COLUMN: Dean of Health: Yes, the crisis is putting pressure on us, but the work and study environment must remain top priority
Despite the fact that the faculties have quite enough to do with dealing with inflation, energy crises and declining year groups – not to mention a plethora of political initiatives – it must not be at the expense of the work and study environment, emphasises Dean of Health Anne-Mette Hvas in her column in Omnibus.
Like other institutions and companies, universities have been under pressure in recent years, including as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which has brought about a high rate of inflation and an energy crisis. We are also encountering shrinking year groups and an increased dependence on external funding, and right now we are once again discussing a reform commission and the proposal of the now former government “Denmark can do more - III” – even though reforms and political initiatives have been introduced every year in university education for the past 20 years (see the list below).
When upheavals and crises are pressing, it is often the case that we automatically concentrate both our attention and our resources on dealing with them. We mitigate, compensate for and try to counteract the negative effects.
But even – or perhaps especially – in uncertain times, we need to make sure that the university remains a place that we and others have a strong desire to be part of. It is very important to me that we continue to develop the frameworks for a workplace culture and a study environment that will provide a foundation for producing the best research and teaching, and the most talented graduates. If, during the storm of crises and political pressure, we fail to maintain the goal of an excellent work and study culture, we risk experiencing reduced engagement among our staff and students, increased sick leave and diminished quality in our degree programmes and the research we deliver. We also risk contributing less to tackling the major societal challenges.
No, the WPA is not ‘file and forget’
This is a complex task, for which there is no quick fix – on the contrary, it requires many different approaches and joint, sustained efforts. At Health, we are currently looking extra closely at the workplace assessment (WPA).
On a dull day, employees may think that the WPA is just a ‘file and forget’ paper. But in fact, the questionnaire about the physical and the psychological working environment that all employees fill in every three years is one of our most important tools for identifying areas that we need to address. And as a faculty, we take the follow-up extremely seriously.
For this reason, we have appointed a WPA advisory group at faculty level, to direct the spotlight onto cross-disciplinary themes that affect us all. The group consists of both heads of department and faculty staff, and as dean I closely follow its work, and of course that of the individual departments.
Focus on career paths and unwanted sexual attention
Two of the areas that the WPA advisory group, the Faculty Liaison Committee and the Health Gender Equality Committee have decided to focus on are transparent career paths and career guidance, because the WPA – together with the drop-out rate among women on the academic career ladder – shows that it is important for young researchers to be able to perceive their career opportunities, and that the criteria for these are transparent.
Another area that requires focus and action is unwanted sexual attention. Previously at Health, we created a ‘dilemma’ card game which was aimed at starting a dialogue about responsible research conduct. Now we are planning to use this tool in relation to the debate about unwanted sexual attention, as we in the WPA can see that this still exists, despite the fact that we have a workplace culture with zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
Common to all of the focus areas is that the department heads, the vice-deans for Education and Research, the WPA advisory group, the Health Gender Equality Committee, which also includes students, and many others at Health, have an intense focus on them.
A shared responsibility to make sure we are all OK
The above, of course, is not enough. It requires a concerted effort to create room for everyone to realise their potential – even while the storms are raging around us. We must all be clear about what it is we understand by a good workplace culture, and what we expect from each other. And we need to follow up if we see something that is not acceptable.
It is a shared responsibility to focus on ensuring that we are all OK – that we have exactly the university we want. And we must do this every day – not just once every three years, when we fill in a questionnaire.
The column was published in Omnibus on November 3 2022
A selection of reforms and political initiatives of importance to the university’s degree programmes:
- Relocation of student places, 2022
- Agreement on flexible study programmes, 2018
- Limitation of international Students, 2018
- Institutional accreditation 2.0, 2019
- Committee for Better University degree programmes, 2018
- Governance reform (introduction of framework contracts), 2017
- New subsidy system, 2017
- Establishment of the Master’s degree programme for working professionals, 2017
- Degree programme cap, 2016-2020
- Adjustment of the study progress reform, 2016
- The Act on Talent Initiatives, 2014
- Degree programme resizing, 2014
- The Student Grant and Study Progress Reform, 2013
- Pre-qualification of new higher education programmes, 2013
- Internationalisation strategy, 2013
- Institutional accreditation, 2013
- Educational objective (60 per cent of a youth year group must complete higher education/25 per cent must complete the long-cycle post-secondary degree), 2011
- Introduction of completion bonus, 2009
- Qualifications framework for lifelong learning, 2009
- Reform in admission requirement (main academic area specific requirements), 2008
- Elite Master’s programmes, 2008
- Educational accreditation, 2007
- Employer panels, 2007
- New grading system (and requirement for learning outcomes for the individual courses), 2006
- Quick-start bonus, 2006-2017
- Development contracts, 2006
- The Welfare Agreement and the Globalisation Agreement (95%-50% target), 2004, 2016
- The University Reform (mergers 2007), 2003, 2005