UHasselt has grown enormously over the last ten years. This has led to a lot of new programmes, a lot of new students and also a lot of extra PhD students. The underlying structures and staff, that is to say primarily the professors and the ATP, (though also PhD students involved in education) have not always followed suit. As a result, many colleagues are feeling the strain at every level (ZAP, AAP/OP/BAP, ATP).
Our first priority as an organisation is therefore to respond much more to the needs of colleagues and students, and to become more professional, efficient and above all transparent. People must once again be the focus.
We have listed a few issues below:
As a large organisation, we absolutely must ensure that we establish a high-performance, professional, flexible and transparent structure.
To this end, we have the following objectives and measures in mind:
We all work hard at UHasselt, very hard. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, unless that hard work is the only means of keeping things afloat, which is the case as it stands.
Most of us won’t need numbers to feel it, but for any unsure, here are some figures.
A very clear, simple indicator is the ratio of students per staff member. This is particularly high at UHasselt. According to the Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking 2020, we currently have a ‘students per staff member’ ratio of 31.1. Amongst the universities with the same number of students or smaller, there is only one other university in the ranking that has such a high ratio (Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies, but this university is not even in the top 1000 of the ranking, while UHasselt is in the group 351-400). Even within the universities of up to 10,000 students we are still in the top five. This ratio has to go down. The pressure is untenable. Especially given that our educational system is made up of numerous small groups. Clearly, if we wish to climb further up the ranking, a reduction of this ratio is fundamentally necessary.
Another example: between the academic year 2009-2010 and the academic year 2019-2020, the number of students enrolled has risen from 2,895 to 6,450. That is more than double. Of course, this is mainly due to the integration of academic programmes of colleges of higher education and the introduction of some new programmes, rather than a simple increase of student numbers in existing programmes. You would therefore expect the number of staff to have also roughly doubled. That is not the case. Although the ZAP did increase by +/-80% (from 94.40 FTEs in 2010 to 168.05 FTEs in 2019), the ATP only increased by +/-65% (from 209.05 FTEs in 2010 to 343.22 FTEs in 2019). The situation is more dramatic still for the AAP, with an increase of only +/-20% between 2010 and 2019 (from 71.76 FTEs in 2010 to 98.95 FTEs in 2019).
Education is not the only aspect to have grown. Our research has also grown enormously. A clear indicator of the workload is the number of PhDs in progress. In 2010 the ZAP supervised +/-400 doctorates in progress, while in 2019 there were +/-690. This means that each FTE ZAP supervises on average more than 4 PhDs in progress.
One might assume that given the ZAP has increased by +/-80% in the same period, the situation is not that bad. When consider the UHasselt Annual Report 2010, however, we can see that there was already discussion of increasing pressure at that time. To quote Rector Luc De Schepper: “The number of professors remained constant between 2000 and 2010, while the number of students increased by 20 to 30%. The number of PhD students actually doubled. Consequently, the teaching and research burden has increased enormously.” There has therefore certainly been some level of catching up going on at the ZAP, but by doubling both the number of students and the number of PhD students between 2010 and 2019, the average workload has only continued to increase.
As a result, all of us are working more with proportionally fewer staff.
Let’s be clear, this growth is certainly positive. As a university, we have become a much more important social actor. All of the major parameters have increased, both in the field of research (research funding (across various funding streams), current doctorates, publications, impact, rankings, etc.), as well as in the field of education (number of faculties/schools, number of programmes, number of students, etc.) and in terms of services provided (media appearances, representation in numerous bodies, social initiatives, etc.).
The university is an important driving force for the region, and we want to continue to proudly play this role. We must be careful not to become a victim of our own success, however. In order to avoid this, support is urgently needed on several levels. We are already making concrete proposals here and there in this policy plan, but it is clear that first a thorough evaluation and a plan of approach are needed. In order to properly identify the most urgent needs, we will analyse all available data in detail, plan a scientifically sound workload assessment and consult with the central services and the various faculties/schools and institutes/centres.
