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- Connecting in an open network
- Research in education
- Good governance
- Honest science and the academic career
- Collaboration across borders
- Connecting in a translational environment (UZ)
Where the academy really takes shape
Having an eye for the way entities really work - especially entities that we unconsciously yet significantly call 'decentralized' - goes beyond just being present at New Year's receptions, winter barbecues and friendly chats with groups of professors.
Making a university together is only possible if a rector and group vice-rectors allow themselves to be guided by the needs and concerns of faculties and departments. The entities that are responsible day after day for education and research must more than ever be allowed to play a role in policy development. These are the places where the real work is done. In a collegially governed university, the starting point for most policy is at the bottom. Being open for the matters that are important at that level is the most important quality of a university administration. To make this feasible, the Academic Council must be more than just a ratifying body. It must become a place that gives nourishment for and to policy.
In the university that we wish to achieve, the Academic Council or the group councils must discuss the policy plans of the faculties, instead just rubber-stamping them. There was no discussion on the policy plan for the Faculty of Economics and Business in the Human Sciences Group Council in 2014. The updating of the plan in 2016 did receive attention. The 'discussion', however, was limited to the announcement that some elements of the policy were not fully in compliance with the university's regulations; the regulations that seem to be more than ever the compass. This can and must be done differently - and better. By giving the faculties, departments, research units and centres a forum in the Academic Council or in a meeting of the Executive Committee, KU Leuven+ can once again give shape and form to the university from the bottom up. This will make possible mutual feedback and policy suggestions, and will ensure that everyone's expertise is used to maximum effect. It also places the rector in the correct position: one of supportive and serving leadership.
Faculties, departments and research units have the right to their own policy space, provided they have good arguments that match the objectives of our wider university governance. Streamlining and centralization are not necessary to achieve good results. All too often we are faced by the equal treatment of unequal situations, with insufficient attention for the specific nature of academic disciplines and fields of research, and the way in which they are developing, not only internally and externally but also at a global level.
Creating a vision is something we must do together, and not in competition between the different levels of governance. For this reason, we want to invite every faculty and related department or research unit at least once a year for discussions with the Executive Committee. This means extra meetings, but they are nonetheless crucial if we wish to take as our starting point for policy the concerns, needs and strategic objectives of the entities that make the difference in our university. With attention to diversity and to customization.
We want to transform the Academic Council from being little more than a ratification body into a discussion forum that can provide nourishment for and to policy. We wish to allow the deans and representatives input to the Council's agenda. We no longer want these meetings to be used for the overlong presentation of texts that everyone has read beforehand.
We want to reverse the current organizational logic, so that in the first instance we listen to the priorities and ambitions of the faculties, departments and research units, including the students they teach.
On the basis of discussions with the faculty and departmental administrations, we wish to map out where these entities come into conflict with the university's regulations and where they would like to see the amendment of those regulations.
We want to enter into dialogue with other comprehensive universities, so that we can learn more about the way they give shape and substance to subsidiarity.
Social engagement as the compass: sustainable development goals
Our answer to the question of when we will truly form a single university is simple: we will form a single, united university when we allow our core tasks to be driven by our mission statement. This would sound very top-down, were it not for the fact that this mission contains so many important values: our anchoring in a Christian-inspired philosophy of mankind and the world, our belief in the merit of open discussion, our core task of providing academic education based on scientific research, our inter- and multidisciplinarity, our continual striving for excellence, with special attention for the most vulnerable.
In KU Leuven+ we will use our mission statement and not the university rules as our guiding compass. We wish to test this mission statement against external evolutions and, where necessary, make it more contemporary and future-oriented. For this reason, we wish to register KU Leuven for participation in the realization of Duurzame Ontwikkelingsdoelstellingen (Sustainable Development Goals), as agreed by the member states of the United Nations. The Sustainable Development Goals closely match our Christian view of mankind and the world. They read as a kind of contemporary Sermon on the Mount. At the same time, they are also utopian, but this is no reason for not doing what we can to help make them achievable to the greatest possible extent.
The Sustainable Development Goals provide us with a clear and common language: the ending of poverty in all its forms everywhere; the ending of hunger and the provision of food security for everyone; the promoting of sustainable agriculture; the guaranteeing of good health; the guaranteeing of equal access to good quality education and the encouragement of life-long learning for everyone; the stimulation of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, with decent work for everyone; the construction of resilient infrastructure; the protection, recovery and fostering of the sustainable use of ecosystems; the reduction of inequality in and between countries; etc.
This selection makes clear how the Sustainable Development Goals can also appeal to the collective expertise of KU Leuven+. The objectives are a reminder to all disciplines of their obligation towards social engagement. As a result, this framework is connective, not only externally but also internally: the United Disciplines. Such a framework makes it possible to formulate our ambitions in a language that is understandable for the general public. The students will also find a deeper meaning in their disciplinary vision of the future, if they can understand how their discipline contributes towards the realization of the UN objectives, which will determine the quality of their life in the years ahead.
If we use sustainable development objectives as a frame of reference, it is only logical that we must make sustainable policy one of our priorities. I regard the strategic sustainability plan as a most praiseworthy initiative. It is the best conceived policy plan of the previous governance period. I propose to maintain this plan, fine-tuning it where necessary and focusing henceforth on its effective implementation. What we are able to achieve in terms of that implementation will be monitored and registered in a KU Leuven sustainability report. We are already doing this in the FEB, in accordance with the guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).
Sustainability will be an important competency during this new mandate period. The Sustainability Council must continue to fulfil its role as think-tank. Its advisory function in relation to the Academic Council must, however, be strengthened. In consultation with the Sustainability Council, I propose to identify and ring-fence a number of priority projects where we can seek to achieve maximum results. The memorandum that was recently drafted by the Sustainability Council can serve as a basis for this exercise. The proposals made by YouRSS in connection with travel policy also set the right tone, in keeping with policy that is currently being given concrete form in the FEB.
In KU Leuven+ we wish to use the mission statement as our compass. We want to give this mission statement a contemporary content and significance, taking as our starting point the Sustainable Development Objectives agreed by the member states of the United Nations. The Sustainable Development Objectives set targets for as far as 2030 and therefore offer us what we so desperately need: a long-term project focused on the needs of society.
We wish to use the framework of the Sustainable Development Objectives in preparation for the celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Leuven University, so that in the year 2025 we can demonstrate our contribution to the objectives in a credible manner.
We want to make our social engagement concrete, by collaborating with other universities and with the government to create a broad interdisciplinary master course in sustainable development. This course, supported by a range of top experts in their fields, will make clear to the students how science can offer answers to the greatest challenges of our times.
Interdisciplinarity, deep collaboration between disciplines
We do not regard interdisciplinary research as being superior to disciplinary research. But interdisciplinarity is nonetheless a necessary step, if we wish to provide answers supported by well-grounded scientific research to the complex societal issues that will allow us to contribute towards sustainable development. Interdisciplinarity is therefore a necessity. Poverty, migration, multiculturalism, radicalization, conflict management, peace-building, the ageing of the population, energy supply, climate change, protectionism, digitalization, health and biodiversity are all themes that cannot be dealt with in the clearly defined pigeon-holes of individual disciplines. Instead, they require a deep dialogue between different disciplines; we need to open all the doors that separate us. The importance of interdisciplinarity is also underlined in scientific policy and is a prominent element in the Horizon 2020 programme. In this sense, interdisciplinarity is not a threat to the individual disciplines, but actually contributes towards their legitimacy and sustainability.
I myself am a product of this process: a sociologist by training but already nine years an economic and business dean in a faculty with a wide interdisciplinary richness. This interdisciplinarity stimulates debate, the mutual and open exchange of ideas, and tolerance. The recent decision to invest in common profile vacancies with the Higher Institute of Philosophy in the field of business ethics and with the Department of Material Science in the field of the circular economy is testimony of the value of this approach.
Interdisciplinary collaboration is the future. We need to make it possible to have joint appointments in more than one faculty or department. Cross-group centres need to be developed further. It is necessary that reviewers attach equal merit to non-linear CVs, precisely because they dare to think outside the box. Funding for interdisciplinary research needs urgently to be financed, and financed sufficiently. In this respect, there is a special role for the interdisciplinary panels of the FWO. In the educational field, we need to investigate how smoothly we can introduce hybrid programmes.
The future BOF project financing must devote special attention to interdisciplinarity. The funding of interdisciplinary projects offers a broad and solid canvas for 'team science'. The current rule that people who receive project financing are not allowed to submit an application for the financing of a new project until the first project has been completed actually discourages interdisciplinary collaboration. Interdisciplinary projects need to grow from collaboration between successful research teams, building further on the foundations of current and active single discipline projects.
Consequently, interdisciplinarity is an end in its own right. But it is not an end that justifies all means. Interdisciplinarity must be stimulated sensibly. We need to think with care about exactly what we wish to achieve in education and research, and must evaluate what interdisciplinarity can and should mean within the context of our disciplines and structures, both for research financing and career development.
KU Leuven+ will devote great attention to interdisciplinarity. We want to test and evaluate research and education policy against the criterion of interdisciplinarity. Metaforum will be given the task of exploring the ways by which this might be achieved, in a wide ranging project group combining independent thinkers and governors from the faculties and departments, supplemented with input from, amongst others, the LERU universities.
We wish to anchor the work of Metaforum more firmly in the faculties, research units and departments. To make this possible, it will be necessary to develop the Holland College into a qualitative platform for interdisciplinary debate, investing significantly to provide it with the resources to become a place of intellectual and socially relevant discussion.
Rethinking the groups
If we want to give interdisciplinarity a chance, it will be necessary to break through the compartmentalization that currently separates the different disciplines, groups and educational programmes. However, we wish to achieve this without launching the university blindly into another restructuring. For every change it will be important to think in advance about its impact on the mission and the task load of those working in the front line of education, research, administration and support. We must be bold enough to make adjustments where necessary, thereby preparing for a method of working that makes possible greater interdisciplinarity and collaboration. We need to transcend our current boundaries. This will begin with the groups, who at the moment almost form a kind of separate university of their own. They should be trying to complement and strengthen each other, rather than competing with each other. Much greater solidarity between groups, faculties and departments in desperately needed. It is essential for the university, which should be a place where scientists and students from a wide range of research and study fields meet and debate. It is in no-one's interests if only the strong become stronger. In the all-inclusive KU Leuven+, the strength of every link in the chain must be enhanced.
Psychologists feel the yoke of the groups more than most, especially if they are working on the borders of biomedical science. Sport scientists experience the same problem when they seek the necessary interaction with the sciences and social sciences. Philosophers and theologians feel it as well, because their search for wisdom recognizes no disciplinary boundaries. It is even limiting for a faculty like the FEB, since domains such as statistics, operational research, environmental economy and actuarial sciences can just as easily be positioned in W&T. Just try launching a group-transcending initiative or centre today: it will work as long as it is loose and non-binding, but as soon as concrete choices need to be made everything grinds to a halt.
Fortunately, what is so difficult to achieve between the three groups is possible within KU Leuven Research & Development. Think about the interdisciplinary LRD divisions such as Prometheus, which demonstrate how intellectual capabilities can be brought together across disciplinary and group divides. This is one of the many reasons why we need to cherish the LRD and offer it the space it needs to develop further.
The university as it is today is not the university of tomorrow. That is clear. The groups can continue to exist as a useful coordination level, but we want to make their boundaries permeable and wish to stimulate the setting-up of joint-initiatives and cross-group institutions. The collaboration between different disciplines is inspiring and enriching.
We want collaboration with other groups to become a theme of the group boards. We need to look differently at the strict delineation of disciplines and educational competencies.
We want to make it possible to have joint appointments to two faculties or departments.
Simple structures as a source of collaboration
Work smart, not hard: it is a theme close to my heart and one that I have made my own over several years. In 2004, Marc Vervenne included me in a work group charged with restructuring the Human Sciences Group. He suggested organizing education and research in a group with a number of large departments. This provoked a (serene) reaction from colleague Tollebeek and myself. We devised a vision text that would form the basis for the current structure of the group; a structure that stands for unity between education and research; that pushes the faculty to the fore as a central unit with a clear identity; and, above all, without complex and multiple reporting lines. And today, now thirteen years later, I still stand behind that choice for simplicity. Simple structures are a precondition for generating meaningful discussions between different disciplines.
An example will serve to illustrate the problems to which complex structures can lead. A colleague of mine once worked for the Technology Campus in Ghent. She was responsible for sustainable material management. She was a member of the Faculty of Industrial Engineering Sciences and for her educational task reported to the faculty's dean. But she also had a position in the Faculty of Material Sciences for her research activities, for which she reported to the head of department. This created a matrix, but matrices have seldom been regarded as a good idea in the context of organizational design. In this case, the matrix pulled apart the unity that should have existed between education and research. Such a situation is a bad thing for the excellence of education in a research-driven university. But it didn't stop there. My colleague was also a member of the Technology Cluster for Material Sciences, and so also had to report to the head of the cluster. Indeed, the research activities of the different W&T campuses were thematically grouped, with a focus on six large industrial sectors. These technology clusters were also integrated into the departments of the W&T Group, because it was thought that “this will make cross-fertilization possible between the more industrially-focused groups and the groups active in more fundamental research", or so the university website claims. And of course, it adds: "cluster-transcending and department-transcending collaborative research also continues to be possible."
We’re not finished yet. There’s not only the dean, the department head and the cluster head. My colleague also worked on a campus, and so obviously she also had to deal with a head of campus. And we haven't even yet mentioned the academic governors, who need to give the university an external face as the regional mandatories of the rector.
Stimulating interdisciplinarity is difficult if, within a single discipline, we need a dean, head of campus, head of department, cluster head and an academic governor to arrange coordination. Large, knowledge-intensive organizations like Google, Spotify, Apple, SAAB or even ING all show us that decentralized guidance and experimentation with 'loose' network structures is important if we want to achieve the best possible results. In contrast, our attempts at KU Leuven to solve our coordination problems often lead to more reporting lines and greater separation of competencies. It is almost as if we are afraid of simplicity. I am unable to offer you an immediate solution in this document; that would require a manifesto of its own. The exercise is a complex one and there are no ready-made answers. Even so, it is an exercise that we urgently need to undertake, with input from many different parties. However, it is already possible to be concise about the guiding principles that will be necessary: unity of policy in education, research and social engagement; a clear reporting line for every professor, researcher and other members of staffs in every campus; the strengthening of the role of the faculties in a subsidiarity model in relation to departments, research units and divisions.
We want to put together a wide-ranging advisory group with the task of developing possible guidelines for the Science & Technology and Biomedical Sciences groups, which will allow for the simplification of their structures and the re-enhancement of the position of the faculties. It is also possible to make better use in the Human Sciences group of the relative autonomy of the research units in relation to the faculty. The advice group must include interested parties across the full range of personnel categories from the faculties, departments, clusters and campuses. We will support the advisory group with internal experts and the representatives of universities from which we can learn. The result must not be yet another restructuring of our university, but must be felt as an improvement and a simplification.
