Together with you, we want to prepare Hasselt University for 2030.
This is why we are putting forward four priorities:
1. a highly effective and transparent organisation read more...
2. targeting top research, with local roots but with a global perspective read more...
3. a focus on excellent education read more...
4. a focus on sustainable development with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as our guiding principles read more...
These are not simply empty words. A lot has happened in recent years, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Our first priority is to become much more effective and transparent as an organisation.
UHasselt has grown enormously over the past 10 years: from 4 faculties and 1 school to 7 faculties and 2 schools, from 20 programmes (12 Bachelor’s and 8 Master’s) to 49 programmes (17 Bachelor’s and 32 Master’s), and from 2,895 students in the academic year 2009-2010 to 6,450 students in the academic year 2019-2020. Our research (research funding obtained, doctorates in progress, doctorates awarded, publications, etc.) has also grown enormously. Our human resources, on the other hand, have not followed suit to the same extent. This is considering that we were already struggling with a backlog ten years ago...
As a result, a lot of colleagues at all levels (ZAP, AAP/OP/BAP, ATP), are struggling to manage. According to the Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking 2020, with 31 students per staff member, there is only one other university of the same size or smaller in the ranking with such a high ratio of students to staff (Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies), and even amongst universities of up to 10,000 students, we are still in the top five. This ratio has to go down. The pressure is untenable.
In addition, we are not optimally organised. We’ve been without an HR manager for two years, we do next to no international marketing, we don’t have any fully-fledged EU employees, the Hudson exercise caused a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst the ATP, our IT project Alipa has died a death, and there is a serious lack of transparency (budget, personnel distribution model, ZAP evaluation, etc).
We must dare to ask whether our organisation may have grown too fast, or at least whether we have not adapted sufficiently to this growth. Something must be done. Colleagues and students must take centre stage again.
A large organisation needs a highly effective, professional, flexible and transparent structure. This is first and foremost necessary because otherwise we risk being insufficiently ready for social challenges while potentially missing out on major opportunities. Even more importantly however, it is also necessary for the well-being of our colleagues and students. If we do not optimise our operations, we risk losing a lot of our people. In our policy plan below, we indicate which areas we see as requiring attention and how we want to deal with these. This is a cross-cutting priority that we will continue to pursue across the whole of UHasselt in every respect.
Our second priority is to go even further in aiming for the top when it comes to research. If we are to do so, we must be bold enough to go for international, European and large Belgian/Flemish research projects, top publications and projects with impact. We are making every effort to become a strong research player within the EU, anchored at local level, but with a global perspective. We propose various measures further on in our policy plan, such as explicitly and fully deploying support staff for these tasks and raising awareness (especially for underused channels such as VLAIO), creating an effective research framework, stimulating research consortia and joining strategic networks of research universities.
In doing so, we are guided by major societal challenges, which certainly include the grand challenges we have been working on for several years now (a sustainable, healthy and inclusive society), but also other areas such as digitisation and artificial intelligence. The EU is working hard on visions of the university of the future; we are following this closely. In this way we are also ensuring that our students receive an excellent education that prepares them for the challenges of 2030 and beyond.
We must cherish our strong local roots. This fits perfectly into our ambition to become a civic university. We must actively use these roots to contribute to our mission of excellence in research. We must revitalize the idea of our civic role, however. We don’t yet ‘feel’ this idea enough. It’s not yet a part of our DNA. We are therefore aiming, amongst other things, for a large convention bringing together all major stakeholders in the region, with the necessary follow-up, and we will provide an academic policy manager. We will also look for partnerships specifically with universities that have a civic focus so that we might learn from them. In this way, we will also contribute to a stronger region.
Our third priority is and will continue to be excellent education, which is strongly based on our research. We also remain at the forefront of educational innovation. We are aiming for the 'UHasselt effect'. By analogy with the California effect (according to which California often sets the standard for the US federal government (D. Vogel, 1995)) and the Brussels effect (according to which the EU often sets the standard for the world (A. Bradford, 2012)), we will set the standard for education at universities. This has actually been going on for years. Whenever our counterparts announce an educational innovation, how often do we say (often in a slightly aggrieved way) “We’ve been doing that for years!” Well then, let’s map that out, point it out every time, and turn the UHasselt effect into a brand.
We must not become complacent, however. We must continue to innovate and invest in our education, whether that means digitisation, infrastructure, or quality assurance, to name but a few areas. A very important moment will be the institutional review by the NVAO in 2023, for which we will have to submit an application file as early as 2022. Fortunately, this is already being prepared, so we are not starting from scratch, but we are going to have to monitor this very closely, review it with a critical eye and a fresh perspective, adjust it where necessary and develop it further. After all, at the previous review in 2017 we were only rated as “positive under certain conditions”. We absolutely have to avoid a repeat performance. At the time, the criticism was that we do not systematically monitor strategic objectives at institutional level. We will therefore certainly have to be vigilant about the monitoring of educational policy. We will also ensure that there is an active improvement policy at educational level and that the PDCA cycle (plan, do, check, act) is a closed loop. In addition, we have many good practices in the faculties, and we are going to make active efforts to share these much more with each other.
We will also continue to focus on the growth of UHasselt and on the democratisation of higher education. More than any other Flemish university, we are well aware of how important this is. UHasselt must remain a driving force in the region and must therefore respond to its needs. In this way, UHasselt will offer enormous added value. The eight sectors of the future put forward in the ‘Limburg Strategic Action Plan Squared’ (Strategisch Actieplan Limburg in het Kwadraat / SALK) are an important starting point: life sciences and care innovation, construction innovation, the leisure economy, logistics and mobility, clean technology and energy, manufacturing, agriculture and horticulture, and the creative sector. However, it is not enough to increase intake; we must also focus on proper guidance throughout the process, so that educational success also increases.
At the same time, we can also see there are many opportunities here, as well as a need for internationalisation. According to the Times Higher Education Ranking 2020, 13% of our students are international. We need to increase that percentage. Within Belgium, only UGent has a lower percentage. We are also considering the stimulation of new, self-financing, specialised programmes in English, for example through centralised support. This is another reason why we will try to join university networks.
We must not forget that there is currently a serious mismatch between our relatively low international student population (13%) and our relatively large (and steadily increasing for many years now) percentage of foreign PhD students (45%). We therefore have to recruit a (increasingly) large number of them externally. This leads us to another mismatch, given our relatively low population of international professors. We actually say that our foreign PhD students cannot stay here after their PhD. If we want to become and remain more attractive to foreign researchers, we also have to be able to offer them future prospects, and there has to be a much larger international community of students and staff.
Our fourth priority is full commitment to sustainable development as formulated by the United Nations in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 sustainable development goals form the global sustainable development agenda for 2030. UHasselt fully subscribes to the SDGs and is working on a course of action in order to be truly be seen as a sustainable university by 2030. This should not simply be an empty gesture. The UHasselt of 2030 will be sustainable or it will be nothing at all! We are already taking on a number of initiatives, but we are going to go the extra mile. At the same time, we want our future university to be ‘smart’ (sustainable smart university). This includes a full audit of our organisation, brainstorming and analysis of the options, concrete actions linked to a responsible budget, necessary coordination, and more. Themes such as health, inclusiveness, equality, environment, energy, circular economy, mobility, climate change, and peace will be addressed. Throughout the process, we will also ensure that our sustainability is certified as far as is possible. For example, we strive to become the first Belgian university to obtain ISO 14001 certification for our environmental management system and we are aiming for an even stricter European EMAS certificate by 2030.