Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
SBE reshuffles funding and powers
Last Thursday, SBE dean Philippe Vergauwen presented the new SBE strategy and revealed the faculty’s weaknesses as identified by five task forces. The talk was attended by 100 staff members (of the total of 500), most of them support staff. “Tell me your fears and concerns.”
SBE has existed for thirty years, starts Vergauwen. The founding fathers have left the faculty; the time is right to reflect on and reconsider the organisational structures which date back to 1984.
Vergauwen repeatedly emphasises that this “story” is not his own but the faculty’s, reflecting as it does the conclusions of five task forces (education, research, the SBE community, postgraduate education, HRM). Also, the dean says, it’s not about “addressing problems, but about getting better, moving forward”. Later, the necessity of ‘getting better’ becomes clear: “If we don’t change, we will lose our position in Elsevier, and problems with accreditation will rise.”
One of the task forces mapped the ‘dreams’ and ‘nightmares’ of the students, says Vergauwen, walking from left to right under the screen on which the slides are projected. “One of the nightmares appears to be the quality of tutors, which is also problematic in Elsevier. We should discuss what tutor quality involves, and what tutors should do: motivate, engage, whatever.” Students are also dissatisfied with the communication provided by the faculty. Plus points are PBL and the study abroad arrangements.
New study programmes are needed, but so too is new interdisciplinary research cooperation. “It should be easier for a researcher to participate in a research programme of another department. Let it go, let it flow.” The scope of research topics is too broad, according to the task force. And the role, competence and governance structure of the graduate school are unclear and ineffective.
A serious source of concern is the ‘postgraduate development’. The revenues of which are too low. Few staff see teaching professionals as a core activity; only 5 percent are directly involved in this area. (“It’s too easy for departments not to engage”). Also, there is little collaboration between departments on these postgraduate programmes, or with other faculties or partner universities. “Departments should give people the chance to participate. Postgraduate education is crucial to our reputation in our networks and vital for our international accreditations.”
In the area of HR, too, there is a lot of room for improvement. According to Vergauwen the school needs a greater variety of job profiles. “Competence based or life-cycle based, or whatever. We should agree on that. I could imagine having professors who write A-publications all the time, and professors who are foremost interested in applying research and teaching executives.”
In general, the faculty HR policy shows a lack of transparency and fairness. This, according to the HR task force, serves to reduce motivation. Contracts remain uncertain, women are underrepresented, and not all departments have specific and clearly communicated performance criteria.
Vergauwen stresses that SBE will not formulate a new mission, vision or ambitions, but rather a new strategic approach in which the powers will be rearranged. The role of the departments is set to diminish in favour of inter-departmental project teams. These teams will report before the summer on how they can best function when it comes to bachelor’s, master’s and professional education. “We’ll see what happens. As a board we don’t have a blueprint.”
Then the audience has the opportunity to ask questions. “Tell me your fears and concerns”, says Vergauwen. A hand is raised. Does the new strategy mean higher numbers of students? “There won’t be drastic changes, and we will not grow for the sake of growth. But yes, we will grow. Think of the new BISS institute [on the Smart Services Campus] or the new bachelor’s specialisation Emerging Markets. We will attract more students, but in an organic way.”
An employee expresses concern about – in her vision - the more centralised structure of the project teams. “We’re not centralising but reorganising activities”, says Vergauwen. “The seven departments will delegate power to the project teams. Actually, we’re decentralising the decision levels, so to speak. And remember, this is what the faculty wants – this is what some seventy people told the five task forces.”
Another colleague is curious, he says, as to how the members of the project teams be selected. Via an open and transparent procedure, says Vergauwen. The department chairs will select the team members. “Yes, it’s a transition; decision rights will move. It will probably give rise to an uncomfortable feeling, but nobody has to fear for his or her job. What I envision is giving back the reserves, €12 million, to the organisation. We will bring that money into play. Not only SBE but the whole of UM is conservative in this respect. We’re the only university where budget surpluses co-exist with complaints about workload. Why not do something about it? It’s a result of the structure: it’s self-inflicted pain.”