Making a university together, on 15 campuses
In recent years, much work has been done to integrate the university college programmes. However, the completion of this integration process does not mean that all the associated problems have been solved. I want to develop an inclusive plan for the campuses that is supported by the Executive Committee and that offers a positive perspective for the future.
For the future of the university as a whole, it is important that we retain the campuses and expand them wherever possible. As a dean, I have learnt to value the integrated programmes as an enrichment of our educational offer. For our students, the integration has led to a much wider range of choice. However, we can only continue to generate this added value if we maintain the unique profiles of these programmes. This requires more than just a simple agreement within an Educational Committee. It demands that in terms of recruitment we should attach considerable weight to compatibility of candidates with programme profiles and that the specific nature of the research is translated into a set of adjusted research indicators.
I want to better emphasize the regional anchoring of the integrated programmes. This requires increased region-related marketing and communication. An 18-year-old who is thinking about studying industrial engineering at the Technology Campus in Ghent is probably not interested in the difference with the same KU Leuven programme in Sint-Katelijne-Waver or Diepenbeek. He or she will compare our offer with the University of Ghent. To respond effectively to this likelihood, in addition to our faculty brochure we need regionally specific marketing of the kind we already have for KULAK. This is the only way to give full and proper expression to the interconnectedness of our programmes with the towns and cities in which they are given, thereby underlining their embedding in the local cultural environment and the access they offer to available facilities for sport and recreation. It is only by providing our schools in the regions with a clear identity that we will be able to promote them successfully as a better alternative to their other local rivals.
The development of the campuses also requires sufficient financial stability. The campuses are guaranteed separate financial envelopes until the end of 2023. What will happen after that date is the subject of negotiation and consultation about the financing of Flemish education in general. 2023 seems a long way off and plenty of progress can still be made in five years. Even so, it is my feeling that 2023 will still be too early to think about a full redistribution of resources. I therefore argue that we should continue to guarantee the campus envelopes, with any eventual growth being distributed judiciously across the entire university. This does not stand in the way of making economies where necessary and/or shifting resources where desirable. We prefer an approach that offers the campuses some much needed stability during this crucial stage in their expansion. That is good for the campuses and necessary for KU Leuven+.
This strikes me as being the right choice. Notwithstanding the praiseworthy progress made by the campuses, they are still far-removed from achieving the same level of research intensity as the Leuven (sub)faculties and departments. This is only logical. Most of our ZAP colleagues active in the campuses have only recently been recruited or granted a ZAP status. They are still busy with the formulation of their research agendas. Moreover, Teaching Personnel (OP1-OP2-OP3) also constitute a significant proportion of the staff complement. These colleagues are of incalculable value for teaching and the maintenance of the programme profiles, but they are less involved in research activities. This has consequences for the positions of the campuses. And the situation will not be much different by 2023.
One outstanding project that needs to be addressed is the equivalence of student facilities on all campuses and the provision of access to the Leuven services for students at other campuses. At the moment, the difference in facilities is considerable: from the use of restaurants, through the level of preparation for the labour market, to the amenities of the student health centre. We know that this is not how things should be and we must continue searching for the resources that will help to improve access to all services and facilities. In five years' time, we will only look back with satisfaction if these shortcomings can be rectified.
We also wish to devote extra attention to an inclusive personnel policy. During the period of integration, it tended to be the case that differences were emphasized. Colleagues in the Teaching Personnel who had allowed themselves to be addressed as professor throughout their careers were suddenly told that this was no longer possible. Similarly, separate regulations were introduced for the education and teaching portfolio. Numerous other examples could be cited. I want to put less emphasis on differences and instead create more perspectives. For example, the scope for promotion on the integrated campuses deserves priority attention. The campuses have a pyramid with a broad base: a large majority of lecturers, with a small number of senior lecturers and full professors at the top. It is not easy to change this situation in the short term. Nevertheless, we wish to give campuses the opportunity to use open units of account in a limited manner to expand the existing possibilities for promotion, so that, in combination with other stimulatory impulses, it will gradually become feasible to create a genuine career perspective. The promotion policy as applied to Teaching Personnel in Group 1 (OP1) also needs to be looked at.
Another priority is to conclude a collective labour agreement for staff in the integration framework as quickly as possible. These negotiations have been deadlocked for some time. As a consequence, colleagues in the integration framework are unable to submit promotion applications, whereas their counterparts with a KU Leuven ATP status have no such problems. This results in feelings of unfairness and tension between direct colleagues. A willingness on both sides to accept reasonable compromise, a clear timeframe and a commitment from the rector to take part in the negotiations can help to create a perspective for progress.
'Making a university together' is something that we can only do with the involvement of all campuses.
We opt for the maximum retention of all campuses, taking care to preserve the unique profile of the integrated programmes and working with more region-specific marketing to create a clear identity for each campus.
We want to adopt an approach that will give the campuses the necessary stability during this crucial growth phase. We prefer to continue with the guaranteed campus envelopes after 2023, with any eventual growth to be distributed across the entire university.
We wish to give priority to increasing the scope for promotion on the integrated campuses, so that a career perspective can gradually be created. We also want the rapid conclusion of a collective labour agreement for staff in the integration framework.
Making a university together, with the students
Our students are both the reason for our existence and our future. As a result, much attention is devoted to them in this programme; in particular, in the section on 'research in education' and in our plea for an ambitious policy of internationalization. We want to involve the students as a full partner in the governance of the university, amongst other things by enhancing their role in the Executive Committee.
The students make our university what it is today. The various circles and societies work very hard to achieve this. I view with admiration the wide spectrum of student initiatives and the rich range of extra-curricular activities they create: from peer-assisted learning and organisations focused on helping the South, like Academics for Development, through buddy projects like Mindmates, to platforms for entrepreneurship under the auspices of Lcie. These initiatives enrich our university. They show how students wish to add new rooms to our already impressive edifice. This is the course that I want to continue following in the years ahead and I will provide the assistance to make this possible. I will help to collect the necessary external funds, providing the seed capital that will lead to an even richer harvest in the future.
We want to make the university together with the students and we hope to hold future discussions with Ruben, Marie, Jan, Charlotte and Pieter. But also with Milinka, Assim, Tahirah, Farouk, Diara and Ngozi. Because all our auditoria, especially in Leuven, are coloured too white. The KU Leuven student population is not a reflection of the diversity in society. We need to make greater diversity in our ranks a priority project, in close collaboration with the Student Council: a fascinating project in the very heart of our student policy.
A second priority project that I wish to undertake in consultation with the Student Council is the question of orientation. Under the title 'Association 2.0', I intend to initiate a process of re-orientation. I want to discuss measures that can improve student success rates in the first phase. Today, many students start their course in a context of failure. A broader inflow forces the faculties to concentrate their mentoring capabilities in the first phase, with inevitable consequences. But I do not wish to tackle this problem with entrance examinations or a numerus clausus or fixus.
I am thinking more in terms of compulsory participation in calibration tests, such as those currently used in the FEB and in the W&T Group. Calibration tests can help to orient students between different programmes. They can also be used to pilot starter students through a standard - and well-targeted - upskilling trajectory (with, for example, a greater focus on the mathematical basis). This is a positive form of orientation that can lead to better results without an automatic increase in the duration of the study time. This is a project that needs to be carefully discussed. In particular, some thought is required for alternatives to calibration tests for the disciplines for which they are less well-suited. It is also something that needs to be discussed with the government and other universities.
In addition, the students and the Student Council will continue to make an important contribution towards the maintenance of educational quality. They are a primary actor in this area and therefore deserve a central position in every dimension of the university-wide quality care system. I regard this as being self-evident, even in matters where the faculties or programme directors (feel obliged to) set their own emphases for discipline-specific reasons.
The students must exercise their responsibilities in respect of quality care in the first instance through their role in the Education Council and the Permanent Educational Committees (PECs). I want to enhance the Education Council as a forum for consultation, dialogue and recommendation. Decisions of the Academic Council that deviate from these recommendations must be well-motivated and referred back to the Education Council for feedback. The PECs must become, where this is not already the case, the key institution where we can make the university together with the students. In collaboration with the Education Council and the Student Council, I wish to develop a framework which clarifies how a good functioning PEC should work and also defines the manner in which the activities of the PEC can be more firmly anchored into the governance of the faculties. Moreover, this must be a framework whose effectiveness is verifiable.
Outside the Education Council and the PECs, every student can make a contribution towards quality care by participating in the lecturer assessment process. The current online questionnaire for students is under fire. The present method results in a low response rate and the long lead times mean that taking fast remedial action is almost impossible. For their part, many lecturers are also complaining about the narrowing of the definition of the term 'quality'. The existing questionnaire does indeed tend to measure the level of student satisfaction rather than the objective quality of the teaching or its learning effectiveness. That being said, students are also critical about the present situation. All too often, they are left in the dark about the results and consequences of the questionnaire, and they are not certain whether their opinions are taken into account. I want to retain the good elements of this questioning procedure and make clear to the students that their opinions certainly do count. But I also want to develop a more meaningful alternative. Let this be a task of the Education Council.
The list of themes on the students' agenda is much longer than the priority action points I have included here. The students ask a lot: longer hours of opening for the learning centres, more electrical sockets in the auditoria, a growing infrastructure compatible with their needs, good reach for Eduroam on every campus, a clearer set of norms for our points scale and gradations of merit, a smartphone-friendly and more up-to-date version of Toledo, lower prices for vegetarian meals... All these requests are legitimate. But it is not possible to fulfil them all within existing resources. We will need to discuss and clearly define the number of projects we can afford to undertake. But the length of the list clearly underlines the desire and the willingness of the students to be involved in the governance process. They are ready to help make the university. I will accept their outstretched hand with pleasure.
We recognize the students as full partners in the governance of KU Leuven.
Together with the Student Council, we wish to pursue a number of important issues that are at the heart of student policy; in particular, the plan focused on increasing the diversity of the student population and the plan for more effective (re-)orientation.
We want, in the interests of students, to enhance the Education Council, transforming it into a powerful forum for dialogue, policy development and recommendations. The other councils, such as the Diversity Council, the Sustainability Council and the Internationalization Council, must also be strengthened in their advisory roles vis-à-vis, amongst others, the Academic Council.
Together with the Education Council and the Student Council, we wish to develop a verifiable framework which clarifies how a good functioning PEC should work and also defines the manner in which the activities of the PEC can be more firmly anchored into the governance of the faculties. In the same vein, we also wish to elaborate a better version of the current online student questionnaire and give the results a clearer position within the university's quality care system and personnel policy.
Allocation, a burnt topic
It was not my intention to write about allocation models and the division of resources. That does not mean I want to avoid the topic, on the contrary, but in the short term there are (even) more urgent issues. Discussions about the allocation model are a distraction in a time when governmental funding is shrinking. They stand in the way of ‘making a university’.
After hearing that friend and foe are associating me with the topic, I have decided to speak out after all. I often hear that, if I were to become rector, I would unfreeze the allocation of resources. That thought divides opinion within the university. Faculties and departments expecting a growth are hoping for it. Entities, who feel threatened, are fearing it.
What most don’t know, is that as dean I am being confronted with both situations – progress and decline - simultaneously. One campus, Antwerp, has a positive result. A second campus, Leuven, should receive a lot more standard account units (SAU) according to ‘the model’. A third campus is deep in the red due to former mismanagement and the aftermath of the terror threat and attack. With a lot of effort from everyone involved, 19 SAU have been handed in. I therefore sympathize with those who don’t get their legitimate request for growth granted. I also sympathize with those who have to undergo the burden of economization. Allocation doesn’t make anyone happy. However an allocation model can be introduced without trouble or turbulence. In my opinion we have achieved this at FEB (Faculty of Economics and Business). We have succeeded through a patient process of consensus and compromise. This has been achieved through a growing mutual understanding developed thanks to the input of many and an incremental approach starting from a discussion about the optimal interpretation of the model based on the tasks and priorities that the allocation resources should support, in conjunction with the (extra) stimuli the model should provide. Being led by the hoped or feared outcomes can only lead to hopeless protracted positions.
For those who are curious: the FEB-model takes into account commitment to education, the amount of master’s theses, the amount of international publications weighed on impact, the amount of defended PhD’s and the acquired research funding. Extra weight is allocated to the supply of education to other campuses. The commitment to education for every course is calculated by using a vast fixed amount and a variable component based on the number of students. The fixed amount protects the smaller programmes with fewer students and guarantees that valuable, specialized courses with a limited number of students are not being cut in favour of mass-education. The linear variable component indicates that for the sake of the student the amount of time for feedback in large groups should remain equal notwithstanding the size of the group.
The broad acceptance of this model in FEB is based on solid agreements. Every four years we recalculate the outcomes, but we reallocate when there is growth and we use the model especially for the allocation of supplementary mandates. That creates equilibrium. Nobody has to guard the back door. Mattheus effects are limited by the built-in moderation.
The allocation model can never be an instrument to ‘reward’ or ‘punish’ on the basis of cold rules. However it can be an effective means to focus policy choices and their possible impact to reach motivated decisions, rather than basing decisions on a gut-feeling or assumptions. The ‘making of’ may be numerical, in the application the human aspect (in all its meaning) should be decisive. Strategic choices and disciplinary diversity has to be guarded.
These choices indicate that I am not happy with the models used on the higher levels of inter- and intra- group allocation. I want to enter into this important discussion for the KU Leuven+, but in a well thought-out way and with sufficient time to come to a consensus. This does not mean I want to postpone it (again) to the next elections, as has been the case too often in the past.
I will not unfreeze the allocation model during a period with no growth. These are times in which solidarity has to prevail: make a university together. I will not start a reallocation process as long as the allocation models are not designed smarter. It is hard to play pool with a bent cue. I want to start the discussion about the most appropriate allocation model. By establishing some rest, we can talk untroubled about strong allocation models, the advantage of fixed amounts and the possibilities for a better fine-tuning towards the strategy of faculties and departments. I want to lead this exercise, in collaboration with the general manager. Admittedly and consequently I may have to miss out on some receptions. However I will not avoid difficult topics. Let us invest in a patient exercise and try to learn from other universities.
If Groups internally agree that reallocation is necessary, they are free to proceed. But I will want the guarantee that faculties that have to make a major effort in serious recovery plans keep a perspective on the future. Recovery plans have to be the basis for a better future and not the first wave of a negative spiral. The allocation theme will not dominate the elections. The programme involves too many valuable choices for the future that with implementation will steer the university towards more internal cooperation. Let us first make those choices and divide the resources afterwards, whilst honoring and supporting the choices made.
The allocation theme will not dominate the elections. The programme involves too many valuable choices for the future that with implementation will steer the university towards more internal cooperation. Let us first make those choices and divide the resources afterwards, whilst honoring and supporting the choices made.
The ambition of research-driven education
Where lecturers and staff are collectively involved in a joint project, a close and genuine quality culture soon develops. A powerful vision on education and students needs a core message. An effective quality care system must be conceived as a clear project. Within that project, we must provide the necessary relief and concentrate on the essence: research-driven education. That is a choice that is fitting for a research-intensive university, a choice that is fitting for KU Leuven+. The content and the reach of research-driven education need to be focused more sharply, so that teaching staff can be inspired by it. Focusing on objectives implies making choices. How can we make students familiar with what research is and the different forms it can take? How can we initiate them into the secrets of research results and the value of a strong evidential base, free from of the vagaries of fashions and trends? Do we wish to provide research-focused (i.e., in which the students learn about research methods) or research-based (i.e., in which the students take part in research) education?
