Per Michael Johansen – the Rector of Aalborg University

Per Michael Johansen – the Rector of Aalborg University

Per Michael Johansen left Aalborg University in 1992, following graduation from the Department of Physics and a position as assistant professor at the same department. He went out into the world with the skills of a new AAU graduate. Now, 22 years later, he has returned – this time to take over the Rector’s office. We have asked Per Michael to ponder on the differences between Aalborg University then and now – and the skills his AAU qualifications provided him with.

Larger and more focused

Per Michael says that he has returned to a different University: "Aalborg University has experienced a significant development since my time as a student here. The University has grown rapidly, and today research is much more in focus than previously”.  According to Per Michael, this is a very positive trend, since the University needs to be among the world leaders in a number of research fields.  AAU is already hosting a number of research beacons, but the University is planning to become a world leader in even more fields in the years to come. The research beacons are adding to the visibility of the University and increasing its recruitment potentials.

When asked what he remembers from his own time as a student, Per Michael replies,”What springs to mind is working in an being a member of different project groups during my studies. Projects and group work took up quite a lot of time in our day-to-day activities”. The pedagogical approach, which is based on problem-based learning (PBL), is a characteristic feature of Aalborg University - and has been so since the University was founded.

PBL – a lifelong asset

Per Michael’s outlook on the PBL model is very positive: “PBL is a learning model which is of great benefit to the students in their professional careers after graduation. PBL teaches students to cooperate on problem solution. They learn how to acquire knowledge together as a group, and how to apply this knowledge actively in the solution of concrete tasks. This makes PBL both a learning method and a socialisation method; PBL teaches you to cooperate efficiently with others - and also with people with different professional and academic backgrounds than your own”.

In addition to the purely academic outcome of the PBL model, Per Michael points out how the group work approach has a positive effect on the social commitment of students. When the majority of the 80 percent of all AAU-students who come from non-academic homes complete their studies, PBL is a contributing factor. PBL helps the students to get used to life as a student in collaboration with their fellow students.

Unbiased collaboration and academic foundation

Per Michael also estimates that he has made use of the particular AAU competences in his own career.   He mentions the following, “The ability to engage in unbiased collaboration as well as a solid academic foundation achieved through a strong basic academic programme. It is extremely valuable, for both your education and your career, that you receive a strong introduction to the basic subjects of your programme - in my case mathematics and physics. A strong academic foundation provides you with the freedom and opportunity to continue your development throughout your career”.

Per Michael has certainly taken advantage of the opportunity for development:  he graduated in physics from Aalborg University, following which he embarked on a long career as a researcher at the Danish Research Centre Risø, which now belongs under the Technical University of Denmark.  During his time at Risø, he acquired his PhD degree and also completed a management training programme. The latter was of benefit to him in his positions as President of SIMAC (Svendborg International Maritime Academy) and as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Southern Denmark.  Per Michael acquired much management experience at SIMAC, where he was in charge of the merger of maritime study programmes.  This was an exciting process, but Per Michael missed the research-related aspects, and he therefore considers his job as rector a dream job.

Alumni are important ambassadors

Per Michael makes no secret of the values and competences acquired by AAU alumni; however, he also finds that alumni contribute value to the University, and that the AAU Alumni network is important in this context. He specifies,

"AAU alumni are important for the entire organisation because they act as ambassadors for the University and as sparring partners in the development of our activities within education, research and collaboration”.

No empty gestures

Now that Per Michael has been the AAU Rector for some time, we have asked him to define the experience from his previous career which he expects will be beneficial to him in his position as a rector.  He replies, "your academic legitimacy as a researcher is the precondition for a leading position at a university. In addition, I am able to draw on many years in management jobs as well as my experience in building up a faculty through a merger between different educational institutions”.

But he also points out that in addition to academic competences, personal strengths are important. “Persistence is an important quality in a manager, as well as the ability to follow up on decisions which have been made. Following up on decisions is a central element in your work as a manager, since this ensures that decisions and initiatives are translated into action and not merely end up as empty gestures,” concludes Per Michael.



Facts about Per Michael Johansen

AAU education: MSc in Physics
Graduation year: 1986
Place of birth: Hanstholm, Denmark
Year of birth: 1960