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Strategic Plan 2016 – 2020

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University Council: ‘They listened carefully’

“It would have required a lot of effort for people nót to have been confronted with the Strategic Plan during the past months.” Joop Schippers, chairman of the Staff Section of the University Council, is pleased with the process regarding the new plan. “It is remarkable how much everyone in the university had a chance to contribute in a lot of different ways. Because of that, we now have a plan of which no one can think: ‘this was created from the top down and they did not listen to us’.” 

The chairman of the Students Section is also happy with the extent to which his constituents were involved. Koen Stemerdink (physics and mathematics) acknowledges that students were vastly outnumbered during the input sessions. “Students are a troublesome demographic when it comes down to involvement. However, there was a serious outreach to get them involved. And they have listened well to those who participated.”

‘Not getting a raw deal’
Joop Schippers – who is not only the chairperson of the Staff Section, but a Professor of Labour Economics as well – explains how the University Council was involved in the Strategic Plan in an early stage. “Much of what we provided can be found in the text we now have. But of course, we were not the Executive Board’s only conversation partners. As such, it would be very arrogant to assume all our ideas would be copy-pasted into it. The Executive Board has to make choices as well. And I certainly don’t think we were left with a rough deal.”

Interdisciplinarity and English-language skills
Interdisciplinarity and social involvement regarding research receive a lot of attention in the text, Koen notes. The Student Section of the University Council is pleased with that, but also warns that interdisciplinarity should not get an obligatory nature; that could be at the expense of fundamental and monodisciplinary research.

Koen also expresses his concerns about safeguarding the quality of lecturers. “The plan says a lot about internationalisation and increasing the amount of English programmes. We support that. However, it isn’t said that staff members are required to fully master English – including didactic skills. Lecturers should not only be able to say things in English, they should also make sure to get get the message across. English can be an additional hurdle in that respect.”

Peeling shrimps
And which possible obstacles are perceived by the Staff Section? According to Joop Schippers, the staff’s function based contracts are the biggest stumbling block so far. “There are concerns that these contracts deteriorate into what we call the ‘shrimp-peeler example’: ‘You have to peel 25 kilos in a week. Some peelers work fast, mobilize their families and are done on Wednesday afternoon. Others are still working on Friday night.’ The potential success of function based contracts mostly depends on supervisors’ quality, and there is room for some  improvement. Fortunately, the Executive Board invests in that as well, just as in reducing administrative burdens.”

Schippers also believes talented postdocs’ upward mobility deserves attention. “They often cannot become assistant professors because the higher echelons are filled with older people like me. So there should be looked into how to hold on to talent. Something else: how can we keep the quality of education on par when student flows fluctuate wildly? Can temporary staff members provide the quality we want?”

All in all, there is enough to be vigilant about. However, there is definitely no need to only worry.  “We are happy with the attention in the plan for more trust in the organization and the reduction of the density of rules. In the past years, we have already seriously made headway towards community forming. A lot more will have to happen in that regard, but there already is a good momentum.”

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