At the same time, we will continue to fight for an increase in the Flemish structural resources made available to universities. The corona crisis has highlighted the importance of universities. The EU is also giving universities a greater social role to play in the future. In return, resources must be made available, including from the EU. This is why we are also strengthening ties with the other Belgian/Flemish universities in order for us all to pull together. For example, if we look at the ratio ‘students per staff member’, we see that this is very high at all Belgian universities (with the University of Liège with 27 as the lowest Belgian university and the VUB with 28.4 as the lowest Flemish university). This high workload is therefore a typically Belgian/Flemish problem and we risk hampering our top positions in the world.
This starts with recruitment. We provide professional assessments for the ATP almost as standard, while this scarcely takes place for the ZAP if at all. This is bizarre. Recruitment is a key moment, however, especially in view of the fact that ZAP members often stay with the same institution for most if not all of their careers. In addition, a ZAP member also gradually evolves throughout his/her career from a pure researcher into the manager of a research team. New skills are therefore to be expected. This makes it only logical that these skills would also be professionally tested at the start. This of course incurs a cost. Working together with others including the staffing and financial departments, we will look at what is possible and what would really provide added value. Initially, we will try to build up internal expertise in this area.
Following recruitment, we will also provide a compulsory standard package of training and information sessions. Lifelong learning is crucial in these rapidly changing times. We already have an educational professionalisation offer for starting teachers (the Basic Education Qualification track (Basiskwalificatie Onderwijs or BKO track)), and we want to reinforce this with some additional, very practical/hands-on training sessions. This could be compared to the (often limited) compulsory continuing education that already exists in many other professions. This should not take weeks and weeks, but we believe a minimum package to be appropriate. A great deal of effort already goes into this for our PhD students via the Doctoral Schools, while all kinds of information sessions for the ZAP are simply voluntary as it stands, despite the fact that they are often needed. We are considering a package that could, for example, consist (partly) of training sessions/information sessions covering:
We largely have these skills in-house already. We therefore think it makes more sense for them to be taught from the start, which would prove more rewarding for everyone. The specific design of the package would need to be examined, but we could envision a multi-day training programme, a few days/half-days spread out, or a combination of both (this would also allow newly recruited lecturers across the university to better get to know each other).
As regards further improvements in grade, we are also considering a similar standard package of study programmes which would be continually updated. For example, we think a package consisting of training/information sessions could cover:
The important thing would be that the ZAP could really learn from it, rather than it simply being an exchange of our own experiences.
A very important topic for us is transparency and professionalising ZAP evaluations, both for the five-yearly/interim evaluation as well applications for an increase in grade. As it stands, this process is anything but transparent. As a ZAP member, it is very difficult to know in advance how you will be evaluated. Evaluation currently takes place almost exclusively on the basis of numerical output parameters with a focus on publications. Furthermore, the evaluation does not contain any kind of subsequent learning process, which leads to serious dissatisfaction should there be a negative decision. But even for positive decisions, the level of evaluation is far too limited. We currently give more time to the evaluation and justification of a master’s thesis decision than we do to a ZAP evaluation...
We are therefore going to review this procedure completely. We want to come together to establish a widely supported, transparent and professional evaluation procedure.
It has to be said that we already have a more professional annual monitoring process for tenure track lecturers, a process from which we can certainly learn a few things. Although the tenure track criteria are also rather numerical, they at least have the advantage of clarity and offering proper understanding. We are considering the possibility of making agreements regarding the general outline of objectives for higher grades as well. This would allow the ZAP to make their own assessments concerning the likelihood of promotion. One example could be the integration a verbal explanation/defence. The benchmark (currently only based on publications) should become much more comprehensive; not just quantitative, but also qualitative, and when looking at quantitative elements, it should take doctorates, funding, etc. into account. In addition, external peer reviews should be visible to the members of the Statutory Advisory Committee.
It is crucial that we find ways to appreciate all of the different and necessary efforts which are made for the university, rather than just the publication-oriented ones. Otherwise we run the risk of not finding anyone willing to make those efforts.
