. It was a time to summarise the past years of our partnership and discuss the activities we will undertake in the next edition of the European Universities Alliance. The importance of our meeting at the University of Gdańsk was also evidenced by the fact that, for the first time, the deliberations of the universities’ academic communities were accompanied by meetings with the authorities of the ports and cities where the universities are based. The strengthening of activities related to internationalisation, in turn, directed our attention to the necessity of systematising certain processes at the national level. On our initiative, a University Internationalisation Commission was established at the Conference of Rectors of Polish Universities, with the Vice-Rector for International Cooperation of the University of Gdańsk, Professor Anna Jurkowska-Zeidler, as its first chairperson. Professor Zeidler’s activities were also recognised by representatives of Polish institutions and organisations involved in the development of internationalisation, who awarded her the prestigious annual Star of Internationalisation award.
While we are on the subject of internationalisation, let me address all international students, researchers and lecturers at Our University at this point.
I would like to express a particularly warm welcome to all the visiting professors, researchers and, most of all, new international students enrolled at the largest university in the Pomerania region. We offer you three modern campuses in Gdańsk, Sopot, and Gdynia, with often unique research infrastructure, teaching halls, social facilities and an attractive leisure time offer.
The University of Gdańsk is a modern, open university realising the goals of the sustainable development agenda of the United Nations, leading in matters of gender equality policy, counteracting social exclusion and acting against climate change. We also aspire to be a real Green University.
The University of Gdańsk is, moreover, a partner of the European University of the Seas called SEA EU Alliance, where we aim to establish a distinctly international, multi-ethnic, multilingual and interdisciplinary pan-European University.
Dear international students, enjoy your stay in Gdańsk, the city of Freedom and Solidarity, which is a leader in the rankings for the best place to live in Poland.
Our commitment to supporting science and academics from Ukraine, which is struggling for independence and still struggling with the horrors of war, continues unabated. Once again, together with the National Agency for Academic Exchange, we hosted the ‘Focus on Ukraine’ conference. For two days, among rectors, scientists, students, representatives of diplomacy, ministers, and soldiers, we discussed how the Polish scientific community can help the now struggling but in the future victorious Ukraine. Our activities, which we conduct jointly with Odessa National University, are supported by NAWA with more than PLN 850,000. Student and staff mobility projects are being implemented throughout 2023 with the SEA-EU alliance universities. Our activities were recognised at the European Universities Conference in Warsaw, where I received from the hands of the Deputy Minister of Science of Ukraine the first prize for the University of Gdańsk in the European Universities - Alliances of the Future competition in the category ‘Support for Ukraine’.
Alliances, as I said during the SEA-EU deliberations at our university in June, are not an undertaking that is easy either to prepare or to implement, an undertaking that pays dividends without a significant amount of work. And they are impossible where partners are not united by the bonds of friendship – but above all, by mutual respect.
It is on these principles that another strategic alliance of the University of Gdańsk is based – the Daniel Fahrenheit Association of Universities in Gdańsk, which we are creating with our friends from the Medical University of Gdańsk and the Gdańsk University of Technology. Initially accepted cautiously by the academic community of our three universities, it is developing brilliantly. As FarU, we undertake many joint activities, drawing on each other's research and scientific resources. We are building structures and administrative solutions that make our work easier. Most importantly, we are still managing to maintain a united front, and together with the rectors of the friendly universities, we are trying to build the foundations of this community – in a spirit of mutual respect and willingness to compromise – and a shared vision for further development. I would like to thank both rectors warmly for this. Krzysztof, Marcin – thank you a lot!
Starting in November, we will slowly and gradually implement the eUniversity IT system at the UG, for which we obtained funding together with the rector of the Gdańsk University of Technology. This change will enable better handling of teaching and learning. It will streamline the work of faculty administration and the rector's administration. It will benefit both students and staff. As a result of fruitful negotiations with the National Centre for Research and Development, we obtained additional funding of PLN 5 million. This will allow us to replace IT equipment at the university on a large scale - new computer sets, flipcharts, multimedia projectors, and digital data transmission devices will soon be delivered to the faculties. Some servers will also be replaced.
