Three universities that became one – Stockholm University of the Arts on strengths and challenges of the recruitment process

Stockholm University of the Arts was founded in 2014 through a merger of three already well-known schools – the School of Dance and Circus, Stockholm University of Drama and the Opera Academy. This was done in order to create a common research environment and examine their own doctoral students, which has been done since 2016. Helena Helgö and Henrietta Roos, HR specialists, tell more about the merger, assessment of artistic skill, and recruitment work.

© Stockholm University of the Arts

“We consist of seven institutions; dance pedagogy, dance, circus, performing arts, acting, film and media, and opera. It is a wide range, and we have about 500 students and around 250 employees”, says Helena Helgö.

This makes the school a staff-dense university. The focus is very much on expansion, and bringing in staff from markets other than just Sweden.

“In the industry we operate in, it is a fairly small world where everyone knows everyone, so we want to get an outside perspective. We are a fairly small HR department, but we still need to deal with the same issues as larger universities, which of course can lead to challenges sometimes regarding certain recruitments”, Helena continues.

“We are a government organization, so we have to work from the perspective of merit and skill. Those who come here to work should be the best in their field, you cannot simply hire someone you already know. We have established a new process, where of course we want to get in as many applicants as possible, but we must also get in the best applicants, and then carefully select those who are most suitable and competent for the job”.

The recruitment process

At each recruitment, it is first the chancellor who decides that a recruitment should take place and what employment profile the person should have. Then there is a recruitment team that leads the recruitment, where HR is involved along with the vice-chancellor, recruitment manager, and other selected individuals. These people can either be students or a teacher from another department to bring in more perspectives. There is also a chairman who is involved in all recruitment processes.

“We have mixed in more perspectives to gain more clarity but also a higher level of participation in the recruitment”, says Henrietta.

Regarding assessing artistic skill when recruiting researchers and professors, this is a large and complex issue.

“We have experts in all of our institutions, and it is these experts who carry out the first step, that is, to assess the artistic skill. Usually you must have a doctorate to apply for certain positions, but with us you do not have to have one. Instead, you must have the corresponding artistic skill, i.e. you have been out and done artistic practices or work that should correspond to a doctoral degree, which is usually full-time for four years. The person applying for the job then needs to be able to present documentation to confirm that it is correct, so that the experts in turn can assess this. They assess whether the person is qualified for the position and in what way it is ranked”, says Helena.

Despite a wide range in the various subjects, there is no major difference in how they are assessed.

“Regardless, the artistic skill must always be the equivalent of a doctoral degree in four years, regardless of whether it is circus or film and media. We have also, and will always continue to, assess personal suitability, especially with regard to pedagogy. We always let the candidates do a lecture or teaching test of about thirty minutes where they can do a fictitious instruction together with students. Then we sit down and assess whether we think they have performed well”.

Finding the right one

Despite the exciting industry, it can sometimes be difficult to find the right people.

“We are a small country, and you need specific subject knowledge. There are not many people who can teach our specific subjects, so it can be a challenge. But also, to get the outside perspective. We want to be an international university, we want international applicants. We work very much with diversity and inclusion, both for students but also staff”, says Helena.

They are proud of how their processes have developed and how they fall into place more and more, even though they see it as a continuous development project.

“We always try to make sure that we use our recruitment tool as much as possible to ensure that we optimize so that it is as easy as possible for the experts, we should not have to send out as many things but they should be able to go into the system and see everything in one place. And we are not afraid to redo if we see that something does not work, that is also something to be proud of that I think it is easy to forget to think about. We also have a great advantage in that we are very close to our chancellor, we can go down and propose changes and have short paths to decisions and can influence in many ways that are perhaps more difficult at a larger university. We have a wide mandate at HR, which makes it easier for us when we improve our processes”.

It works to create checklists to make it easier for everyone involved in the system, but also to give the managers more mandate so that they can be more responsible for their part in the process and regarding the decisions.