The same applies perhaps even more to new, individual initiatives. A restrictive environment which neither appreciates nor stimulates innovation will quickly snuff it out. If we claim to be a young, fresh, innovative university, we should at least offer room for new initiatives, and above all appreciate them. This appreciation should first and foremost be vocalised, but it can also be formalised as part of an evaluation.
In order to emphasise the importance of and our appreciation for achieving professorship, we will also start the tradition already found at many universities: an inaugural speech given by new professors.
As mentioned earlier for the ZAP, lifelong learning is also crucial for the ATP. We already have a good offer of continuing education/training available, but it is largely non-compulsory.
Together with the ATP, we will evaluate whether we cannot, for example, establish a combined arrangement wherein a compulsory minimum package or minimum number of hours is then complemented by voluntary training as desired or needed. We realise that compulsory training can have counterproductive consequences (passive participation), but we are convinced that the combination of an interesting offer and a limited number of compulsory hours (e.g. per year) can still prove stimulating, and that this will allow us to avoid a complete lack of any training whatsoever as a result of the daily hustle and bustle of the job. Many other professions already have (often limited) compulsory continuing education.
However, we do have to ensure a proper and sufficient internal (free) offering, which can be supplemented on demand with the possibility of attending external training programmes. The necessary university funding must be provided in return. For external training programmes, agreements must of course be made with the proper supervisor in the hierarchy, but the basic assumption will be that useful and (in terms of cost) reasonable training programmes will be covered by the university (just as, for example, PhD students can go to conferences following consultation with their supervisor and the (reasonable) costs are covered). We will provide a ‘pot’ for this (see below under finances).
We are also considering the development of a certificate for this (or a certain part of this) continuing education, which expresses our appreciation and which employees can also use should they apply to other jobs (which we do not want to assume, but we must be realistic) in the future.
5. We are looking into the possibility of expanding the Doctoral Schools into a real career centre
Given the stronger emphasis we want to place on lifelong learning, we are thinking of expanding the Doctoral Schools into a real career centre, where training might be offered for the three categories of staff: (1) permanent academic staff, (2) temporary academic staff, and (3) administrative and technical staff.
A lot of expertise is already available in the Doctoral Schools to offer this training, as well as to provide career guidance.
In doing so we will anchor the Doctoral Schools within the functioning of the university, because they are currently almost entirely dependent on external funding.
6. There is an urgent need to strengthen the human resources department, together with the urgent appointment of an HR manager
Support for the human resources department is required. We have been without an HR manager for two years. We urgently need act on this. We need someone to develop a vision for our staffing policy. The HR manager will also monitor topics such as burnout prevention, work-life balance, etc. We’re still coasting somewhat on the initiatives of the previous manager, but we’re in danger of falling behind. Fortunately, a vacancy has just been opened, so we’re happy that we’ll soon be able to get back to it with an HR manager on board.
In addition, we also need to think carefully about which tasks the HR department should take on, and which tasks might be organised more efficiently elsewhere. We remain a small university, and some things can perhaps be outsourced (e.g. salary calculation) or organised differently through internal redeployment (e.g. training in a career centre, see above).
With a view to expanding internationalisation at our university, we also have to make sure that (most) members of the human resources department are sufficiently proficient in English. We will pay attention to this when recruiting for the HR department, and for current members we will offer training programmes to brush up where necessary.
7. We will review the Hudson exercise
It is clear that the Hudson exercise to reclassify the ATP did not go well and led to a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst the ATP. This has been demonstrated clearly by the many complaints filed against it.
It is difficult to write out commitments for this topic, because we first have to ascertain the current state of affairs. We certainly commit to thoroughly reviewing the whole exercise and examining it with a fresh perspective. It is important to us that there are no injustices in the system and that we are able to offer colleagues sufficient growth opportunities.