Cooperation has been one of the pillars of our university's dynamic development over the past three years. The other is sustainability. Energy has recently been a priority for action, given the threat of an energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. Our area of expert interest is wind and nuclear energy. We have recently completed the first edition of the Postgraduate Course Education for Sustainable Development: Offshore Wind Energy, run by the Centre for Sustainable Development UG and the Centre for the Research on Maritime Economy UG. This is the third time we have started enrolment for another industry-specific degree programme, which is very important from the perspective of Pomerania's development - Offshore Wind Energy. We will also educate, within the framework of sustainable development activities, on postgraduate studies Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change – another example of cooperation between FarU universities, as these studies are a joint initiative of the University of Gdańsk, the Gdańsk University of Technology and the Medical University of Gdańsk.
As part of the FarU Association, we also signed a cooperation agreement with Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe (PEJ) last year. The agreement's main objective is to develop human resources potential for the nuclear industry as part of the project to build the first nuclear power plant in Poland.
Out of concern for the environment and sustainable development, we also undertake educational initiatives. Thanks to the support of the Voivodship Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management in Gdańsk, as part of the project entitled Zero Emissions – Knowledge Transfer (from) the University of Gdańsk, we will be organising workshops, lectures and educational events for pupils and teachers of primary and secondary schools.
The University of Gdańsk is not only a Green University. It is also a parent-friendly university - a new branch of the University Kindergarten was recently opened. In line with a promise I made during the election campaign, these kindergartens have become public facilities available to more applicants. I also decided to introduce the so-called Rector's Voucher, a one-off reduction in additional fees.
I am also pleased with the developing cooperation with the Paweł Adamowicz University High School in Gdańsk. Already in its new premises and with the patronage of three Fahrenheit universities, the school became the most popular institution in the latest recruitment – congratulations!
Our university cares not only about parents and their children; we look at the academic community as a community of people with different views, facing different difficulties, but united by the common good that is the University of Gdańsk. Many members of this community want to improve the space around them, including the university space. They can make their dreams of a better, sustainable, friendly environment for all of us come true by realising projects as part of the Academic Citizens' Budget, which was decided on for the first time last academic year. A total of 58 projects were submitted in the first edition, including 31 staff and 27 student projects. The following will be created: a park on the patio next to the Neophilology building, an outdoor gym next to the Main Library, and rest areas at the Faculties: Law and Administration and Social Sciences.
The past year was also marked by academic debates on gender equality and the role of women in science and the scientific community. The discussions – initiated by the University of Gdańsk Gender Equality Policy Implementation Plan. Equality Actions for 2022-2023, published in 2022 – culminated this spring in establishing the FarU University Women's Club, chaired by Professor Ewa Łojkowska from UG.
A university is not only about education in particular disciplines but also about shaping civic, social, and cultural attitudes. Thanks to the inauguration of the Andrzej Wajda Exhibition Hall and Film Centre in the UG Library two years ago, we have become a significant point on the cultural and artistic map of Gdańsk and Tricity. In the past year, we have been able to watch works inspired by Shakespeare, paintings inspired by the SEA-EU twin cities or the nebulae of the stars. The Film Centre produced 50 film screenings, 10 meetings with filmmakers and seven film festivals with a wide variety of themes. In just a few months, renovation work will be completed on another of our cultural facilities - the University of Gdańsk Museum. It is located in a building in the Old Town, on Bielanska Street, close to tourists, in the heart of the city of Gdańsk. It neighbours an original 17th-century tenement house, the only one left standing, which we have just finished renovating thanks to support from the Pomerania Development Agency, while also discovering the original frescoes preserved on its walls. Let me take this opportunity to thank the Agency's Chairman of the Board, Mr. Łukasz Żelewski, for his great favour in obtaining this funding.
We are developing cooperation with the socio-economic environment thanks to units such as the Technology Transfer Centre, Univentum Labs, and the Office of Analysis and Expertise. The strength of this cooperation is evidenced, for example, by the fact that a spin-off company of the University of Gdańsk – NanoExpo – was recently awarded a distinction in one of the categories of the Pomeranian 'Economic Griffin' 2023 Award. Patents that are obtained by our scientists, with the support of the Technology Transfer Centre, not only find practical application but are also awarded, as exemplified by two inventions recently developed by the scientific team led by Professor Sylwia Rodziewicz-Motowidło, which received prestigious awards: the Gold Medal and Platinum Award at the INTARG International Invention and Innovation Fair.
