Per in front of the building site of the School
Photo: Johan Wingborg

The School of Business, Economics and Law is building for the next 100 years


“Internationalisation, a breadth of subjects, working closely with surrounding society and a strong link between education and research, that’s the School of Business, Economics and Law’s DNA," says Dean Per Cramér. The faculty is now celebrating its centenary, with events including a series of seminars, an alumni event and a party for staff and partner organisations.

The 1920s were a watershed, a forward-thinking decade full of post-war optimism, Per Cramér explains.

“Science and research were advancing by leaps and bounds, democracies were emerging in Europe, international trade was growing and the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO) were established. However, Black Thursday, heralding the Wall Street Crash on 24 October, 1929, was to bring this spirit of optimism to an abrupt halt. But in 1923, when the School of Business, Economics and Law was founded, confidence in the future was still strong.”

Gothenburg was developing rapidly, and was home to the largest port in Scandinavia, major trading companies, shipping companies, shipbrokers and ball bearing company SKF, which later started Volvo. 
“The city, the county and local businesses recognised that if they wanted to be part of this new society and the increasingly flourishing global market, they needed to train talented people, in the public sector and in business.”

The people who worked to set up the School of Business, Economics and Law included County Governor Oscar von Sydow, who was also involved in the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology and the Museum of Gothenburg, and Axel Carlander, a dominant figure in the public life of Gothenburg at the time, chairing the boards of SKF, shipping company Amerikalinjen, Skandinaviska Kredit and the Port of Gothenburg. He was also chairman of the city council and the man behind the Gothenburg Exhibition in 1923, says Per Cramér.

“From the very start, the School taught a wide range of subjects, including business administration, economics, economic history and law, as well as languages. The most noticeable change since the beginning is that we have grown so much bigger. In the 1920s, about thirty students were admitted each year. Today we admit more than 1,200 new students on programmes every year and our programmes include several that receive the highest number of applications nationwide.”

It is the job of the School of Business, Economics and Law to uphold the foundations laid 100 years ago. As Per Cramér sees it, this includes acquiring well-calibrated senses capable of detecting changes in the world around us.

Per Cramér talking in a gren jacket
Photo: Johan Wingborg

“It’s important to stay at the forefront of developing knowledge, while also being aware of society’s changing needs. After all, we train lawyers, judges and leaders in business and public administration; people with a lot of power. This means that teaching students that with power comes responsibility is one of the School’s most important tasks. This responsibility not only applies to their own work but to the whole organisation in which they work and, by extension, to the rest of society.”

This means that teaching students that with power comes responsibility is one of the School’s most important tasks

“One key area of responsibility is sustainability, which has been an integral part of all our programmes for ten years now. Another fundamental responsibility, which applies to all academia, is to carefully maintain the distinction between facts and opinions,” says Per Cramér.

“Here, we need to be brutally clear. If that distinction is blurred, it becomes impossible to conduct important discussions about the future of society in any serious way. The world is currently undergoing a geopolitical shift, with a global market being replaced by growing regionalisation. Friendsourcing and friendshoring are new words for the trade that is increasingly happening between countries that are close to each other geographically, culturally and in terms of values.”
This is a worrying development as it leads to competing power blocs and it also affects universities, says Per Cramér.

“For the past two years, I have been chairing the Nordic Centre at Fudan University in Shanghai. The regime in China has become increasingly authoritarian, but we still need to be able to talk without compromising basic academic values. The same goes for Russia and Belarus; although cooperation at institutional level is broken, I encourage all staff to keep in touch with individual colleagues. Of course, one should exercise discretion when engaging with civil society in dictatorships or authoritarian states but we need to prevent a new division of the world into different blocs.”

So what work is in progress at the moment to take the School into the next century? There is research and education on the new organisational forms and business models opened up by digital technology. And there are also more sustainability initiatives; one example being Mistra Biopath, about how financial decision-making systems can benefit biodiversity.

And Per Cramér points out that another very concrete project for the future is the School of Business, Economics and Law’s new building.

“Adding an edgy new ‘growth ring’ to an already architecturally sophisticated city block and replacing 4,000 dysfunctional square meters with a state-of-the-art space spanning 9,000 square metres. No other higher education institution in the country can offer such fantastic facilities in a city university in a city of a decent size with a wide range of arts and culture on offer. The new building will still be standing when we celebrate our next century.”

Text: Eva Lundgren
Originally published in GU-Journal No. 1 2023.

Facts: The School of Business, Economics and Law

The School started as an independent higher education college in 1923. Its first dean was the famous polar explorer Otto Nordenskjöld. The School was nationalised in 1961 and became an integral part of the University of Gothenburg in 1971. In 1986, the School was re-established as a separate unit in the Faculty of Social Sciences under the name of the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg.  In 1997, the School became a faculty in its own right.
In 2012, a sustainability perspective was integrated into all degree programmes. Today, the faculty has four departments, a number of research centres and other activities. It employs about 460 people and has about 8,000 students.

Some alumni: diplomat and politician Jan Eliasson, pension fund CEO Eva Halvarsson, politician and economist Leif Pagrotsky, author and journalist Monica Zak, CEO and philanthropist Percy Barnevik, journalist and activist Mina Dennert, businessman Carl Bennet, and journalist and businessman Peter Hjörne.