8. The gender balance amongst both the ZAP and the ATP needs to be improved
The gender balance amongst the ZAP isn’t yet as it should be. On the positive side, the proportion of women amongst the ZAP did increase between 2010 and 2019, from 22.93% to 28.56%. However, this percentage does not yet reflect the normal population (+/-51% women), and more importantly, it does not correspond to the gender balance of the AAP/BAP group. This group has been fluctuating around 50-50% for 10 years. You might expect that in the meantime this would also be reflected in the ZAP, but this is clearly not the case.
We are going to look in detail at whether the gender balance amongst the youngest generations of ZAP is more equal, whether this is already happening at higher grades, and whether this is therefore a temporary state of affairs, but it is clear that we have to take serious care of this matter and, where necessary, take extra initiatives in order to introduce a more equal balance. We can already see that there are still relatively few (read: too few) female professors, given that we know the ratio of AAP/BAP/fellows has been fluctuating around 50-50% for at least 10 years, with the balance only gradually tipping in the years before that. We cannot ignore these facts, and we must be bold enough to find out why. We also have to take this into account when reviewing our ZAP evaluation procedure. Perhaps it will prove to be additional motivation for better appreciating all the different kinds of effort which are not oriented around publication output, but which are nonetheless necessary.
In the case of the ATP, on the other hand, things are moving in the opposite direction. Over the past 10 years, the ATP has become significantly more female, from 61% in 2010 to 71% in 2019. At first sight, this may seem less of a social problem, but here too we feel that we need to be vigilant. After all, this trend can create a perception, which in turn has a reinforcing effect. Once again, we must have the courage to find out what the causes are, for example by means of a survey. There may be very reasonable explanations for all of this, but we don’t have any particular insights into this matter as it stands.
9. We must pay attention to the internationalisation of our staff and the impact this has on our staffing policy
We are currently facing a double mismatch when it comes to the internationalisation of our staff.
First of all, there is a serious mismatch between our relatively low international student population (13%) and our relatively high population of foreign PhD students (45%). This means that we largely have to recruit these PhD students externally.
This leads us to another mismatch between our population of foreign PhD students and our relatively low population of international professors. In 2019, 89% of the ZAP had Belgian nationality, a figure which has fluctuated around 90% for at least 10 years.
Of course, there are researchers amongst the foreign PhD students who only spend a few months a year at UHasselt (e.g. PhDs working as part of the VLIR-UOS or the BILAs) who then stay in their home country after their PhD. Undoubtedly there are foreign PhD students who simply like to return to their home country after their PhD. It is also likely that foreign PhD students are more internationally mobile by nature and continue to travel after their PhD.
Nevertheless, we have to be careful not to create the impression that our foreign PhD students cannot stay here after their PhD. We must avoid a brain drain. If we want to become and remain more attractive to foreign researchers, we must be able to offer them prospects for the future. Of course, we are bound by decretal language regulations in the education system, which does not make it easy for foreign PhD students to move into a new position, but then it is also up to us to take action in response. We already offer programmes to learn Dutch, which is certainly a good thing, but perhaps we should make this more common practice still (e.g. PhD students who check a box to indicate their interest in Dutch early on could be actively addressed, while supervisors would encourage and allow time for this learning).Within the Doctoral Schools, however, work is already being done on this. We support that process.
10. We will provide an appreciative pension policy
At some point, each of us will retire. For those retiring from UHasselt, we would like to provide a nice, appreciative farewell. Too often we are seeing colleagues leave in silence. This is undoubtedly also due to our modest nature, but we would like to see that change.
In light of the ageing and more active population, and especially in light of the lost expertise that a retirement often entails, we also have to think about how we can keep our retired staff involved. We could think about involving our emeritus more, for example through chairing scientific or doctoral committees, or taking part in the promotion of UHasselt at home and abroad. How nice it is to sometimes come across ex-colleagues who are acting as external supervisors at exams!
1. We have to give the UHasselt a much more international image
Internationalisation is one of the key threads running through our policy plan. This begins with the whole way UHasselt is organised. Our organisation must allow us to enjoy a much more international image and should benefit both our research and our attractiveness to international students. We will decisively move forward with strong UHasselt branding.