We are in the middle of evaluating the quality of scientific activity. I believe that in the years to come, we will improve the current score, which will underline our aspirations to join the ranks of research universities. On the part of the rectoral authorities, I fully support the activities and initiatives that will make such a goal possible. I believe we are ready for it and have great potential to take up such a challenge.
Speaking of potential, let's take a moment to look at the position of our university in the rankings. In the most important Polish ranking of 'Perspektywy', the University of Gdańsk advanced by two places and was noted in the third position – we ranked behind the University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University, which took first place ex aequo, and the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. In this prestigious national ranking, the University of Gdańsk scored best in the 'scientific potential' category. We were also highly ranked in the categories 'innovation', 'graduates on the labour market', 'internationalisation' and 'educational conditions'. The Biotechnology faculty, run by the Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology UG and MUG, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, advanced and is the second best faculty in the country – ex aequo with Warsaw University, second only to Jagiellonian University. Other faculties, highly ranked in the ranking, are ranked fourth in Poland: Cultural Studies, Environmental Protection and in fifth place: Philosophy, Psychology, Security Studies and Biology.
In turn, in the most prestigious, comprehensive and developing worldwide Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, which assesses universities in terms of their commitment to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, we moved up 200 places and took the highest position among Polish universities.
Dear first-year students, you have the opportunity to create some of the most beautiful memories in your lives. Make the most of the opportunities offered by the University of Gdańsk – first and foremost in your academic development, but also in your cultural development, thanks to the Academic Cultural Centre ‘Alternator’, which includes the University of Gdańsk Academic Choir, the Jantar Song and Dance Ensemble, the recently established but already successful Vocal Studio and the Gdańsk Academic Orchestra.
If sport is your passion – practice it in the sections of the University of Gdańsk's Academic Sports Association under the guidance of excellent academic coaches and with teams that are successful in championships. Last year, our athletes took fourth place in the general classification of the Polish Academic Championships and second place in the category of universities. I believe that the sports centre, the construction of which we will start this year, will allow not only AZS athletes to achieve at least as good results. A UG Students' Parliament representative will speak later today about the opportunities that active student life offers you at our university. I would also like to announce at this point that our psychology student, a multiple Polish volleyball representative, who with the national team won, among others, the World Vice-Championship in 2006 and the World Championship in 2014 – Mariusz Wlazły – has become an ambassador of sport at the University of Gdańsk, which we are genuinely excited about. We are counting on sponsors to support our sporting activities as well.
Let me add that by choosing the University of Gdańsk, you have made a good choice. You have made it as adult citizens. Two weeks from now, for the first time, you will also be able to make a choice that is just as important to each of you. You can vote in the elections to the National Parliament. I strongly urge you to participate. Don't say, 'I'm not interested in politics,' because politics is interested in you, and its impact on your whole life cannot be underestimated. It is up to you to choose whether you will live and study in a free and democratic country, whether you will be able to travel the world as a citizen of Poland, but also of the European Union, and finally, whether you will be able to afford these trips, whether you will have a good job and be able to fulfil your dreams.
On the occasion of the start of the 2023/2024 academic year, I wish both you, dear students, and the entire University of Gdańsk academic community that this year will be at least as good as we hope it will be.
In conclusion, I would like to invite you to the remainder of today's ceremony and the events accompanying the inauguration and connected with the Year of Wisława Szymborska. In a moment, you will have the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Professor Michał Rusinek, the Nobel Prize winner's secretary and heir to her memory. After the inauguration, I would like to invite you to the opening of an exhibition entitled Wisława Szymborska: a Gdańsk collage, and in the afternoon to a meeting with Professor Michał Rusinek and an evening performance entitled Szymborska: a collage. All events will take place here at the University of Gdańsk Library.
Quod bonum, felix, faustum fortunatumque sit!
I declare the 2023/2024 academic year open!