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“Let’s shoot less, but hit the target more”

New strategic plan for FASoS

MAASTRICHT. A third bachelor’s degree by 2019, 2100 students in 2021, more time for research, a reduction in work pressure and more opportunities for career development, not only by means of promotion to more full and associate professorships, but potentially also through the introduction of teaching careers. These are some of the plans set down in Smart Choices, the new strategic plan of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Smart is, along with quality and sustainability, an important term in the strategic plan, to which both staff and students contributed via brainstorming sessions and workshopping days. “It emerged bottom up”, says FASoS dean Sophie Vanhoonacker. “The good thing is that people often said the same things. Not only will PBL remain the cornerstone of the education we offer, but there is also a need to look beyond the borders of your own department or study programme.”

Making smart choices means investing the available time, money and knowledge wisely. Or, as Vanhoonacker explains: “We’re setting the bar high, but because there’s no additional money we have to make better choices. How can we achieve our ambitions without people ending up burnt out?” Sometimes this is not about doing more, but about doing less. “We’ve hired an educational expert to look at the way we assess students. It turns out that in some blocks there are two, three, sometimes even four assessments. But more is not necessarily better, so we’re going to address that. Another example: our writing coach has considered the way we teach academic writing. His advice was, don’t immediately give big assignments in the first year; build it up slowly instead. That not only makes more sense pedagogically, but also eases the work pressure.”

Smart choices are important when it comes to research, too: “In the coming years we again want to bring in external research grants. And yes, we’re making ourselves vulnerable by naming exact targets [five Venis, two Vidis, one Vici and 2 ERC grants, as well as a Horizon application –Ed.]. We’ll be looking much more purposefully at who is a suitable candidate for which grant. Those employees will be given extra time to prepare their applications. Our motto is to shoot less, but hit the target more.”

A third bachelor’s programme, set to be launched by September 2019, should help to reverse the trend of declining student numbers. The faculty aims to grow from around 1650 students now to 2100 in 2021. The topic of the new programme is yet to be decided on. “We’ve sent out an open call so that colleagues can submit proposals. We’re expecting them this month, so I’m very curious.”

The last chapter of the plan revolves around human resources management. And not for no reason, according to the introduction: the faculty will only be able to reach its objectives if its staff are strong, healthy and motivated. An action plan will be drawn up to reduce the still high workload. The aim is for the next UM staff satisfaction survey, scheduled for 2018, to show that FASoS has fallen into line with the other faculties; that is, with “considerably fewer employees who complain about the high work pace, emotional stress and need for recovery”, according to the plan.

The number of temporary appointments for academic staff will also be reduced in the coming years, to a maximum of 22 percent of the total. That figure stood at almost 37 percent in December 2015. In addition, the career perspectives of academic staff will be improved through an increase in the number of full and associate professorships – until now, for most employees an assistant professorship marked the end of the career ladder. Finally, FASoS also intends to introduce teaching careers.

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