The answers to these questions will be different, depending on the phase, the discipline and the blueprint of the programme. Educational committees and boards must focus their energies on asking what level of research-driven education we wish to attain. This focus is important. Because the essentially 'open' nature of Cobra has unintentionally contributed to a certain vagueness and lack of clarity: all is deemed to be well as long as the discussions take place at the right time (it matters less about what) and the reports are drawn up in the correct manner. For this reason, we need to make our vision more concrete and more precise. It is the duty of a university to convince students of the value of research-driven education by explaining why we have made this choice. We want to develop skills that can make a difference in highly qualified work and, by extension, in life in general: creativity, problem-solving skills, the ability to make choices and act on the basis of analysis, synthesis and evidence, ethical reflection, dealing with complexity and uncertainty. In this sense, research-driven education is the most person-forming type of education. We need to strengthen our attention to this dimension still further. At the same time, we must make clear to our students that it is not our intention to turn them all into researchers.
Research is the lever for greater prosperity and welfare; research serves society and contributes towards our shared responsibility for creating a sustainable future. The interest of students for our research will increase if we can link it in our teaching practice to our social engagement and if we can show how it can contribute towards sustainable solutions for the challenges we face. For this reason, we must banish the term 'teaching load' from our mental lexicon. As long as we contrast research 'performance' with teaching 'load', we will continue to give the impression that one is more important than the other. The linking of research-driven teaching to social commitment will help to restore the correct balance.
Research-driven education is not incompatible with a practice-based approach. One does not need to benefit at the expense of the other. Whoever is familiar with the high value of the programmes that were integrated into KU Leuven in 2013 will understand this point. Research-driven education can also mean dealing with practical situations in a scientifically well-founded manner and with a respect for logic and empirical evidence, in which the rigorous assessment of alternative solutions takes precedence over 'gut feeling'. Research-driven education will gain in support and strength if we can better succeed in making clear its practical relevance and if we give students the opportunity to experience that relevance in practical situations. I want to see this translational component more central in our teaching.
We wish to focus more sharply on our choice for research-driven education. This choice is inextricably linked to greater attention for active learning, with the student as partner. We want to make this choice more prominent in the university's current vision on education and students, whilst at the same time retaining the many good elements in that vision.
We wish to formulate the choice for research-driven education in a more engaging manner by devoting sufficient attention to the translational component, the bridge between research and practical relevance.
We want to retain the framework and approach of the institutional review. Together, we must refine and amend Cobra, so that it becomes an efficient and indispensable instrument for determining the direction of our programmes. We wish to supplement this with a further framework that will clarify the characteristics of a well-functioning PEC, a framework that we will be developed in consultation with the student council.
We also wish to strengthen the external benchmarking and benchlearning perspective in the quality care process and to encourage the faculties that opt to integrate or combine the Cobra quality care system with external accreditation systems (as the Faculty of Engineering Sciences does with the Commission des Titres d'Ingénieur (CTI) framework or as the FEB does with the Equis framework).
The student activates us
As teachers, academic advisers and educational support workers, we have a privileged task. Each year, our auditoria are filled with a new 'generation'. However, I experience little annual change in this respect. When I do see a difference with 'the past', it tends to go against the stereotypical descriptions we hear so often about millennials or generation Z. Today's students prefer to be in groups. They study together. They have a broad view of the world and explore that world more actively. They are more independent than I was at their age and more prepared to engage and undertake. They are more concerned with social impact and are more sensitive to the sustainability of different choices. The student of today is a gift for our university.
Nowadays, more students are active initiative-takers. In particular, this increased activity is evident in areas around our curricula. Just think of the rise in the number of student-entrepreneurs, who provide services to other students at the university and to society at large, perhaps as a buddy or as an assistant in the university parish. The same is true for the growing number of student organizations and companies. We must encourage these initiatives, because they stimulate a kind of informal learning that greatly enriches the formal educational context.
Today, KU Leuven is experimenting with the possible attestation of informally acquired competencies. This is taking place via a careful variant within the university-wide I-portfolio and in a more far-reaching form within the digital portfolio of the FEB. We need to study these experiments thoroughly in the years ahead. There is clearly a field of tension that needs to be addressed. On the one hand, we wish to enhance the value of informal learning experiences, so that they can be better used in the labour market; on the other hand, the attestation and certification of informal learning means that it will, partially at least, become more formalized. Even so, many students are already more active than our current forms and methods of teaching allow. As a concomitant of our choice to provide research-driven education, we also need to devote more attention to active learning.
We must be able to think freely about the education we offer. Is it necessary for learning efficiency to have between 39 and 52 contact hours for a subject with just six study points? It must be possible to achieve the desired results with fewer contact hours, which would free up more time for practice, experimentation and, above all, feedback. Is it not possible to spread the exhausting exam programme over a longer period of time, to the benefit of both lecturers and students? Can we not put greater emphasis on continual assessment and integrated testing? Do we really need to first disseminate all the course content in an overlarge auditorium, only to see it regurgitated months later during the exams? These are old questions. But they need to be repeated. The students are asking for and deserve an answer. I want to stimulate and facilitate the introduction of more active forms of teaching/learning, but without opting for a single model of 'best' practice. A mixture of different work methods and forms would be better, also for the student. Variety is the answer, because this makes it possible for the lecturers to teach in the manner that seems best to them. Variety takes account of the diverse needs and learning styles of the student. But innovative experimentation with flipped classrooms and blended learning, as well as experience learning and service learning, must also be given sufficient visibility, so that they can encourage a large number of lecturers to enter into collegial consultation, intervision and co-creation. This, too, has a connective effect.
Innovative educational methods must be allowed to reach the forum; for this reason, they are probably best coupled with the opening of the academic year or the celebration of our patron saint's day, so that the expertise of KU Leuven+ is placed fully in the spotlight. We need to invest in an educational platform, with carefully chosen testimonies that highlight the excellence of our lecturers and the inspirational nature of our practices.
I want to develop a career pathway for a clearly defined number of teaching professors. We invest large sums of money in research professors through the BOFZAP mandates. Why can we not accompany this with a career pathway for a number of colleagues who excel in teaching; who focus on discipline-specific didactics; who take responsibility for spreading more active methods of teaching /learning; and who anchor the excellent work of the educational services in the courses? Several LERU universities have already taken this step. Even in integrated programmes, it is possible to see just how important the influence of engaged teaching staff can be and how the programmes benefit from the efforts of a core of teaching-focused colleagues.
We wish to ensure that our curricula keep up with the level of activity and initiative currently being displayed outside the curricula. We would achieve this by giving priority to forms of education that encourage active learning.
We want to make inspirational experiments with innovative forms of education more visible within the university and also to create an educational platform that gives recognition to groups of lecturers who really make a difference by their approach.
We want to develop a career pathway for a clearly defined number of teaching professors, who can form a teaching academy or a community of practice across the different faculties, as well as investing in research about our educational methods, in consultation with those responsible for teacher training.
Interdisciplinarity, the bridge between courses
The third component that will complete our educational concept, alongside a research-driven focus and increased activation, is interdisciplinarity. It is necessary for the boundaries within education to become less rigid. The way in which the Higher Institute for Philosophy now offers options in Liberal Arts, Physics and Jurisprudence is an example worth following. And there are plenty of other equally inspirational examples. Consider, for instance, how Letters and Social Sciences together contribute towards the Master of European Studies and invest in the field of business communication; or the Master of Space Studies, which combines the expertise of the Astronomy Institute with law, policy and management; or the Master of Digital Humanities, which was developed out of collaboration between Letters, Psychology and Pedagogic Sciences, Social Sciences and Computer Sciences; or the Master in Ergotherapeutic Sciences, which is based on interdisciplinary and interuniversity support; or the Master in Economics, Law and Business, whose very name is testimony to its interdisciplinarity.
Most of these examples are situated at the (advanced) master level. Following in the footsteps of the HIP, I wish to increasingly blur the boundaries between disciplines at the bachelor level, so that our students can begin their master studies already familiar with a more multidisciplinary perspective. In this respect, we can also draw inspiration from the Australian tradition of awarding university internal double bachelor degrees or combined degrees, which often take the form of a four-year honours programme, allowing them to acquire the added value that can be generated at the interface between two different subjects; for example, philosophy and physics, or psychology and biomedical sciences, or jurisprudence and economics, or architecture and cultural studies, or engineering sciences and business.
Throughout this exercise, we must always place the student in the central position. In recent years, I have supported the initiatives that bring students together across different disciplines; for example, as one of the co-founders of Lcie (Leuven Community for Innovation-driven Entrepreneurship) and as initiator of the Lcie Entrepreneurship Academy; or as financer of AFD (Academics for Development), which places a strong emphasis on interfaculty cooperation; or as dean of the FEB, by partially opening up the Premonstreit College to university-wide initiatives like AFC (Academics for Companies) and AFD, and by investing in a Creativity Lab for all KU Leuven student-entrepreneurs. Many of these examples relate to themes that are close to the FEB's heart. But it would be easy to develop similar initiatives in other faculties.
We want to create space for an Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, similar to what the University of Amsterdam has developed: a knowledge centre for interdisciplinary teaching and learning, which serves as a guiding hand for the development of new subjects and courses, in collaboration with the faculties. This kind of institute can easily be formed within Metaforum. Such a platform would then be used to explore the possibility and desirability of introducing internal double and combined diplomas, perhaps (but not necessarily) in an honours format.
The university and the labour market
It is self-evident that the university prepares students (amongst other things) for the labour market. We can and must arm them to meet the challenges of this market, which is sometimes lacking in transparency. As well as the disciplinary future self, we will also devote attention to the professional self-image. Students make different and probably better study choices within their curriculum if they are properly informed about the opportunities currently existing in the labour market, so that they can form a clear picture of related career paths to follow and can discuss these options with employers and alumni. In this respect, the decision to set up the KU Leuven Student Career Centre was important.
However, we need to support these activities by making the right targeted choices in our curricula. The integrated programme in business administration can serve as an inspiration. This programme has a compulsory option in Career Skills. The aim of this option is to promote self-knowledge (who am I? what do I want? what can I do?) and a better understanding of the labour market (what opportunities exist?). The students learn about (the careers of) others and are encouraged to use these examples as a stimulus for action (drawing up their own career and development plan).
We need to know what the labour market requires and what employers are looking for. Contrary to what is often assumed, most employers are not searching for instantly useable talent, with a seamless transition from university to work. The majority prefer wide-ranging expertise to sector-specific experience. They give priority to competencies like good verbal and written communication, critical thinking, problem-solving capabilities, a sense of responsibility, creativity and, with increasing frequency, ethical judgement and integrity. These are qualities that are most ideally cultivated in research-driven teaching. We need to make this complementarity crystal clear.
What is appropriate for one course is not necessarily the best approach for another course. Courses like medicine, dentistry, industrial engineering and applied language studies are more 'professionally' oriented than philosophy, history, physics or mathematics. Moreover, as a result of the integration of the various programmes from the university colleges we are today able to offer a much wider portfolio of programme options in many disciplines - programmes that differ in focus. It is a good thing that students now have at their disposal such a wide range of choices in terms of programme content, which guarantees them a high academic standard whichever path they follow.
However, in each of these programmes preparation for the labour market must be linked to a clear future perspective. At the moment, this is not happening enough. An election manifesto is not the place to start a debate about the necessary knowledge and skills for tomorrow. For this reason, I will limit myself here to just a single theme: the robotization and digitalization of the work environment and the partial replacement of human intelligence and reasoning by technology.
Technology can have far reaching consequences for many tasks that are currently carried out by people. Just think of the (semi-)automated decisions that are now taken to decide whether people are granted a loan (or not), or are recruited (or sacked), or are reimbursed the cost of their medicines (which are also increasingly prescribed by machines). Data science and algorithms can offer an antidote to arbitrary and ill-founded human decisions made on the basis of 'gut feeling', but the opposite is also true: human judgement can serve as an antidote to decisions based on the cold logic of algorithms and the incorrect or distorted interpretation of data.
Future projections regularly refer to the importance of ICT-complementary skills. The US National Research Council separates these skills into a cognitive domain (cognitive processes and strategies, knowledge and creativity, with specific attention for critical thinking, information skills and reasoning), an intrapersonal domain (intellectual openness, work ethic, acting with a conscience, with specific attention for flexibility, initiative, diversity and metacognition) and an interpersonal domain (collaboration and leadership, with specific attention for communication, responsibility and conflict mediation). We need to explore these matters more thoroughly, since typologies of this kind can serve as a guideline during curriculum revision exercises.
In the same vein, higher education must seriously ask itself about the nature of the things that are typically human in both work and life. Which tasks, relationships and responsibilities will need to be left in human hands or will be left in those hands as a matter of conscious choice? In the context of work, most of the answers tend in the same direction: human tasks will be those that demand creativity; that are focused on the development of new ideas; that require a high level of social interaction. We need to reflect on ways in which our curricula and our approach to pedagogics and didactics can create sufficient space for creative experimentation, for the (interdisciplinary) solving of complex problems, and for the honing of social skills. The recently started Product Innovation Projects, in which the FEB and the Faculty of Engineering Sciences both participate (amongst others), is an inspirational example of what we need.
We want to invite the PECs to take as their starting point for all future curriculum development the question of the skills and competencies that will count in the labour market and society of tomorrow. We want also to make better use of the available knowledge that already exists within KU Leuven on these matters. In 2025, we want to celebrate, amongst other things, 600 years of preparedness for the future.
We wish to continue and further expand the initiatives that have already been started to help make students better prepared to steer their own careers. We must make the necessary services in this respect, including the Student Career Centre, available to all students, irrespective of the campus where they study.
Education in and for the community
Real-life experiences in authentic situations, as a part of and supplementary to the curriculum, are important for our students to acquire deeper learning. Programme coordinators and the PECs can decide how best to build these enriching experiences into the curricula. At the moment, only a limited number of internships are compulsory; most are optional. We need to focus more on projects in real working environments and give them a clear place in the curriculum. We want to learn from the programmes where learning in the workplace is already indispensable for acquiring a sufficient level of expertise: teacher training, training in psychology, medicine, rehabilitation sciences, etc.
Starting with the mission statement, we will devote special attention to the development of service learning. Service learning is an experienced-based method of education, in which students learn through a process of social engagement in and for the community. Students serve the community by engaging towards that community. This encourages them to reflect in a structured way about their experiences and consequently they learn in the academic, social and personal dimensions. These projects can take many different forms and, depending on the course, can be situated in development aid, nature and conservation, pharmaceutical or medical care for vulnerable groups, economic development in deprived neighbourhoods, etc.
In recent years, I was closely associated with Academics for Development, a student initiative that wishes to have a social impact in the South. From the next academic year, I will be the titular head of a new course element known as Social and Cooperative Enterprise, which wants to lay the basis for an identical service learning approach in local projects. From this experience I have learnt that the bar is set high. Service learning is much more than 'just' some voluntary work. There is a focused coupling with the curriculum. The objective is personal development and the inculcation of social awareness.
