Our challenge is outside!

On the first of September, we officially launched our multi-member faculty boards at the University of Twente. This was one of the key milestones of the UT2020 organizational change project. As a university, we want to improve our contacts with the outside world. We also want to be even more aware of what society, students, the academic field, companies and others expect from us. We want to see an upward trend in our reputation. So, let’s focus outwards!

As I see it, the main challenge involves our organization’s consensus-driven culture. The quest for consensus demonstrates huge commitment on everyone’s part. However, if we do not allow ourselves to be led by – or overly distracted by – internal processes and structures, then the organization would be more adaptive. We would then be more agile in responding to external challenges. This starts with us, the Executive Board, but it is ultimately a task for each and every one of us – working on our reputation, both in education and research. Participating in major international research programmes. Making greater efforts to acquire external funding (in addition to funding from our own resources), and focusing on major societal challenges in areas where the University of Twente can have a real impact. Our challenge is outside!

Added value of faculty boards: clarity and decisiveness

My expectation is that the establishment of multi-member faculty boards will help us strengthen the management of our education and research. This will give us greater scope for focusing on the outside world. The faculty boards now include portfolio holders for education and research. This provides the Executive Board with more finely attuned administrative interlocutors. In addition to the deans and the scientific directors, this group now includes the portfolio holders for education, research and operational management. The Board can now discuss individual dossiers at a single, unified board meeting. This makes the organization more efficient and more effective. 

I also expect the establishment of faculty boards to augment our ability to implement policy within the faculties. In the new structure, the University Education Committee (UC-ED) will have formal hierarchical responsibility, unlike the UEC, the consultative body that preceded it. This means that the members of the UC-ED and others, such as the portfolio holders for education, will implement the agreed policy within the faculties. They will do so in concert with the programme directors, whose immediate superior is the portfolio holder for education. In terms of research policy, the same applies to the new University Research Committee (UC-RES). Its members include the portfolio holders for research, who will help to direct the focus towards external funding for faculty-based research.  

Focus and depth  

In recent years, the introduction of the new educational model has demanded a great deal of the organization’s attention. As a result, it has not been possible to devote sufficient attention to other strategic issues. I am referring to matters such as student-driven learning, the Master’s portfolio, and the potential of computerization in education. So many of the changes taking place within our university demand an in-depth approach. In the past, ultimate responsibility for these themes resided with the deans. This responsibility is now distributed among a number of portfolio holders, each with their own specialized knowledge and specific focus. This, in turn, creates the scope needed to ensure that key strategic themes will receive the necessary in-depth consideration. It also gives the deans more opportunities to engage in external activities, and to turn their focus outwards.

Change in the management and funding of research: new style institutes

With regard to research, in the UT2020 plan we have identified key areas of interest and have taken decisions that should strengthen our position in the outside world. There will be no major changes in terms of the research itself. Our research will continue to include interdisciplinary aspects, and we will continue to focus on research that has a real impact. That has not changed. What will change is the management approach used within larger frameworks, the funding arrangements, and the agreements we reach with one another in this area.

The ‘New Style Institutes’ are currently developing institutional plans with clearly defined missions. The institutes play an important part in shaping multidisciplinary research at the University of Twente, which transcends individual faculties. However, there has been a change in the institutes’ traditional funding arrangements. The institutional budgets for standard research activities have been transferred to the faculties. Strategic budgets are available for our major research programmes. These are levers that the Executive Board, the scientific directors and deans can use to jointly plot a course for our university.

Increase financial leverage

The more complex points currently demanding my attention include finding ways to make greater use of external funding and ways to increase our participation in major international research programmes, thus helping to strengthen our reputation. How can we increase the financial leverage of our research proposals?

Hence, my message to our researchers: focus on the outside world. In my view, it is vital that people continue to put forward new initiatives for research and commercial knowledge transfer. Push forward with the development of your research plan, don’t wait until the new internal structures and processes are all in place. In my position as Rector, I am aware that there is enormous untapped potential within the university, in terms of expanding the number of research applications and achieving major successes. The main thrust of the new organizational design is to provide you with even more effective support in this regard. On the faculty board, the portfolio holder for research has responsibility for supporting personal projects. ‘New Style Institutes’ deal with the support required for larger research programmes. The EU Office provides support to those preparing Innovation Incentive Scheme applications and European Research Council applications. The goal is for plans funded by the university’s strategic budgets – via the faculty or the institutes – to produce a multiplier effect, either immediately or over the long term. Some examples of this are HTSM (High Tech Systems and Materials) and TURBO (the Double Grant ‘Twente University Radboud UMC Opportunities’ programme).

Open to useful suggestions

This is just the beginning. Let’s make a collective commitment to our ambition of giving an added boost to the University of Twente’s reputation. There’s nothing wrong with being critical about all the changes that are taking place, but please don’t let that stop you from developing new initiatives. For our part, the Executive Board will ensure that our structures and processes are organized efficiently. Any suggestions in that regard are always welcome @ t.t.m.palstra@utwente.nl

Looking for more information on UT2020 developments, visit the intranet page UT2020