This will take many different forms. For example:
2. We will increase our communication and marketing
We have already made serious progress in recent years, but we think that we can and should continue to move forward in terms of our communication and marketing at the centralised, decentralised (faculties, schools, institutes, etc.) and individual level. We need to be even bolder with our expertise.
At the centralised level we are considering:
At the decentralised and individual level, we are considering:
We are also looking into the possibility of creating a pool of experts within the Communications and Marketing Department that can be reserved by faculties/schools/institutions/professors etc. for well-defined tasks lasting from a few days to a few weeks (websites, social media start-up, conference promotion, targeted promotion of new programmes, etc.), who then offer on-the-spot assistance.
3. We want to centre focus more upon the students in our communication and marketing
Our students provide wonderful stories every day. Only a few are sometimes able to bubble to the surface and receive wider attention from the rest of UHasselt, and often only if they are related to UHasselt educational or research activities. We want to change that. Students should be allowed a more central position, both in our news reporting and more broadly in our communication and marketing. We want to express more pride in our students.
To give just one example, top athletes can rely on facilities when it comes to education and exams, but that’s as far as it goes. Wouldn’t it be nice if we gave them a little more attention every now and then, and why shouldn’t we support them in other ways? That could be through sponsorship, but we also have so much to offer in terms of in-house expertise and skills. This could be support from the rehabilitation sciences, or assistance from a legal perspective (social and fiscal status, etc.), an economic perspective (marketing, bookkeeping, etc.), and so on. Our students could also act as great case studies for the staff.
The same goes for all kinds of other amazing stories. There is a great diversity amongst our students (musicians, artists, volunteers, etc.). Let’s put those big and small stories in the picture.
4. UHasselt merchandise and stationery
First of all, we are looking at whether we can make UHasselt merchandise and stationery more sustainable (see below).
We are also reviewing the pricing of UHasselt merchandise and stationery. It would seem that these are regularly more expensive than non-sponsored versions. Marketing-wise, we find this bizarre.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our students and staff would more often show off our Hasselt University hoodie, for example? As a recreational cyclist I think it’s a pity that the UHasselt cycling clothing is more expensive than the same cycling clothing from the same brand without the advertising, which means that I haven’t bought one yet (something I’ll now be taking care of).
1. We will drastically increase budget transparency
In finance, everything begins with a good, transparent budget. There is currently insufficient clarity about this within the organisation, and certainly no transparency.
We will provide an extensive quarterly discussion of the profit and loss account, the balance sheet and its relationship to the budget, as well as a yearly discussion of the draft annual accounts and draft budget. In terms of staff responsible for this, we are considering the Board of Deans, expanded to include the institute and centre directors, the directors of the central services, and the administrative directors. In this way we will bring together those in charge on both the academic and administrative sides.
We also believe it important to hold such a discussion of the budget at least once a year in the Research Council and the Education Council.
Furthermore we would like to involve researchers via the PhD Council and students via StuRa. Ultimately, the financial choices made will also have direct consequences for them.
2. We will drastically increase consultation and transparency around the internal allocation model
Our internal allocation model (IAM) consists of a personnel distribution model (kaderverdeelmodel / KVM), a secondary personnel distribution model (KVMbis) and envelopes. This IAM is currently under revision. The next management team will conclude this process.
Here too, we have to conclude that the IAM (and the entire revision procedure) is barely known within the organisation. However, a considerable amount of resources is being spent on it and the choices we make with it are vital strategic choices, and long-term ones at that.
We will drastically increase consultation and transparency around the internal allocation model. This must have broad support. We are once again thinking of making critical discussions with the Board of Deans, the institute and centre directors, the directors of the central services, the administrative directors, the Research Council, and the Education Council. We are also thinking of information sessions for staff more broadly.
When reviewing the IAM, we are considering how the distribution of resources is organised. Currently the distribution is split between central bodies and the faculties. We could initially distribute resources based on a split between staff and operations, and then do a thorough analysis of which staff should be deployed at which level (centralised services, decentralised services).
3. We are considering a financial operating ‘pot’ for each ATP employee
Given the importance we attach to lifelong learning for all staff, we also need to think about funding. One option could be to provide a certain amount for each staff member and each administrative assistant. This would cover the entire operation of the service (e.g. training costs, mobile phone costs, participation in workshops, (inter)national congresses, etc.). Something similar already exists for certain services and certain groups of PhD students. By using this principle, every employee would have a pot from which training can be paid.
1. We need a more efficient IT infrastructure
We see IT as one of the major areas to work on in coming years.
Alipa has died a death, but if it has made anything clear, it is that we absolutely need a more efficient IT infrastructure. The list of issues, shortcomings and recommendations was endless. A good IT infrastructure is quite simply a necessary prerequisite for the proper functioning of our university. This will undoubtedly require serious investment from our reserves, but it seems to us to be one we cannot avoid. We may also need one or more business analysts to translate our needs into the solutions.
2. We will build a sustainable smart campus for the future in Diepenbeek
Several major investment projects are already underway. We will, of course, continue to monitor these. However, they mainly concern the city campus. We think that in the next phase it is time to refocus on the Diepenbeek campus.
Broadly speaking, we want to build a sustainable smart campus for the future in Diepenbeek. In order to do so, we are working out a vision in close consultation with staff and students.
Firstly, we are looking at the organisation of the campus. This is why we are relaunching the exercise that has already been used for the campus master plan. Mobility will of course play a major role in the organisation of the campus. We will return to this in our priority under sustainability. Another interesting project is the possible development of a ‘health campus’ in Diepenbeek. This is already under consideration and we are discussing how we might support it. It could be a good leverage project, offering opportunities for several faculties/schools/institutes.
Secondly, Building D is in urgent need of thorough, sustainable renovation. This will undoubtedly be one of the major construction sites in the near future.
Thirdly, we want to reduce the rent for building H and, for the Faculty of Industrial Engineering Sciences, seek closer links with the university buildings so that they are more physically and emotionally a part of the university community.
We also hope as part of all this the containers for building D will really be a thing of the past before too long.
3. In Brussels, we will continue to insist on the need for sufficient investment loans, but we are also looking for new, innovative ways of financing
As mentioned earlier, universities play an increasingly important role in society. This requires resources for staff and operations, but it certainly also requires resources for maintaining and investing in our heritage.
In Brussels, we will continue to insist on the need for sufficient investment budget. The appropriate budget must follow increasing workloads. At the same time, we are looking for new, innovative financing methods (for example, the VUB has issued bonds).
4. At the University Library, we will put maximum effort into good service
The role of the University Library has changed radically in recent decades. Twenty-five years ago, a university library was the place to be if a student or staff member was looking for scientific information. Digital sources of information were hardly available. Today, we are living in a completely different time. Libraries are now much less about local collections and much more about offering ‘services’. That is why, together with the University Library, we are making every effort to provide good service, both to students and researchers.
Supporting researchers is an increasingly important task for the University Library. However, these tasks are far removed from so-called ‘traditional’ library work. In order to be able to offer a higher level of service in this area, it is advisable to improve the level of training provided to library staff. We will see to it that any retirements that present themselves are used to get the right profiles.
We are also considering tasks that are currently only addressed in a limited fashion if at all. We are primarily thinking about the management of academic heritage and the management of information and archives. It is common knowledge that academic heritage faces many threats. Departments move from one location to another; programmes are reorganised; professors retire; research groups suffer from a lack of space: these are typical situations in which valuable heritage ends up in the rubbish pile. The University Library could map out existing academic heritage and provide an internal point of contact. As far as information and archive management is concerned, we are considering drawing up an archive management plan at institutional level: at present there are no coordinated selection rules about who is the creator of a certain process, how long certain documents should be kept, who is responsible for weeding on the one hand and long-term archiving on the other, at which locations and/or with which carriers archives can/must be stored, etc. This is now mainly done on an ad hoc basis. We are looking at how we can professionalise this.