We wish to devote more attention to learning in real-life contexts and launch new initiatives that will improve the quality of this learning. In this respect, coaching and reflection via dialogue are more important than the actual duration of the practical experience.
We want to expand service learning, so that every student in every course is given the opportunity to learn about social engagement and good citizenship in a manner that is befitting for a university: through education.
Lifelong learning, a new project
The contemporary university should also take account of demographic developments and must be able to offer good solutions to the need for permanent training and lifelong learning.
In 2015, the average life expectancy at birth was 84.2 years for women and 79.7 years for men. The estimate of the Federal Planning Agency suggests that by 2050 this will have risen to 88.7 years and 86.2 years respectively. The ageing process is placing huge pressure on the working age population. At the present time, the number of 67-plussers make up 26.8% of all 18-plussers. Estimates predict that by 2050 this proportion will have grown to 43.4%. (R)evolutions in medical science will ultimately determine just how accurate these estimates really are. But it is already clear that the pressure to extend the length of people's active working careers will increase correspondingly.
Our thinking about lifelong learning will need to devise a completely new view of the human life cycle and a radically different perspective about age. At the moment, someone who is 56 years old is regarded as being relatively old in terms of the labour market. But whoever enters that market now at the age of 22 is expected to work until they are 67, which means that at the age of 56 they will still have a quarter of their working career to complete. In the years ahead, it is likely that someone who starts working at 25 will be expected to continue in employment until they are 70, which means that at the age of 50 they will only be just over halfway. People who no longer invest in their talent after their 50th birthday will therefore run the risk of becoming increasingly unemployable with half of their (anticipated) working career still to go.
This is an area where much work still needs to be done in Flanders. Participation in regular education by people in employment must increase. The openness for and the focus on working students in education must be improved. The offer of online and hybrid programmes must be expanded, and university colleges and universities need encouragement to extend their range of opportunities for lifelong learning. Against this background, we will open a debate about our role in permanent education and training.
We wish to already start the discussion about how it might be possible within the next ten years to develop a modular programme of further educational programmes that can be followed in the evening and/or during the weekend at a number of geographical locations. The Californian model of the Extended Universities (California State University, UCLA, UC Berkeley) can serve as an inspiration. These ‘Extensions’ are focused exclusively on adult education. The participation figures in the different universities already exceed the numbers taking part in initial education.
We also want to start a debate with the government about the financing of lifelong learning. Developing a separate offer for lifelong leaning will only be possible if it is embedded in a model of input and/or output funding and if the additional cost is covered. This debate is important for the future of society; we must not forget to conduct it.
For some specific programmes, such as general practice medicine, the debate about lifelong learning is more essential than for others. House doctors play a crucial role in health care. There is an explosion in medical knowledge, in which house doctors need to continue finding their way, if they wish to treat their patients adequately. This requires a well-considered strategy. And that is what we wish to develop.
Connective and collective leadership
With the increasing levels of responsibility I have accepted in the course of my thirteen years of active participation in faculty governance, I have gradually become fascinated by the forms that leadership can take in an academic setting. This interest has grown systematically, together with the parallel realization of my own limitations and faults and the need for further insight to develop my own leadership style and approach.
Today, I now understand that the university environment is a context in which you need to know your place as a member of the governance team. You must dare to take responsibility and must have the courage to cut through administrative complexities in order to make the right decisions at the right time, whether these decisions are pleasant or not. If nobody is prepared to set a course, the organization will drift aimlessly.
That being said, within the academic context it is also important to recognize honestly and openly that sometimes other people possess more expertise than you do. When you are surrounded by so many brilliant people, I regard this as self-evident. You must be able to govern with respect for autonomy. The greatest contribution that leadership can make in this context is to stimulate collective discussions in search for the best possible answers.
The governance of the university must more frequently offer a forum to the entities that can make a real difference for our institution. The university must be inspired by the ambitions, creativity and good practices that are so abundantly present in the academic core. This will make it simpler to connect the separate missions of the university, the faculties, the departments and the education programmes. In this way, with due recognition of valid differences and an eye for customized solutions where necessary, it will be possible to find the common ground and the common goals that can inspire us all: one university, a university with a mission.
University leadership must also make clear that it has ambition and must dare to set a high level of expectation for everyone, irrespective of role, expertise, service, group or faculty. This is implicit in my image of KU Leuven+: plus est en nous. But ambition must go hand in hand with realism. A rector must not be elected on the basis of unverifiable promises, but on the basis of a vision for the way the university should function and a programme of achievable solutions. I only make promises if I believe there is a reasonable chance of fulfilling them. Let that be a change.
I wish to stand for collective leadership and for greater trust between the different layers of governance within the university. I want to bring the university governance level back to the faculties, departments, research units and services, working in coordination with the central level. Because within a university context the level where the core tasks are carried out is the most important level, certainly when you measure it against the contribution it makes to the realization of the university's mission.
A proper debate about proper governance
I want to have a well-supported administration with a mix of innovation and continuity. I propose a combination of new faces with brilliant ideas and established names with relevant experience in the areas that are most crucial to the university: the courses, the faculties and their units, the departments. This is the core of proper governance.
The proper governance of a university also requires that responsibilities are clearly identified and allocated, preferably within the framework of the organizational regulations. There is much work needed in this area, if we are to realize the ambitions put forward in this programme. But other questions are also important. Are all the interested parties across the entire spectrum of the university - including the university hospitals - sufficiently involved in making policy choices: students, professors, assistants, researchers, clinicians, associates? Does the decision-making process result in the effective and qualitative implementation of the university's mission? Are strategy development and decision-making sufficiently transparent? Does the policy culture embody integrity, trust and respect for the tradition of collegial governance? These questions must be central during the next four years.
The implementation of proper governance begins with the formation and role of the board of governors. Good governors display integrity, dedication and empathy for the uniqueness of the academic environment. They must be appointed and assessed in a rigorous and transparent manner. It is very tempting to approach personal networks of (political) friends, former fellow students, sympathisers and like-minded people when allocating functions and posts, because it leads to less dissent. But it is precisely this critical dissent that is such a fundamental characteristic of proper governance.
Good external governors understand the university and respect the principle of collegial governance, but at the same time have the necessary distance from the university that allows them to assess the governance process critically, which in turn stimulates a necessary degree of self-appraisal.
We will attempt to achieve a balanced composition within the Executive Committee of the KU Leuven, with an equal number of men and women. In this respect, there is also room for improvement in the board of governors. Gender action plans cannot be taken seriously when an institution is governed by 21 men and just four women. In 2011, a legislative measure imposed on publicly traded companies an obligation that at least one third of the members of their board of directors should be women by the year 2017. We should impose this same simple obligation on ourselves.
We want that the Academic Council, together with the Board of Governors, participates fully in a thorough revision of the university's organizational regulations. We want that the Academic Council should be allowed to examine the question of the ideal composition of the Board of Governors, not in terms of names and persons, but with a view to achieving the required level of diversity in terms of background, expertise and position.
We want to strengthen the academic wing within the Board of Governors, because the presence of just a single former rector is too little to ensure that the university is governed with a proper sense of what is most urgently required; greater attention also deserves to be devoted to the biomedical sector in a university with important hospital activities.
We want that preferential treatment should be given to female candidates for new appointments to the Board of Governors, so that a proportion of at least one-third of female governors can be reached as quickly as possible. If, at the same time, we move towards a balanced composition within the Executive Committee, the university representation within the board of governors will contribute towards a fairer gender balance.
Collegial governance, also at the top
KU Leuven is familiar with collegial governance. The rector, deans and heads of department are chosen from within their own circles. This is also true of most of the coordinators in the research units and for many other functions with line responsibility. Other top universities often find this strange and associate the practice with conservatism, organizational blindness and deficient succession management. In contrast, they look for and appoint their rectors and deans primarily from outside the university.
There is something to be said for each of these systems. Personally, I continue to attach great importance to collegial elections and sufficient rotation in positions of governance. We need to cherish and preserve this model. Above all, we will seek to ensure that sufficient candidates are put forward for the different functions. At present, this is by no means self-evident in a number of the faculties, departments, research units and educational programmes. Could you imagine a rectorial election without a choice of candidates? The very idea was sufficient reason alone for me to put forward my candidacy, so that people at least have an alternative.
We want to hold fast to the things that the university feels comfortable with: four years mandates, elected by a broad and diverse electoral college. In this model, candidates are elected to line functions, since they exercise a hierarchical competence based on a position of primus inter pares: the rector, the deans, the campus deans, the heads of department, the coordinators of the research units. In contrast, the expert functions are approached directly and thereafter submitted for approval to a wider forum: the vice-rectors for domains such as education, research and student policy; the vice-deans at faculty level.
There is, however, an inconsistency in this approach, more specifically in the way the group vice-rectors are appointed. These are also line functions, but they are not elected. You could call this an anomaly. It will not be possible to change this immediately after the campaign, since it first requires a change to the organizational regulations. However, it can at least be made a subject for discussion. As a compromise, I prefer to opt for a nomination procedure for group vice-rectors. The campus rector for KULAK has an important role in the university administration, because Kortrijk has so many different faculties and offers so many different courses. KULAK would also be able to make nominations for its Campus Rector.
Gender balance in the group of Rector and Vice-rectors is of great importance. Consequently, I would like to appeal for balanced nominations: both men and women. Not because I favour quota, but because I believe that this can make a world of difference for the future of our university's governance and will send a powerful signal to the university as a whole and to society at large.
With a view to maximum support and connectivity, we will not immediately propose our own candidates for Group Vice-rectors, but will ask the deans, the boards at faculty and departmental level, and the ‘Raad Medische Diensthoofden’ to nominate possible candidates; in addition to compatibility with the policy vision, the level of support will also help to determine who leads the groups. We will not veto any of the nominations put forward, also with regard to the current Vice-rectors.
We will ask the KULAK board for nominations for the position of Campus Rector.
We will give the responsibility for personnel policy and interdisciplinarity to the rector, in view of the great importance of these matters and the need for transversal anchoring.
We will work towards achieving a balanced composition within the team of Rector and Vice-rectors, with equal numbers of male and female members; there is talent and experience enough, amongst both men and women.
Good governance is inclusive (ATP)
To express it in terms of the customary labels: the university belongs to the ZAP, the OP, the ATP, the ABAP and the students. Everyone contributes in their own way towards the success of KU Leuven. This also applies to the students. Think of the efforts they have made with regard to peer-assisted learning or the many extra-curricular student activities which make a course of study at KU Leuven such an enriching total experience.
The expertise of each individual must be valued and appreciated. The position of the administrative and technical personnel (ATP) is worthy of special attention. Following the reorganization of the groups and faculties, it seemed that the ATP would be given greater opportunities to contribute on equal terms to thinking on policy matters, making use of their own specialized experience and expertise. However, this has not been consistently the case in recent times. The current administration has far too often viewed the ATP in purely hierarchical terms, with little respect for their expert function and little understanding of the role they play in a complex organization like the KU Leuven.
Does not the term 'ATP' imply an unjustified and misleading minimization of the indispensable contribution made by these highly professional members of staff? We need to make their input to the decision-making process more tangible. In addition to the vice-rectors, the heads of the academic and general administration services should also be given a forum in the academic council. It is a good thing that the vice-rectors take up their responsibilities, but it would be even better if they could do this in collaboration with the directors and heads of the services. This would strengthen the dialogue between the professors and the people who do their very best each day to support them. It would also create inclusion and therefore a feeling of greater connectedness within KU Leuven+.
This line has been followed in recent years in the FEB. All our ATP colleagues are invited to attend meetings of the faculty council. A management team has been created in which all the ATP services help to develop policy, in collaboration with the dean. The representative of the management team and the administrative director are full and equal members of the faculty board and make contributions to all aspects of the agenda, including personnel matters. Academic responsibilities should not stand 'above' the ATP services, but must support them in an advisory capacity. This is an approach which at certain times will demand a great deal from those involved, but nonetheless addresses them and values them on the basis of their expertise.
Against this background, does the fact that there is only a single representative of the professional services on the academic council not constitute a regrettable underestimation of the contribution they make? We should allow an ATP representative from each group on the council, together with a further representative from the central and support services.
An inclusive policy in respect of the ATP requires that we should focus more consistently on smart work. The smart organization of work leads to greater staff wellbeing. However, we can only work smarter if everyone, irrespective of the echelon to which he or she belongs, is allowed to think carefully about how, when and with whom they work. Organizing work in a smarter way implies that the individual must be more positively motivated and that the organization's structures exist for the benefit of that individual, and not the other way around. Smart work leads to better results than hard work and creates a better balance between work activities and the other things we find important in life.
Smart organization means that every administrative workflow needs to be adjusted in a transparent manner to reflect the needs of the user, without unnecessary overload for our ATP colleagues, who channel our operations in the right direction day after day. Smart work goes hand in hand with shorter lines of decision-making and the elimination of superfluous coordination. It involves working in an atmosphere of mutual trust, especially between academics and administrative personnel. The extent to which this is currently achieved is too dependent on the persons occupying the positions of service head, departmental chairman, dean or coordinator.
I can see a number of themes in this connection where more work is still required. In the first instance, I am thinking of 'personal time management', with a view making work more workable. To me, this implies that we must be willing to accept time and place-independent work in the ATP. In the FEB we have already developed a clear framework for working from home. However, the added value of such practices is by no means universally understood and in this respect the KU Leuven still lacks a contemporary approach.
Much the same applies to time credits, a procedure which has already been given concrete shape in the private sector. In 2016, I worked with a number of colleagues to draw up a framework for Minister of Work, Kris Peters. Time credits make it possible for employees to 'save up' time to a certain limit throughout their career. These credits might be extra-legal holidays, untaken time-off in lieu, unpaid overtime, etc. The 'time savings' accumulated in this manner can then be taken as free time at some later date. In this way, employees are able to manage their careers in a more autonomous way.
A third contentious theme is remuneration policy. Here I can see room for a framework for flexible rewards or a so-called cafeteria plan. A cafeteria plan makes it possible, again within certain limits, to adjust the method of remuneration to suit the needs and wishes of the individual and/or his family. For example, the end of year bonus does not necessarily have to be paid in cash. It could be converted into a contribution towards a pension plan.
We want to pull down the internal walls within the university. To do this, we will increase ATP representation in the Academic Council, so that each group and the central and support services are represented.
Enter into dialogue with the faculties and departments, so that our professional personnel, who are indispensable in their own fields of expertise, are more closely involved in decision-making and governance, while at the same time continuing to respect the specific structure and needs of each individual faculty.
Invite the officials responsible for marketing, press and public relations, personnel, technical services, research and educational policy, etc. to take part in the discussions of the Academic Council, when subjects relating to their specialized field of expertise are on the agenda; this method of working will lead to greater cohesion.
Good governance is self-critical and forward-looking
Forward thinking is an important dimension of good governance. The greatest service we can do for our university is to work ambitiously but in a spirit of self-criticism to secure its future. We will govern for today, but make decisions for tomorrow.
