Dual role for VTI’s new professor

Henrik Andersson
VTI’s latest professor, Henrik Andersson, commutes from his home in Landskrona to his office in Lund. Photo: Mikael Sönne

Allow us to present Henrik Andersson, new professor of economics specialising in transport. His career has taken him from Lund University to the Stockholm office of the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI), on to the Toulouse School of Economics in France and then back to the VTI office in Lund: “It feels like coming home,” he says.

Professor Andersson began his new job at the VTI on 1 August. His desk is at the far end of the open-plan office. His first weeks were taken up with onboarding, as well as working on the VTI projects he was already involved in. Immediately after this interview he will be attending the weekly digital meeting of the executive of the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis (SBCA), of which he is president.

The position in Lund – which increases the number of professors at VTI from six to seven – was offered to Andersson last year but he chose to take up the post after the summer holidays this year. He also asked for a little time to consider the offer before giving a definitive answer.

“I has an attractive post in Toulouse, where I was also very happy socially. I have a wife who I met in France and a son who was born and raised there. In some ways it was an awful lot to give up to move to Sweden,” he acknowledges, adding that it was important to involve the entire family in the decision.

What made your mind up?

“It’s a very exciting position and, at the same time, I felt that the time might be right to do something new. I was already familiar with the VTI and, personally, Sweden and Skåne were perfect if we were going to move elsewhere.”

As a researcher, Andersson’s principle interest is how to value factors that do not normally have a market value, things such as peace and quiet, clean air and safety.

More specifically, he has worked a great deal on developing methods to ensure that such valuations are as accurate and “correct” as possible. In one study, for example, Andersson has estimated “the value of a statistical life”; in other words, the value of preventing a fatality. These values are used in socioeconomic calculations – for example, in cost-benefit analyses of infrastructure investments – which will hopefully help politicians and other policymakers to make wise decisions.

Transport economics also involves understanding why people choose different modes of transport, and even influencing behaviour so that people make choices that reduce their carbon footprint.

Regardless of the specialisation, Andersson considers it vital that the research has policy relevance and societal significance.

“That’s another reason that I was keen to take up this post. At a university, research tends to be more theoretical, often focused on methodological development, while the VTI’s work is more social- and policy-oriented. Here in Lund, I will also have the opportunity to forge many useful contacts with other researchers with the same specialisation, even if they are not economists.”

Andersson has a dual role as a professor in Lund. He will continue to conduct research – including two current projects, one on risk assessment and one on noise issues – and will also be building up a research environment specialising in transport economics. This will involve recruiting both doctoral students and senior researchers, as well as obtaining funding for the new research group. One doctoral student has already been recruited but otherwise he will be starting from scratch.

“It’s a tough challenge, but a very stimulating and exciting one. I anticipate that our links to Lund University and close proximity to Copenhagen will make things easier. I will also remain affiliated to the Toulouse School of Economics, which will also create many contacts.”

Andersson moved to Toulouse, France’s fourth largest city, in 2008 to take up a fixed-term postdoctoral fellowship, and was later appointed as a permanent associate professor. By then, as a recently graduated PhD he had already worked for a few years at the newly formed Transport Economics Unit at VTI in

Stockholm and it was by no means certain that he would pursue an academic career. Andersson’s father was a bricklayer and the family has no strong tradition of higher education. On leaving upper-secondary school, he worked as a screen stretcher for a supplier to the screen printing industry and it was not until he was on national service that the idea of attending university occurred to him.

After that, one thing led to another. After completing the Master’s Programme in Economics at Lund University he enrolled in third-cycle studies at the same institution, defending his doctoral thesis in 2005. It was purely by chance that he specialised in transport.

“I was certain that I wanted to study economics but then a doctoral studentship turned up specialising in transport economics. Being appointed to a doctoral studentship was highly beneficial,” says Andersson, who quickly settled into that particular research area.

Why is this research so enjoyable?

“Well, I suppose that the more you work with something, the more interesting it becomes. You learn more and make more and more contacts. It’s also very exciting to find solutions to problems.”

For VTI, the new professorship is part of a strategic investment in its operation in Lund. It is also a way of broadening research and complementing the work of VTI’s other professor of economics, Maria Bratt Börjesson who is based in Stockholm.

Text: Mikael Sönne

Translation: CBG

Facts: Henrik Andersson

Latest: Newly appointed professor of economics specialising in transport at the VTI office in Lund. Still affiliated to the Toulouse School of Economics and the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University.

Age: 51

Family: Wife Jung Mi, who comes from Korea, and eight-year-old son.

Lives: Recently purchased a house a few hundred metres from the sea in Landskrona.

Interests: Exercise, working out at the gym and just signed up for a crawl course for adults. Crab fishing with my son.

Assignments: President of the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis (SBCA), deputy editor of the Journal of Transport Economics and Policy and the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis.