University Council approves Strategic Plan, but worries remain about implementation at the faculties

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Last Monday, the vast majority of the University Council approved the central parts of the University’s Strategic Plan for the coming years. Three staff members voted against it: they feel that the strategic themes are too dominant, which may restrict or jeopardize research, especially at the Faculty of Humanities.

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The final version of the Strategic Plan 2020-2025 was published by the Executive Board early in October. It was updated following the feedback and criticisms voiced in the meetings with the University Council. It also took remarks from the university community into account.

With the title Open outlook, open attitude, open science: improving the world sustainably together, the Strategic Plan 2020-2025 is guided by the following principles: collaborations across borders, working on future-proof education, striving towards a tight-knit community, focusing on sustainable development, and transitioning towards Open Science. Concrete points of action are formulated for each element.

Accommodating criticism
In a previous meeting, the council had a lot to say about the plan to establish a mandatory core curriculum for all Bachelor’s students. The final version of the plan accommodates the criticisms, stating that the university will study whether a core curriculum should be adopted, and if so, what it should look like.

Criticism was also voiced about the dominant role of the University’s four strategic research themes (Life Sciences, Pathways to Sustainability, Dynamics of Youth, and Institutions for Open Societies). Many fear that the dominance of the themes in both subject choice and research funding would leave little to no room for independent, unattached research. The Board has accommodated this critique as well: the plan now states that there is still room for independent research within faculties, and that education should always be linked to research, even when there is no clear link to a strategic theme.

Faculty of Humanities still unsatisfied
For three of the council members, all of them members of the Faculty of Humanities, the new wording was insufficient. They feel that the plan still places too much emphasis on the strategic themes, and fear that some faculties will come under pressure, especially with regards to funding. For the Faculty of Humanities, the connection with the strategic theme ‘Institutions for Open Societies’ is the most obvious, but the council members say that isn’t the case for all research conducted at that faculty. “We are particularly concerned about the risk that research that does not fit within the themes may be rejected”, wrote Toine Minnaert and Lieke Schrijvers, two of the three council members who voted against the plan, in an opinion piece published by DUB recently (in Dutch).

In addition, multiple faculties do not pay much attention to the strategic themes in their own strategic plans. “Isn’t it odd for the university’s image when there’s such a discrepancy between the principles of the central plan and the implementation at the faculties?” asked Wim de Smidt, chairman of the staff members.

Faculty plans
The Executive Board says they understand the concerns, but the deans have been informed that the central part of the strategic plan forms the framework in which the faculties will find their own way, and they agreed with it.

Now that most council members have approved the central part of the Strategic Plan, the definitive faculty plans will soon follow. The complete Strategic Plan will be submitted for approval to the Supervisory Board in early December.

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