By the start of 2020, the university must have a vision and a plan for 2040. The approach adopted by the University College London can serve as a source of inspiration. Under the banner UCL 2034, the London-based university developed a strategic plan that at the moment of its launching looked a full 20 years ahead. It is this method of approach (rather than the plan's content) that should interest us, because within the next few years KU Leuven+ will need to make its own choices, based on its traditions, its mission statement and its "self-image for the future".
The crucial question is this: to which of the university's different organs should this task be entrusted? It is equally important to ask whether KU Leuven is capable of critically assessing its own structures and policy traditions. Personally, I doubt it. Rectors and deans are elected, but then find themselves caught in a web of consultative and decision-making structures that are very difficult to change from the inside. This has once again been made clear during the past four years. We regard what we do and how we do it as being self-evident. Because we know no different.
KU Leuven+ must seek to improve this situation. This will not be possible with the existing organs and structures, because they form part of the script that we have been blindly following for decades. We need something more: a representative forum alongside the academic council, which is tasked with determining the direction of future change.
In this respect, there is inspiration enough on which we can draw. In 2011, the people of Iceland went to the polls to elect the citizens who would be charged with writing the country's new constitution. This was a ground-breaking approach, since it made possible a very direct form of the democratic process. Hundreds of Icelanders put themselves forward as candidates for the constitutional assembly, which drafted proposals for the new constitution for the approval of the national parliament. An even more radical option is sortition. A group of people are chosen randomly by ballot and then informed about the nature and the scope of the themes they need to discuss. Research suggests that a small but well-informed cross-section of society acts more coherently than an entire society that is ill-informed. This technique was used in 2013 for the revision of the Irish constitution. The constitutional convention was made up of 33 politicians and 66 members of the public selected by the drawing of lots. This group met one weekend each month for more than a year. The participants listened to the arguments of experts and encouraged other citizens to provide input for the discussions. A final set of proposals was then submitted to parliament and the government.
Just imagine if we could use the Icelandic or Irish model in KU Leuven+.
Would it not be fascinating if the academic council, the faculties, the departments and the services were fed ideas by a representative academic forum that considers the long-term future of the university and is free to decide which internal and external experts it wishes to consult? Might it not be intriguing to allow a diverse group of people to think about our mission statement; about our electoral and decision-making processes; about our objectives and the way they are translated into structures; about the future of academic careers and the professorship; about the architectural structure of our auditoria; about the relations between professors, students, professional staff, researchers and clinicians; about the best way to support and guide our students; about the best way to achieve greater integrity and interdisciplinarity?
Would not such an organ be the ideal way to secure more connected interaction between the different echelons of our university? My answer to this and to all the other previous questions is an unequivocal 'yes'.
We want to govern today, but also make choices for tomorrow. To achieve this, we will develop by the start of 2020 a vision text for KU Leuven 2040; a vision text that will make it possible for us in 2025 not only to look back on 600 years of history, but also to look forward to the next 15 years of the future. We want to set up an internal academic forum, consisting of members from all echelons of KU Leuven, including students, which will operate alongside the academic council and will elaborate inspirational and broadly supported proposals that question existing structures and traditions, thereby creating a basis for future improvement.
We want to create a diverse group of experts within Metaforum to make the necessary preparations with regard to the composition (election, ballot, etc.) and operation of the academic forum
Guaranteeing resources: research credit
At KU Leuven, the current emphasis is primarily on competition. Competition is important, but misses its purpose if it becomes necessary to fight for every euro. In a reaction to this situation, proposals for basic funding have been developed during recent months, using input from several different quarters. Not by the board, because in the research policy the emphasis in on competition. But by some deans and an ad hoc workgroup that has delivered meritorious work.
Providing basic funding would mean that every fulltime member of the ZAP and the Teaching Personnel who carry out demonstrable research would receive a guaranteed amount to support that research. At the present time, many professors have insufficient resources for research activities. Many of us will know examples of colleagues who buy books from their own salary or pay their own participation fees at conferences. This would no longer be the case at KU Leuven+. However, the operating resources of the faculties are already so limited that they will not be able to compensate for this. And the chances of success at the FWO (Fund for Scientific Research) are so small for some disciplines that this avenue also seems unlikely to offer much help.
Some people see basic funding as a kind of 'charity' for academics who are not able to find financing of their own or who focus their research on themes that offer no perspective. But in many cases this is not true. Much ground-breaking work is carried out in early phases, where the research is not yet ripe for project prospection. There is no reliable financial channel to support this blue sky research. A basic funding can create space for such exploratory research. Basic funding is therefore not charity; it is a lever.
The feasibility of basic funding is dependent on the scale and the modalities.
The scale relates to the amount of funding given and the frequency of its payment. A number of minimum and maximum scenarios are already in circulation. A minimum scenario would provide current working resources and guarantee, for example, a supplement on top of the resources allocated by the faculty, which can amount to a guaranteed sum of €4,000 à €5,000 per annum. We prefer the term research credit. A maximum scenario opts resolutely for the use of a significant part of the BOF (Special Research Fund) resources, with an annual amount of €20,000 and more.
The modalities relate to conditionality. The extremes here range from, on the one hand, the unconditional granting of an amount to every fulltime member of ZAP and OP3, to, on the other hand, the granting of an amount on the basis of a peer review or an evaluation of past research performance. Conditions might also include a positive ZAP and OP3 evaluation, non-awards when sufficient resources from other sources are available, the prior presentation of the research theme with an expenditure plan, proof of sufficient external project prospection, etc.
In concrete terms, how do we wish to approach this matter? We use the term basic funding to describe the amalgamation of three related measures: early stage or seed financing, research credits and the sabbatical period. Taken together, these three measures must provide every academic with the necessary time and resources to conduct research.
I want to expand seed financing. I want to award it to everyone who starts a fulltime academic career at KU Leuven. Subject to financial viability, a differentiation can be considered within a range of €50,000-€100,000, depending on postdoctoral seniority and grade on recruitment. If, in addition, we also remove the anomaly that the recipient must use the funds granted within a period of two years and must spend it on a doctoral student, this will mean that seed financing will come close to being equivalent to a form of basic funding for the first five years after appointment for all new arrivals at KU Leuven.
Once the first five years have passed, we want to work with a system of research credit, which we would link to evaluation. We wish to use positive evaluation as a stimulus to award research credit to colleagues who do not have the necessary means at their disposal to further pursue their research. For many professors this is not necessary, because they have adequate reserves and are successful in prospecting for their research projects. With this proposal, we are focusing on colleagues with a positive evaluation but (temporarily) without the 'tools' they need to continue their work. This requires a degree of solidarity. But I believe that this will be possible in KU Leuven+.
We want to commit ourselves to the introduction of a feasible model for the basic funding of research that consists of three components: seed financing, research credit and sabbatical leave.
We wish to extend seed financing to everyone who starts a fulltime academic career at KU Leuven and also to relax the associated conditions, so that it can become a flexible form of basic funding.
We want to introduce research credit for those who, after the granting of operating resources by the faculty and taking account of available reserves, do not have the financial means to carry on their research.
Guaranteeing time: the sabbatical period
Flemish universities tend to devote much less attention to sabbatical periods than many other prestigious universities. KU Leuven also fails to exploit the full potential of the sabbatical. This has been mentioned as a problem in the reports of past research reviews. To alleviate this situation, some faculties have introduced their own separate arrangements. The system of 'breather' periods is a small but nonetheless clear step in the right direction. However, these initiatives are not far-reaching enough and do not bring us much closer to the international standard.
An extended sabbatical policy is a powerful instrument that can serve a number of important purposes. The sabbatical makes it possible to escape temporarily from the pressure of an overfull agenda. It also contributes to the building-up of close-knit international research networks. In the relative calm of the sabbatical period, new ideas for further research begin to take shape and form, whilst also making it possible to work in peace and quiet on articles and other publications. In other words, sabbaticals contribute towards research productivity. Their proper use can also help to make KU Leuven a more attractive potential employer.
I want to give priority to the expansion of our sabbatical policy. I am thinking at this stage of using a points system. Let's assume that one year's work on regular academic tasks is equivalent to one point. Five points might then give entitlement to a sabbatical for one term; ten points might be sufficient for a sabbatical of a full year. Points can also be allocated for the years that someone exercises a policy mandate; for example, two points for a year as a programme director or two-and-a-half points for a year as an educational vice-dean. This system of compensation for use as research time can lead to a real upgrading of the policy mandates in both education and research. In this way, recuperation and refocusing periods after completion of a governance mandate can also be integrated into a coherent sabbatical policy.
What would all this cost the university? The main cost will be paying for the replacement personnel for the teaching tasks. However, I would prefer to view the situation from the perspective of what a sabbatical policy can give to KU Leuven+. We must dare to have confidence in the productivity effect and the suction effect on the labour market. Moreover, a sabbatical year can be financed in part by the sabbatical subsidies made by the FWO, the resources for the current 'breather' periods and the other compensatory grants that already exist for certain categories of staff, such as deans, vice-deans and programme directors.
The sabbatical is a form of investment that leads to more and better research, so that in this sense it is an integral and powerful element in a sensibly developed research policy. When expanding and extending the sabbatical policy in this manner, we must self-evidently bear in mind the financial implications and the need for teaching continuity. But if these considerations once again persuade us to act with too much caution, we will never be able to reap the full leverage benefits that a bold but judicious approach to the sabbatical period can yield.
We want to introduce a broad sabbatical policy based on a points system. We see the sabbatical period as the third component of basic funding, alongside seed financing and research credit. The sabbatical period guarantees every academic a sufficient and consecutive period of research time.
Research policy and the competitive research funds
The three components of basic funding - the extension of seed financing, the introduction of research credit and the expansion of a confident sabbatical policy - have a clear financial impact. This will compel us to re-evaluate our internal research financing. During this re-evaluation, we also wish to look at the way in which competition for internal research funds is currently organized. The division into three categories (fundamental basic research, strategic basic research and applied research with short-term valorisation) makes sense, but is nonetheless capable of improvement on some points.
Firstly, the question needs to be asked whether or not we pay sufficient attention to the reinforcement of excellence. This leads on to the subsidiary question of whether or not researchers should be allowed to apply for funding for a second research project while their first project remains uncompleted. There is a fear that this will result in a Matthew effect. However, the diagnosis is not so simple. What we commonly refer to as a Matthew effect is in reality (also) an income effect. Excellent groups help to make the cake bigger for everyone. Moreover, these groups attract other excellent talents that can help the university to build new spearheads. Secondly, we need to realize that we do not do enough to stimulate inter- and transdisciplinary research. Our research prospecting is based too much on disciplines and too little on problem-solving. If we would only be more prepared to take social challenges as our starting point, we would almost certainly arrive automatically at more interdisciplinary interaction. A first way to encourage interdisciplinary research is to reintroduce a specific interdisciplinary research category (IDO). Opinions on this issue are too divided to make it a programme point, but it is nonetheless an option that we must continue to examine in the future.
A second track that can contribute to both excellence and interdisciplinarity is a selective relaxing of the rule that a new funding request cannot be submitted while a current BOF project is still ongoing, so that in future this becomes possible for research focused on interdisciplinary research. The current regulations discourage interdisciplinary collaboration. These collaborative ventures need to grow precisely out of collaboration between successful research teams, who can build further on the results and ideas of single discipline projects that are not yet completed.
Thirdly, the division between different project categories sometimes seems very artificial. In numerous disciplines, the distinction between 'fundamental' basic research (category 1) and 'strategic' basic research with a social and/or economic finality is far from clear. In more problem-driven research, the question of valorisation or translation must be inextricably linked with basic research. Amalgamation into a single category gives more flexibility and will reduce the tendency of some researchers to attribute their project to the category where they think they have the best chance of getting funding. In addition, sufficient expertise must be available for the evaluation of projects, so that their economic, societal and social impact can be accurately assessed. The limitation of project duration in category 3 to two years must also be looked at again. For example, a great deal of translational research in the biomedical sciences takes much longer than this three-year period.
Fourthly, there is scope for improving the management and administration of research. We want a clear separation between research policy (the domain of the vice-rector) and research evaluation (the domain of the Research Council). Both these dimensions are now more closely interwoven than in the past. Policy considerations are often raised and discussed in the Research Council. However, the real task of the Research Council is to pass judgement on the quality of research requests and their requester(s). Nothing more and nothing less. Policy matters must be discussed afterwards and away from the council in the other governance organs, whose responsibility this properly is. Of course, providing adequate feedback to the Research Council remains essential.
I want to launch two initiatives in this field. Firstly, I want to strengthen the position of the Research Policy Council, so that it becomes an organ for advice and consultation. At the moment, this council is no more than an information channel. In addition, we want to bring the vice-rector and the research coordinators of the three groups together in a policy preparation cell. This cell can play a role in preparing policy decisions and can set the agenda for the Research Policy Council. As things now stand, the research coordinators are hardly involved in matters relating to research policy. Consequently, there is often no real 'feeling' within the policy for the realities and specificities of research in the different disciplines.
On the basis of a thorough debate with the faculties, the departments, the Research Policy Council and the Academic Council, we want to draw the lines of a new and improved policy for research funding. We wish to anchor this policy in greater concern for excellence, interdisciplinarity, guaranteed basic funding and social impact. We want a clear separation between research policy and research evaluation. In this respect, we wish to enhance the role of the Research Policy Council. We will develop a research policy that is more in touch with the realities of the three groups in KU Leuven. But this can only be achieved if there is structural consultation between the vice-rector for research and the research coordinators of the groups.
Team Science: recognizing the collective
As a result of the increasing complexity of science and the need for specialization, Team Science is growing in importance all the time. Team Science involves the study of problems that can only be solved with the expertise of several disciplines applied from several different angels of approach. Team Science can be carried out in uni- and multidisciplinary groups; in small collaborative ventures or in large institutes. Team Science is the future: the way to interdisciplinarity and - based on social control and feedback - a guarantee of scientific integrity.
Some teams at KU Leuven are already successful in achieving this. Here and there it is also possible to see steps being taken to give a place to policy-makers, industrial partners and other stakeholders. This is particularly the case in the Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) of the EIT. Within KU Leuven Research & Development, many divisions are active in this manner, thriving on collaboration and collective investment in infrastructure. Collaborations of this kind do not necessarily need to be large scale; we can already see a considerable margin for potential development in smaller collaborative ventures. At the moment, we value the collective too little. We focus instead on the individual and fail to give due recognition to the power of the group.
This already begins with doctoral studies. In many disciplines, the doctorate is seen as a highly individual quest, in which we show that we can work alone. This is the image of the monk in his monastery cell. But if Team Science becomes as important as seems likely, with collaboration as its most crucial competence, why should we not ask that one or more of the three or four project articles should be written by carefully selected and complementary co-authors? This is not yet customary in all disciplines.
The focus in our research policy must move beyond the individual. Group research is not only scientifically inspirational, but also leads to happier members of staff. Achieving results together helps us to see the secondary importance of whose name comes first. It has no impact whatsoever on good science if the name of Sels is first or last in the list of contributors. We must invest more in cooperation; amongst other things, by making it possible to request support for new collaborative projects during the active period of a grant-awarded C-project.
Based on our vision of academic freedom, our rules are focused too strongly on the protection of the individual against the collective, with too little feeling for the opposite side of the coin. The competitive promotion system often turns colleagues into rivals. When taking tenure decisions, more account should be taken of the opinion of the research group and the experience of the department.
This is what we already do in the FEB. Resources are allocated on the basis of the teaching efforts and research performance of the unit, in a manner that indicates to all units the importance of strong network links and an ability to attract the most promising researchers, whilst also stimulating interaction with other units. We allow the research units to make formal recommendations in respect of tenure decisions, so that collegiality is also positively evaluated.
We want to stimulate collaboration and focus attention on Team Science in domains and disciplines where these matters are currently less in evidence, but without discouraging individual research. We want to discuss with faculties and department how they can encourage and reward groups, rather than just (a few) individuals. We will investigate how more weight and attention can be given to collegiality in personnel, promotion and tenure decisions.
We wish to evaluate with the doctoral schools how PhD students can be persuaded to take a more positive approach towards interaction with others and the use of complementary expertise.
The academic career and the working of the BeCo
Team Science presupposes an inclusive policy for all researchers, irrespective of their status and seniority. In this respect, the young ZAP-ers and OP3-ers deserve special attention.
In the course of a career, we need to offer sufficient space for the development of excellent research and experimentation in education. This requires a more gradual build-up of the teaching task. In the FEB we have devised a career model that allows colleagues in the tenure track to start with a limited teaching programme, which can be gradually expanded in subsequent phases of their career. This approach can work inspirationally. A manageable teaching load leads to more attention for teaching quality and the development of an activating approach in keeping with the teaching vision.
I notice in young colleagues - but not only in them - the need for well-defined objectives. Our ranking-based promotion system means that we compete against each other in a race that has no clear goal. More is always better, because 'more' strengthens your position against those who have done 'less'. I am often asked what the university or the faculty regards as being 'good' or 'good enough'. An adequate answer to this question can give the reassurance that is necessary to ensure good research. In many leading universities, this answer is provided in the form of objective-setting discussions focused around self-evaluation and personal ambitions and plans. This is a missing link in our personnel policy. Where this does not yet exist, we want to invite faculties and departments to take the steps necessary to create such a system in a manner that is compatible with and acceptable to their culture, and with the instruments they think are appropriate.
It is self-evident that we need to take a wider view and reassess the development of the academic career and the promotion system as a whole. This must be done carefully, so that we do not disturb the career perspective. Nevertheless, we must dare to question whether a promotion system based exclusively on ranking for all grades is really a good thing. We need a debate about a different way of organizing the academic career, without haste and based on a well-considered evaluation of the alternatives.
In addition, I also want to devote greater attention to the quality of the recruitment and selection process. In recent years, the focus has been primarily on developing the decision-making criteria in the evaluation commissions (BeCo) and less on the importance of quality. Potentially good candidates have the right to expect a proper campus visit. Ideally, the shortlist candidates should be asked to give an extended seminar for a broad public, including members of the recruitment commission, a delegation from the BeCo and – why not? – students. They must engage in a series of conversations/discussions with future colleagues, the BeCo-delegation and, if possible, the dean or head of department. This will make them feel that they are being tested and challenged thoroughly, which will increase the attractiveness of the post they are seeking. It will also make them feel more welcome and increase the chances of them accepting the post, if offered to them.
We will only be able to realize this more intensive approach if we enhance the role of the recruitment commissions. Ideally, they should be embedded in the research units and departments. They must be responsible for a wide-ranging international search-and-recruitment exercise, drawing up shortlists of candidates and ensuring that the selection procedure is prepared by those who are best qualified for the task: the experts in the discipline. We also consider that properly developed recruitment commissions are an excellent way to involve young ZAPs fully in the search and recommendation processes. This is crucial. After all, they will need to work with the selected candidates throughout their career.
We also want to look at the scale of the BeCo. Large commissions lead to more people being absent than present, resulting in variable composition in the evaluation panels. This is harmful to the group dynamic. Above all, it means that many of the members do not read through the huge piles of files that are inevitably involved in the recruitment exercise. It is paradoxical that, in this way, a large commission results in a lower number of members with a well-informed opinion.
We wish to further develop the academic career policy. We want to give priority to the following points: an improvement in the quality and international focus of the recruitment process, with proper campus visits instead of hasty interviews; a reduction in the scale where overlarge evaluation commissions currently exist, so that more colleagues can process a more manageable number of candidates; an enhancement of the role of the recruitment commissions, so that selection is placed more in the hands of the experts, with younger colleagues also being given a voice.
We want to create a work group with a broad composition to develop proposals for the reform of the academic career and the promotion system.
Researchers and assistants: unmissable in the collective
We sometimes regard the PhD students as students, sometimes as (young) professional associates; in other words, as employees. We prefer the second perspective, since this works to the benefit of the orientation of the collective mission of the research group and also supports the interests of Team Science. We need such a model. Moreover, it does not in any way detract from the teaching aspects of the doctorate. We must ensure that the personnel policy framework is compatible with this approach towards our doctoral colleagues.
We must give shape to the doctoral course in line with this perspective. We must train PhD students to become not only excellent researchers, but also broad-minded 'professionals', who are well prepared to perform in a wide variety of roles in the innovation and knowledge economy. In drawing up the outlines of the course, we must take account of the growing number of doctors who opt to pursue careers outside an academic setting. Today's PhD students are more interested than ever before in the broader professionalization of their skills in a manner that goes beyond a strict research focus. Some faculties and groups are more active in this respect than others. Following on from what has already been realized at the Arenberg Doctoral School, every doctor's degree must offer a module relating to transferable skills.
In addition, there is also a clear demand for more attention to be devoted to aspects of management in different sectors (cultural sector, education, non-profit, etc.) and to entrepreneurship. The offer that has been created in Lcie can help to meet this demand, but it is further necessary to make the range of courses and programmes offered by the doctoral schools and the personnel service more widely known. There is already a good selection of options in 'project and self-management', 'managing my PhD', 'time and self-management', etc., but very few of the PhD students or their promoters are aware of their existence.
Especially for young and newly qualified doctors who are applying for academic positions abroad, formal educational experience and evaluations are of great importance. In many countries, it is regarded as self-evident that a doctoral degree will automatically involve a significant amount of educational experience, and that this can be supported by formal evaluations. In fact, this aspect is important for the entire ABAP. We must examine with the faculties how the contribution of the ABAP to education and teaching can be made more visible. Where this is not yet the case, room must be made within the doctoral programme for the acquisition of educational experience and for the sound evaluation of this educational component. This is also an element that we wish to include in the revision of the online student questionnaire. Part of the ABAP complains about a shortage of adequate guidance, an absence of qualitative feedback and a lack of recognition as full and valued members of staff. Most professors/heads of department deal well with these aspects of the working relationship. However, in some instances a more hierarchical approach to leadership is adopted; in others, the unmanageable scale of the responsibilities involved makes it difficult to provide adequate guidance for all. These latter professors/heads of department often fail to see the wood for the trees.
In this context, the bottom-up assessment of their seniors by the associates can help to ease the situation. I have had experience of this as a head of service and can recommend it to all my ZAP and OP3 colleagues who have a management role in the academic context. Not as an evaluation tool that can add a new entry to the personnel file, but as a qualitative impulse to the further development of an effective leadership style. In combination with proper training in academic leadership - in the FEB this has been rolled out in a 'made-to-measure' format that suits our specific requirements - this can lead to an inclusive interpretation of personnel policy.
I also want to tackle the question of labour market transparency in respect of PhD students and scientific associates. Many vacant positions for PhD students and scientific associates are not publicized on the job site. Instead, many of these positions are filled by competent students we know or by other good candidates close at hand. However, this approach creates the wrong impression for the outside world. It suggests that there are not many opportunities at KU Leuven for interested talent. A more open approach to the labour market will expand the recruitment pool and will contribute towards the quality of research and teaching support.
The long-term perspective also requires further attention. Permanent contracts are currently only given, as a rule, to staff in the research framework. But there are also many experts without a doctorate among the scientific and academic staff who stay with KU Leuven for many years; working, for example, in policy-focused research, in major European projects or in industrial research. Since the reform of the termination laws, the selective expansion of contracts for an unlimited period is a realistic scenario, and one that can yield advantages for the continuity in the departments, research units and centres.
In many groups and units, postdoctoral assistants have become an unmissable layer of middle management. In part, they take over care for and guidance of the PhD students, in a relationship of trust with the ZAP head of service. We can better valorise the expertise of these postdocs. For example, there is already discussion about promotership, a subject which always divides opinion. Perhaps we need to view this in a narrower perspective, reserving promotership for those with more than three years of postdoctoral experience (with a ZAP member as co-promoter, who ensures continuity). This creates capacity and is a lever for further competence development.
With a view to providing adequate guidance for the ABAP, we want to set up pilot projects to explore agile bottom-up assessment in research units or departments that are willing to lend their cooperation. We want to learn from their experience, so that we can inspire more academic heads of service, without adding new responsibilities. This approach can also yield added value for the development of the support role of postdoctoral assistants, research managers and research experts. We wish to introduce greater labour market transparency for PhD students and scientific associates by introducing a standard procedure for the open and international advertising of all vacancies. In this way, we can create more opportunities for people who do not know KU Leuven from the inside, whilst at the same time expanding our recruitment pool and contributing to the quality of research and teaching support.
We want to offer the opportunity for associates with more than three years post doctoral seniority to become the promoters of doctorates.
Peer review: the cornerstone of scientific practice
Reliable science demands a certain degree of restraint. It also demands critical collegiality. Our research can only develop to become excellent science if we dare to help each other by giving critical but constructive feedback on each other's work. Peer review is a cornerstone of scientific practice.
Peer review is currently under pressure. The review process can suppress innovation and creativity when the reviewers focus too much on what is known for the assessment of what is new. Journals are also confronted with a decreasing willingness on the part of academics to devote time and energy to this form of quality care. The pressure to publish and the emphasis on quantity - as though more publications mean better publications – are eating away at investment in quality.
Yet for all this criticism, no viable alternative has yet been suggested. In fact, it is open to question whether such an alternative really exists. It seems to us wiser to invest in the quality of peer review, instead of constantly casting doubt on its value. We want to critically evaluate peer review, from the perspective of different disciplines and on this basis then launch initiatives to enhance investment in review work. This can only happen if we recognize peer review as the task of every academic.
Our contribution as researchers is not limited to the production of original research. The critical evaluation of each other's research - strict but fair - is just as important. It is a crucial determining factor for the validity, reliability and generalizability of our conclusions. Today, however, the efforts people make to provide meaningful peer review is scarcely valued, neither in KU Leuven nor outside. This needs to change - and why should KU Leuven+ not give the lead?
Peer review can be of incalculable value for project applications. Not as an additional hurdle that is seen as yet another administrative burden, but as a form of sound advice that points out to researchers irreversible errors or shortcomings in their methodology or subject. The ethical commission can also play a signal role in this respect, but whilst also taking care not to slow down the procedure. We will not reach every branch of science in this way, but such a step can nonetheless bring peer review closer to the principle of collegial feedback.
We want to enhance the value of peer review. We want to make the investment of time in peer review more visible and to recognize its role in, amongst other things, assessing project applications. We want to prospect platforms like www.publons.com, because they foresee credits for reviewers in a format that can be assimilated into project application and project prospection.
We wish to improve recognition for the important role played by editors and associate editors in leading scientific and academic journals. This role is better stimulated and held in higher esteem in many other prestigious universities than in KU Leuven.
During the rectoral election in 2013, colleagues Storms, Vanpaemel, Tuerlinckx, Debyser, Maes, Dierickx, Nemery, Smits, Pattyn and Dewitte put forward in an open letter a number of proposals that would give more attention to scientific integrity. I signed that letter and at the time had high expectations for it. It is of vital importance to refocus attention on the letter's main lines.
Scientific integrity is one of those sensitive themes that must be written about with care. Talking about it soon sounds like criticism or accusation, as though the speaker is motivated by suspicion rather than by something more positive. The discussion about the 'grey zone' underlines the difficult nature of this debate. Moreover, such discussions about integrity tend to be a more active bone of contention in behavioural and clinical research, where the focus is on the use of quantitative data. Colleagues specializing in literary or discourse analysis, ethnographic research or qualitative methods sometimes get the impression that this debate has an inherent preference for positivist, quantitative or experimental research. This is, of course, not the case. Whatever method is used, it is necessary to deal patiently and rigorously with the data and its interpretation.
I am aware of the difficulties, but in view of the events of recent weeks I would be failing in my duty if I said nothing in this programme about integrity. A failure to take additional measures would be tantamount to negligence. KU Leuven+ must stand for scientific integrity, because colleagues, students, the public and patients must be able to avail themselves of knowledge and insights that are sufficiently tested, valid and reliable.
Steps in the right direction have already been taken in recent years. The work domain of the ethical commissions has been expanded. Doctoral students follow a course about integrity and are informed further about its importance on an excellent website. More attention is being devoted to plagiarism. The focus on the importance of publications rather than their number is likewise a positive evolution. But we can still do more. In this context, my plea for greater recognition for peer review and greater stimulation for Team Science is of crucial importance. Similarly, the suggestions of the 2013 initiative-takers in respect of data storage and data registration continue to be highly relevant , although we must always ensure that creativity in the research process is not hindered by an over-strict requirement for the prior registration of hypotheses and concepts.
We also want to devote more attention to honesty and transparency in our initial education. For this reason, we wish to give responsibility for integrity to the vice-rector for education. This will help us to open a dialogue with the ethics-related POC s and OPOs about a heightened focus on deontology and integrity in a scientific context. In the methodological subjects, there must be sufficient attention for the demands relating to data quality. These are emphases that will not only yield benefits for future researchers but for everyone who in their future career needs to make decisions based on data and information.
We want to make motivated students who see a future in research more familiar with the characteristics of honest and correctly conducted research. We want to encourage them to publish their results and submit them to peer review. With this in mind, we intend to launch a new journal 'Student and Science' (working title) in which research by and for students - possibly but not necessarily in the context of their master thesis - can be published after peer review. The journal can be embedded in a mixed editorial board of academics and students. Fusio: The Bentley Undergraduate Research Journal can serve as a source of inspiration in this respect.
We wish to encourage replication research; for example, in the master theses. The importance of replication overlaps with the issue of integrity. Replication is a necessary step towards verification and is therefore essential for the cumulative effect of science. Perhaps creativity is less evident in this type of research, but the student becomes more familiar with the trajectory that the researcher must follow, thereby becoming more competent in the methodology of scientific research. It is an opportunity to get a feeling for key aspects such as generalizability, transparency and integrity.
However, we must not just focus on students and PhD students. New initiatives are also necessary for professors and senior researchers. The vice-dean for research and the research coordinators of the groups can play an important role here. An expanded range of course options about research ethics and integrity can also be relevant. We further wish to reduce publication pressure, but we cannot do this alone: it is something that we will need to discuss with the other universities. However, this is a subject where it is often difficult to touch the right string. It is possible that the problem is not so much pressure to publish as many articles as possible, but rather pressure to ensure that these articles find their way into the top journal for that particular discipline.
We need to determine how we will react when malpractice is brought to light. We must examine the recent negative situations and see what lessons we can learn. The patient, the public, the student and the researcher have a right to receive transparent communication, preferably sooner rather than later. This has both an educating and a deterrent effect. Open communication stimulates dialogue. It is only in this way that we will be able to make clear to future researchers why adequate rules in this respect are so important.
We want to develop an integrated plan for scientific integrity. We want to put this in the hands of the vice-rectors for education and research. This will increase attention for the importance of integrity in educational and research policy.
We wish to enter into discussions with the permanent education commissions about ways to ensure the better anchoring of attention for honesty and transparency in the curricula.
We want to draw up a protocol for transparent (crisis) communication for critical incidents, such as those we have recently experienced.
Science cannot be summarized in 140 characters
The actions of the rector determine how the academic world and the outside world view science and research in our university. In recent years, KU Leuven has become a single person in the eyes of the outside world. Admired for his eloquence, his sharp observations and his opinions on just about everything, the current rector often seems to be here, there and everywhere. Frequently with politically loaded opinions that external observers regard as the official position of KU Leuven. Rectors Van Goethem and Pauwels, as well as candidate rector Van de Walle of Ghent, have all indicated their wish to weigh more heavily on the media.
However, the quality of an academic institution cannot be measured by the number of television appearances of its rector. For the image of the university and for the seriousness of its science, it is important that the rector does not give the impression that he must take the lead in every social debate. Scientific research presupposes the need for a certain degree calm reflection in relation to thought and is not served by the constant, non-stop communication of provisional or scarcely tested first impressions and opinions. Research takes place away from the cameras, in an atmosphere of modesty and systematic but constructive doubt.
In addition, a rector must be careful not to talk too much on behalf of - never mind in place of - the experts. We want to allow the experts to become experts again, also in the outside world. The complexity of the scientific task demands specialist knowledge, although it must also be linked to collegial interaction across disciplinary boundaries. A rector is, at best, just one of these specialists, who can make a contribution towards scientific clarity. For the rest, the rector is, above all, a primus inter pares, who must give his colleagues the space they need to do their work properly. This is particularly so in the field of sound scientific communication.
We will claim and properly play our role in the media. Clarification by experts will be welcome, also via social media. But we wish to adopt a more careful approach in relation to the announcement of all kinds of scientific results that have not yet withstood the test of peer review.
As rector, I will also play my role in the media. But I will do this in my fields of specialist expertise, which I take to include the regulations, governance, policy and ambitions of the university. I will be economical in my use of twitter and will avoid all different kinds of other media appearances about every subject under the sun - because this, almost by definition, detracts from the essential task of a rector.
We want to allow experts to be experts again. We wish to give back their expertise to everyone in KU Leuven. This applies not only to researchers and lecturers, but also to the professional staff of the ATP and the students.
“KU Leuven first”?
KU Leuven and the University of Gent hold each other in balance, with roughly the same market share in education and research. The University of Antwerp is making progress as the new kid on the block.
We can find it regrettable that we sometimes get dragged into a debate about competition and about the need to translate academic work into market share. But this minimal amount of business professionalism is necessary if we wish to see our appeal for solid financing answered positively. It is simply not possible to provide for all our needs from an ever diminishing cake.
The key question is this: what is the best approach to take? Should we ramp up the competition with the other universities? Pat ourselves complacently on the back and proclaim boldly in the market place that other universities should have no more than provincial ambitions? Or is it better to opt for recognition of and collaboration with the others? I prefer a targeted approach: competing where it is necessary, but collaborating when it is possible and when it works to the benefit of all concerned. Universities vacillate continually between cooperation and competition. They are locked in a battle for funding and market position, but at the same time some form of working together is needed to reach a critical mass, to improve the relationship with the government and to give expression to their social engagement in a manner that can have real impact.
Collaborating with the other universities is, however, above all important because it is the only way that we can enter into a credible dialogue with the Flemish government and other stakeholders. This dialogue is urgently needed to provide our universities with the oxygen they need, so that we can contribute to the making of a strong International Flanders.
We wish to implement a policy that will take KU Leuven out of its current isolation; a policy that allays the suspicions of the other universities and gives them no reason to form a coalition against our great university.
We want to move away from the 'KU Leuven first' discourse, because this is not connective internally and only leads to polarization externally. We wish to adopt a more respectful attitude towards the other universities. 'Being better' must be evident through the high level of our teaching and the quality of our research, but it must not form the core of our discourse.
Revaluing the Flemish Inter-university Council
In recent years, the European University Association (EUA) has charted the relative autonomy of universities in Europe. The EUA compared 29 countries and regions.1 This resulted (unfortunately, in my opinion) in the drawing up of a kind of league table. Flanders scores reasonably well in terms of financial and administrative autonomy, with eleventh and seventh place respectively. The funding model is (in general) well designed, the (too low) funding allocations can be used with relative freedom, the universities can keep any positive balances they generate, and they can also borrow money, if necessary. And although a whole series of governance issues are decided by decree, an autonomous university like KU Leuven still enjoys sufficient freedom of action to make autonomous decisions about its own structures and the way they are run.
However, things are less rosy when we turn the question of 'academic' autonomy. Here Flanders is near the bottom of the heap in 27th place, in the company of countries such as Turkey, Lithuania and Greece. And probably justifiably. There are indeed many things that our universities cannot do: no 'at-the-gate' selection, no quotas, no more than 6% of the bachelor programmes in other languages, no possibility even to optimize the teaching portfolio, etc. Some of these limitations are no doubt legitimate. Mentioning them does not necessarily mean that I (always) reject them.
Even so, a number of the limitations do need to be questioned. For example, in Flanders it is determined territorially which courses can be given where, almost as if we are back in the days of city rights and charters. This restricts the possibilities for faculties to offer students on the same campus a meaningful choice between related courses: architecture (Brussels, Ghent) or civil engineering architecture (Leuven); language and literature (Leuven) or applied language studies (Antwerp, Brussels); civil (Leuven) or industrial engineering (many campuses); commercial sciences (Antwerp, Brussels) or applied economic sciences (Leuven). These are choice that are all too often made on the basis of locality and not on the basis of course content and profile.
Flanders is also limping behind the rest in terms of personnel policy, according to the EUA. Our position in 22nd place is far removed from the countries we would like to be comparing ourselves with. The Flemish universities are largely at liberty to determine their own recruitment and promotion policies. But the appointment conditions, right and obligations, remuneration policy, discipline and dismissal, etc. are all necessarily created in the image of government policy. Above all, the defensive position relating to the need for an (initial) knowledge of the Dutch language is hampering development. This forces the universities to focus on a labour market that, in world terms, is no bigger than a handkerchief. And this in an age where science and education recognize no borders.
Autonomy is never an end in itself. It is always relative and is only legitimate if it is linked to responsibility. It may be justifiably limited where there are financial boundaries, or where there are other more important social priorities, or where major societal challenges need to be faced. The public function of the university must be determined, to some extent, by the society of which it forms a part. I have no problem with that. On the contrary: society's large investment in our institution must be matched by a large measure of social responsibility from our side.
I want to open a fundamental debate about how we can strengthen the collective 'clout' of our universities. I start asking myself serious questions when I see that Belgium only has one player in the top hundred of the Times Higher Education Ranking. The Netherlands has eight, Germany nine and Brexitannia twelve. Our universities are fighting hard to maintain their position, but they miss the autonomy possessed by the top European universities.
This debate must also be about whether it is in the interests of a region like Flanders that all its universities, irrespective of their missions, ambitions and level, should work according to the same rules within the same uniform framework. This approach certainly has some benefits. The strict decree-based provisions lead to certain standardization and a shared minimum level of quality. This creates equal competitive conditions for all institutions. However, standardization also leads to an impoverishment of the academic offer. I argue in favour of greater autonomy to stimulate diversity in both offer and approach. More autonomy can result in students and researchers choosing an institution based on the content of what it has to offer, rather than other more secondary reasons.
To conduct this debate, we also have need of a strong Flemish Inter-university Council, as a platform where the universities can meet each other in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and common interest. There are dozens of themes around which we need to develop a united standpoint. There is also need for reflection about the role of the universities in the context of lifelong learning. Together, we need to develop a vision for the university of the future. And about the future of the professorship. And so the list goes on.
This collaboration and coordination with other universities can create space for the setting up of a number of disciplinary consultation groups. Think, for example, about our mutual concern for the future of the teaching profession. Or the issues relating to the expertise network around the doctorate and doctoral teaching. At the moment, there is a broad general feeling that doctoral standards are starting to drift downwards and that not all universities are setting the bar at the same height. There is need for a common position and an agreed level of competence.
We want to adopt a more collegial approach towards Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and Hasselt, recognizing that we share a great deal of common interests with them. This will not be an easy exercise, because everyone will have the wish to improve their own position at the back of their mind. But difficult does not mean impossible.
We wish to give the Flemish Inter-university Council (VLIR) the legitimacy that this organ needs and deserves. The mission of the VLIR can be retained: facilitating dialogue between the universities to develop common standpoints about basic tasks, while also serving as an interface between the universities and the rule-givers.
We want to assist the VLIR to once again become a strong and decisive organ that can help to find ways to give our universities more freedom, so that they can determine how best to meet their social responsibilities and functions.
Collaborating across borders first requires a position to be taken with regard to the KU Leuven Association. The association between the partners in this broad network must yield more and better results. Joint projects must ensure that the through-flow to the university - the salmon model - is improved. We certainly need a strong network, but it must not limit our room for manoeuvre. The university must always retain the freedom to make the right choices, and it must be accepted that the links between the university and the association partners can and will vary over time.
The (re-)orientation of the Association is therefore an important joint project for both the university and the association partners. For some fields of study this is crucial: psychology versus applied psychology, commercial sciences versus business management, medicine versus nursing, dentistry versus mouth hygiene sciences, social sciences versus social work, industrial engineering sciences versus professional technology courses, architecture versus applied architecture. Instead of every course trying to tempt - and sometimes mislead - every potential student, common communication and orientation can help more young people to find the course that is right for them.
Together with the association partners, we need to develop a more professional reorientation policy. Students with too low a rate of study return must be more promptly referred to the student career advisers of the university colleges, so that they can continue their learning career with minimal delay and in accordance with a more feasible trajectory. This requires agreement about a similar structure and ordering of the academic year, so that a timely transfer can be made without friction. Based on a common vision and analysis, we must make selections in the bridging programmes and terminate them where the salmon step is too high. A competitive disadvantage? No, more a question of honest and realistic information about what is feasible. Joint projects must also lead to a better inflow in the bridging programmes we keep. It is noticeable how many professional bachelors from the association continue their salmon route in other universities. This happens because a shared vision, a common plan and focused communication are all lacking within the Association.
We want to work towards an Association 2.0 and will invest actively in the solidarity between the university and the university colleges, each side maintaining its own autonomy. We want to make maximum use of the political power of the network.
In our common educational project, we wish to give priority to a common and joint (re-) orientation. Instead of trying to tempt - and sometimes mislead - every potential student, improved common communication and orientation can help more young people to find the programme that is right for them.
Sharpening international ambitions
Two Flemish universities score well in the international hit-parade. The University of Ghent occupies 62nd place in the Shanghai Ranking. KU Leuven stands proudly at an excellent 40th position in the Times Higher Education (THE) Ranking. But we need to be honest: these positions are still a long way from gold, silver and bronze. There is no need for the photo-finish camera. But bearing in mind the size of the field, the results are nonetheless pretty good. And they are results that we have all helped to achieve - by doing the things we are good in.
Like most academics, I have mixed feelings about these ranking lists. I regard them as imperfect in the way they translate complex realities into simple figures. I applaud them when we climb and I curse them when we fall. However, I am forced to concede that they have a certain importance. A position in the ranking says something about the health or sickness of a university, about its ambition or its lack of it. Rankings attract or repel talent. They determine who you speak with and who speaks to you. Whether you will work with MIT, University College London or Peking University, or will have to be satisfied with Southern Mississippi, Middlesex or Xiangtan. That's why I am worried. I question the underuse of our strong position. We need to show more ambition in our internationalization policy. Preferential agreements must serve to offer researchers, lecturers and students a broad international playing field of opportunities, not to create ties with regions with a related language (problem).
We seek contact with universities in the Baltic states, we flirt with Ljubljana, we look to the East Cantons, we invest money in collaborations with Lille and Kent. Proximate (inter)national collaboration is certainly important, but we seem to forget that with our position in the rankings we should also be doing the same thing with MIT, NUS, Peking, Melbourne, Karolinska, Tokyo or Sao Paulo. This, I accept, will not be easy, since we cannot (yet) measure ourselves against each of these institutions. But at the moment we don't even try - or hardly. When searching for partnership, we nearly always look down, instead of up.
In recent years, we have attempted to internationalize the FEB with ambition. And with success. From the 2017-2018 academic year, promising commercial engineers can spend their first master year at University College London. In the meantime, we are already sending students to the Australian Group of Eight, including Melbourne, Monash, Sydney and Western Australia. We work with double degrees with Fudan, National Taiwan University and Tsinghua. We are also starting courses in Chinese to prepare students who are ready to commit to an Eastern adventure.
We have exchanges with Peking and Zhejiang University, British Columbia, Wharton, Queen’s and Urbana-Champaign. We have agreements with the top five in Hong Kong: City, HKUST, University, Chinese University and Hong Kong Polytechnic. Students can also go to the Singapore Management University, to the Pontificia in Santiago or Rio, or the IIM in Calcutta or Bangalore, to Keio, Kyoto and Waseda, to Casablanca and Cotonou. Nearer home, we are also working at establishing close cooperative ties with UC Louvain.
Internationalization must know no boundaries, also within a university. We fully involve the professional personnel of the ATP in our international efforts. The coordinators of the FEB services (libraries and learning centres, ICT, research support, teaching and students, international office, corporate relations and marketing, communication and PR) all regularly visit comparable services in other universities. For research support we work closely with Tilburg; for international marketing with Maastricht; for corporate relations with Strathclyde; for libraries and learning centres with UC London. In this way, we want to make benchlearning a mutually beneficial process for our professional staff.
If the FEB can do it, there is no reason why other, often stronger faculties and departments cannot do the same. All it takes is greater focus on more distant horizons. Discover the world, start with yourself. We want to open the world for our students, lecturers, professional staff and researchers.
We want to invest in collaboration with other institutions from whom we can learn. We want to set the bar high in our efforts at greater internationalization. We will select partners by looking up, not just down.
We wish to give a special position to our sister university UC Louvain. The development of more joint courses and more joint research programmes can strengthen the position of both our universities, not only in the region, but also in Brussels, the rest of the country and the rest of the world. We can build on the existing intense collaboration in Jurisprudence, HIW, Theology & Religious Sciences, FEB and Letters with the homologous faculties in UC Louvain.
Language and talent
Any discussion about shifting boundaries must inevitably involve a debate about language and language policy. This is, of course, a sensitive issue. Our small country must not isolate itself, because in the long term this will be damaging to the universities. Our university administration has reluctantly taken a few minor steps to broach the subject of a more flexible language policy with the Flemish government. But it continues to argue in favour of doctoral studies (partially) in Dutch and encourages lecturers during campus visits to write more in that same language. This is not the way to protect your language and your culture. This is the way to isolate them.
We are familiar with the complaints about the lack of international student mobility. But it is difficult to bring about drastic change in this area when in the exchange year par excellence, the third bachelor, we can offer almost no course options in other languages. Indeed, our government limits the share of subjects in other languages to just 18.33% of all bachelor subjects. Who dreamed up this figure? And with what purpose? In my opinion, this blinkered policy actually puts a break on the dissemination and influence of our culture. It certainly puts a break on the incoming mobility that is indispensable to keep the often fiercely contested exchange agreements in balance.
I am no anglophile and I still feel much more comfortable in the language of Claus and Lanoye. I am not a proponent of anglicization, and certainly not at bachelor level. In the first years of higher education, we need no unnecessary language barriers to learning. It is also important that students learn to think and speak 'academically' in their own language, and there is still much work to be done in this area. Against this, however, we must nonetheless concede that our foreign language offer is currently too limited. On our Brussels campus we can see the success of the Bachelor of Business Administration course and note how popular this option has become with children from the international community of expats, EU and NATO officials, and diplomats, who all place a premium on high quality education.
I agree that the international colleagues we appoint should make an effort to learn Dutch. This is important from the perspective of their socialization and integration. If we ask the same of poor refugees, we can certainly expect it from well-educated doctors and lecturers. But why does an excessive control logic need to dominate? Achieve language level B2 after three years (soon to be five years), or else no permanent appointment? And it makes no difference whether you are German or Chinese! Why not aim at A2 or, if absolutely necessary, B1? This makes the objective more realistic, certainly during the tenure track period that is already pressurized enough. I am convinced that a person who has achieved level A2 after three years has passed the threshold and will thereafter almost automatically move on to higher levels, encouraged by intrinsic motivation rather than discouraged by control.
In terms of students, it can do no harm if we occasionally allow ourselves a more 'economic' approach. The Dutch Central Planning Bureau has calculated that the international flow of students has a positive effect on state finances.1 Having said that, economic return is only one criterion for taking decisions about internationalization. Other yardsticks also count: the avoidance of linguistic and cultural barriers, the importance of diversity in course options, the studyability of these courses, etc. Nevertheless, the economic argument must be given a place in the debate. If all the EU countries would participate equally in an international market for higher education, students would have more opportunities to choose the course and the institution that best matches their wishes and their competencies. By enhancing labour mobility, it would probably also lead to a better distribution of knowledge workers.
Supported by the VLIR, we want to engage in further dialogue with the Flemish government about language policy and the levers for a comprehensive policy of internationalization.
We are not in favour of wide-ranging anglicization, but nonetheless wish to see at bachelor level at least one foreign language course in each broadly defined discipline. Multilingualism is necessary in an open economy that relies on international trade. It is also necessary in our university, close to and in the capital of Europe.
We will continue to point out to the government the cost and inefficiency resulting from the obligation to always flank any foreign language course with a full Dutch-language equivalent. There is little to suggest that any broadening would lead to a brusque Angloshift. Rectors and deans are well aware of the importance of retaining a sufficiently wide Dutch-language offer and that internationalization is by no means relevant for every programme and discipline.
The South: credibility and engagement
The world in which we live no longer has any meaningful boundaries. People from all over the globe now travel all the time, either physically or virtually. In scarcely a single decade, we have witnessed how the division of the world into 'North' and 'South' or 'East' and 'West' has become increasingly relative. Our planet has become a single large political, social, cultural and economic space, in which ideas and convictions openly come into contact and fertilize each other.
Within this open field internal contradictions come into sharp focus, such as the differences between regions and tensions within our so-called prosperous local community. This relates similarly to problems of inadequate basic income and unequal income distribution, malnutrition and infant mortality in large parts of Africa, illiteracy, the underdevelopment of first-line health care, the absence of the necessary capacity and structures to create an intelligentsia that can provide the leaders of tomorrow, etc.
It is in this world of differences and contradictions that our university positions its 'South Policy'. The terms 'South' and 'South Policy', along with 'university development cooperation' (UOS), are no longer adequate. However, to make the orientation of this important aspect of my vision sufficiently clear, I will continue to use this terminology for the time being, on the understanding that in the years ahead we will need to search together - and with the other universities - to find ways that will allow us to bring the UOS out of its current isolation and integrate it into the wider roles of the university: education, research and social engagement. Only then will our efforts on behalf of the UOS be genuinely credible. I am firmly convinced that this evolution is possible. In recent years, the unilateral term 'development aid' has gradually fallen into disuse, based on a new vision that efforts in this field must involve an interaction and an exchange between partners who approach each other on an equal footing, in the conviction that they can mutually strengthen each other.
This point needs to be made clear: in the future we must learn to think differently and act differently in the way we collaborate with our partners in the South. We will need to move long-established boundaries, in terms of policy, mindset, innovation and geographical perception. We need to redefine and re-establish the credibility of the UOS. Investment in this programme has declined significantly. The number of IRO doctoral scholarships ('South Scholarships') has been progressively reduced. We need to reverse this trend, so that the chances of success once again increase, in the hope that motivated candidates with equally motivated promoters will feel encouraged. This is important, since the South Scholarships are one of the few forms of UOS support that can directly contribute to the build-up of local capacity. IRO follow-up studies reveal that the selected scholars score well in terms of social output and that failure and drop-out levels are low. More than half of them return to their own countries, where they occupy positions in the local academic environment and take up societal responsibilities of importance. This is necessary if we want to bring about change in some of the most disadvantaged regions in the world. The South Scholarships therefore offer our university what it expects from its doctoral students and gives valid expression to its social engagement.
The scaling-down of this programme is regrettable, certainly when we remember the success of other major VLIR-UOS projects. Here, I am thinking, for example, of the programme that for ten years was successfully carried out in the northern Ethiopian province of Tigray: reafforestation, the creation of small farm holdings for food production, and the development of relevant fields of research in the young university at Mekele. Remember also the fantastic research work carried out in situ by Rony Swennen (Department of Plant Biotechnics), who built up an almost exhaustive bank of different banana varieties, leading to the development of satellite laboratories throughout Africa. Nor should we forget the health projects of LUMOS UZ Leuven in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Rwanda and Cameroon.
Our university clearly possesses the necessary instruments to allow the UOS to be advised by experts in their domain. The Inter-faculty Council for Development Cooperation, made up from professors and staff with knowledge and experience in the field, continue to do excellent work, not only in the selection and nomination of scholarship candidates and projects to be financed within the fixed UOS budget, but also in terms of reflection on the purpose, organization and scope of the UOS as a whole. It is of the greatest importance that this organ, whose members are appointed by the faculties, is able to continue its advisory and recommendatory function. As a university, we have an inescapable duty to subscribe to a new paradigm of collaboration between universities worldwide, irrespective of their strengths and weaknesses. Greater interaction and cooperation with universities in countries and regions, which, for various reasons, have lagged behind developmentally in their geopolitical context, for which prosperous and more developed regions and countries partly share the (historical) blame, is not simply a possible option. It is a moral obligation.
In addition, for KU Leuven there is another dimension to these issues, linked to the Christian tradition in which the university evolved and formulated clearly and cogently in the mission statement: is KU Leuven prepared to unconditionally fulfil its mission as a Christian institution by transforming its concern for the weakest into effective university-oriented engagement? The terms in italics say it all.
If we wish to make good our mission unconditionally, we must opt for boundless and borderless altruism. If we want to help the weakest, we must turn our focus to the South, whilst simultaneously thematising the damning responsibility of the North.
We want to redefine and reorder priorities in the field of university development cooperation, giving it a new élan based on investment in a credible and effective project that forms an integral part of the policy for our three main areas of activity as a university: education, research and social engagement.
In order to develop a new and feasible policy in this respect, we will make use of in-house experts, spread across the different faculties, departments and services, both in the university and the university hospitals. The IRO, in synergy with the Internationalization Council, is the ideal instrument to coordinate this task.
To reverse the downward trend of recent years, we want to augment the PACO Fund (Partners in Academic Capacity Build-up), which, in view of its connection with research and doctoral trajectories, can be financed in part from BOF resources.
Connecting in a translational environment (UZ Leuven)
In and around the UZ Leuven (university hospitals), an inspiring compaction of the three basic tasks is taking place, in a manner that can serve as an inspiration for the entire university. Reflection (research), training and instruction (education) and clinical care (social engagement) are carried out in a process of continuous interaction within a unique model of a translational environment: from bed to bench and back. Excellent work is being performed in and around the hospitals, not only in a national but also in an international context.
However, we must sadly conclude that UZ Leuven and its close interconnectedness with the Biomedical Sciences Group (BMW) is largely unknown in the rest of the university. And, to a large extent, the opposite is also true. This is another area in which I want to 'make a university together', taking the idea of a twin unity as the starting point. UZ Leuven is an integral part of KU Leuven+. We must make this more visible and anchor it more firmly in our governance structures.
With this aim in mind, I want to ensure a higher level of biomedical expertise amongst the external members of the university's Board of Governors. In keeping with the principles of good governance, I prefer to see a separation of powers between the positions of Vice-rector for Biomedical Sciences and the Chairman of the Management Board of UZ Leuven. Ideally, both the Vice-rector and the Chairman will sit in the Academic Council, so that the connection between both parties can be strengthened. Once each year, I wish to initiate a discussion within the Academic Council about the specific challenges facing the specialists, general practitioners and biomedical researchers in the BMW Group. This discussion would be organized in Gasthuisberg.
However, these efforts to ensure better anchoring in the governance structure will not solve the problems relating to the fields of tension in which a UZ member of staff with an academic appointment currently finds him- or herself. His or her first consideration is the care of the patient. However, he/she also needs to take account of the economic logic that is more strongly felt in UZ Leuven than in the rest of the university. Moreover, there is also the question of academic ambitions in research and teaching. Last but not least, there is the matter of the level of service provision expected by external institutions, such as scientific associations, the government, etc.
In the addition, the UZ staff member must also navigate his/her way through a dual organizational structure: the organigram of UZ Leuven, with its services and care programmes, and the structure of KU Leuven, with its groups, faculties and departments. In this way, the UZ academics work, as it were, in two parallel environments, each with its own rules and regulations. The career perspectives, objectives and rewards all follow a different logic in UZ Leuven. This is sometimes translated into feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration: what is good for the mission of the clinic does not necessarily support the advancement of a career in the university, and vice versa. Whoever attempts to combine all these different professional dimensions sometimes receives insufficient support and appreciation.
There are no easy solutions to these problems; otherwise, they would have been implemented long ago. The field of tension is there and will remain. It is what it is. It reflects the reality of the context in which UZ Leuven and its members of staff find themselves. However, there are some things we can do something about. For example, some clinical services are currently split between various departments, each with different competencies and different expectations towards the same set of people. The complexity of the matrix structure inhibits the intensive collaboration on which the current model depends and results in a pressure of work that is unrealistically high. This risks damaging a unique environment in which it is possible to exchange ideas and experiment freely, on the basis of curiosity aroused by the identification of complex pathologies. It likewise inhibits the commitment to make more time available for teaching and training.
I therefore propose to take the perspective of the UZ member of staff as a starting point. We need to base our actions on a holistic approach towards the UZ staff member, with a single job description that encompasses all three core tasks (clinic, education, research) - the first steps have already been taken in this direction - but also sets out a single clear line for reporting and assessment. Most UZ staff members have their 'home base' in the clinical service rather than in the department. However, it is the medical service that must take on the discipline-related tasks of clinical care, education and research. Within the service, it is possible via a process of consultation within the service council to make individual arrangements about the tasks to be performed, with a coordinating and nuancing role for the service head. This can help to create space that takes better account of the profiles of individual members of staff. I wish to approach all these matters in a carefully considered and patient manner.
Resource allocation is another subject that causes unnecessary tension. There is doubt about the fairness of this allocation and the adequacy of the model used. Both clinicians and non-clinicians complain that this model does not take account of the differences in research tradition, customary publication practices and methods of teaching. Unequal situations are treated equally. This leads to tension and a situation where everyone has too little funding and too much hard work. As a result, the atmosphere is dominated by feelings of internal competition and division, while what we really need is a greater spirit of cooperation and collaboration.
I think it would be better to work with two separate allocation envelopes. This would make it possible to organize the allocation of resources in a more calibrated manner within the respective clinical and non-clinical entities: a form of 'separation' that would allow us to work better together. The plea that I make elsewhere in this programme for a certain period of continuity in resource allocation as long as the total envelope does not increase applies equally to the BMW Group.
Clinical and non-clinical entities should strengthen each other rather than compete. It is true that there are different types of research: explorative basic research, translational research (which includes the innovation and development of new molecules and apparatus, as well as clinical studies with a final outcome in health prevention and medical care), and research relating to monitoring and follow-up studies. However, we must give wider recognition to the fact that there is no hierarchy of importance between these different research types. For example, it often happens that much explorative research is carried out in clinical studies, which in turn provides a stimulus for further basic research. Similarly, clinical research can often be initiated in response to a demand for a better translation of the results of basic research.
With a view to achieving greater connectedness, we must give priority to the stimulating of increased interaction between clinicians and non-clinicians and the setting up of joint projects between them. The position of the hospitals within the university provides the right framework for this. At the moment, however, the resources available for joint projects are limited. The allocation between three BOF (special research fund) project categories (fundamental basis research, strategic basic research and applied research) also restricts collaboration, since it tends to emphasize rather than narrow the differences between the different research types. Elsewhere, I have argued in favour of amalgamating the first two categories and also for an extension of the maximum project duration in category 3, since this will significantly facilitate long-term translational research.
In more general terms, the financing of research requires a specific policy plan for the biomedical sciences, which should be more strongly focused on external funding (government, EU), an extension of public-private collaboration and greater collaboration in and with basic research. This policy plan must be developed in consultation between UZ Leuven and the BMW Group, and is a task for the new governance team.
Many of the other points in my programme are also self-evidently applicable to the BMW Group and UZ Leuven. In other areas, specific arrangements will need to be worked out.
This applies, for example, to the sabbatical policy I wish to introduce. This policy cannot be extended linearly to UZ Leuven, since this would undermine the continuity of patient care. At the same time, most UZ members of staff are keen to find the time and space that will allow them to remain at the world top in international clinical research. For many of them, this was one of the most important drivers for their choice of a career at UZ Leuven. In order to create the necessary time and space, I propose an amended form of my sabbatical policy, which will allow clinicians to plan for a term or an academic year free from teaching obligations at regular intervals throughout their career. This will create the conditions that make possible both greater research collaboration and a reduction in pressure of work.
Similarly, I view my plan for the possible extension of unlimited period contracts in much the same light. This will make possible a well-founded expansion of the middle-management level, mostly in the form of permanent post-doctoral assistants, who can support the clinical ZAP in the execution of their academic tasks.