Season’s greetings from the dean 2018

In this interview, Dean Niels Christian Nielsen talks about his views on the most important developments over the past year, and he wishes employees and students at ST a merry Christmas and happy New Year.

2018.12.20 | Christina Troelsen

Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen, Science and Technology. Photo: Lars Kruse, AU

Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen, Science and Technology. Photo: Lars Kruse, AU

Looking back at 2018, what do you think are the most important developments?

A lot has been going on over the past year - there’s been a huge amount of activity throughout the faculty. This is very pleasing, and I attribute it to all the hard work by both management and staff. After the 2014 cuts and problem analyses, our strategic work to develop a stronger faculty - perhaps most clearly conceptualised in our strategy for 2016-2020 - is now really beginning to make its mark. Once again, we have a very strong faculty - with strong departments, centres, technical units and administrative units as well as sharp focus on close cooperation between these bodies on strategic work. And the fact that we pull together as a team at ST is very important.

For example, we now have recruited more than 50 full-time academic staff in connection with our engineering initiative. Recruitment is also well under way for our digitalisation initiative, and the major thematic centres are off to a good start, with several of them receiving substantial grants; demonstrating that our surroundings have welcomed the idea. There is increasing recognition from the outside of ST's major interdisciplinary initiatives. And in support of our long-term plans and the expansion of ST, the contours of AU's ambitious Campus 2.0 building project are now clearly taking shape.

But it’s important to say that these overall developments in no way overshadow the fact that our staff have excelled again in 2018 with major prizes and funding, including the Novo Nordisk Prize, the Grundfos Prize, the Carlsberg Foundation Research Prize, the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award and an Elite Researcher award. There were also ERC Synergy Consolidator and Starting grants, and several Sapere Aude grants. There is no doubt that there is great talent among ST researchers. This makes a big impression.

Students have also helped make ST more visible, for example by developing advanced underwater robots, solar-cell shelters to supply electricity to remote areas in Africa, and the launch of Aarhus University’s first satellite.

As the dean, you’re focus is on the strategic development of the faculty. Can you say a bit more about the strategic priorities?

To start with, I’d like to say that the strategic work is a joint project for the faculty management team, and work which naturally involves interaction with department and centre management, the other faculties and the senior management team. The vision for ST has been that we first have to ensure a strong and sustainable faculty that can be put into play for a greater degree of national and international collaboration, including close interaction with companies, municipalities, regions and government agencies; always with focus on education, research, consultancy, innovation and, above all, collaboration. I think we’ve successfully achieved this ambition.

A focal point for the strategic development will increasingly be the needs of society; the global social challenges, digitalisation, growth technologies, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Everything we do must be on the basis of excellence and quality, but we must also exploit these qualities so that we achieve a higher level of visibility and impact, and become an attractive partner for society in many dimensions. A strong society is built on knowledge and education. I think this is sometimes forgotten in the political debate. ST can and must contribute very clearly in this context – it is one of our most important missions.

Why do social challenges and the UN SDGs play such an important role?

In national and international university communities, ST and AU have a unique opportunity to develop strongholds, attract research funding, develop new technology, and educate young people who can create solutions to some of the world's major societal challenges

At ST, our combination of strong sector-oriented research, classical scientific research, and increasing activity within engineering and digitalisation, gives us a unique launch pad to take a very strong position within the areas affected by the major societal challenges covered by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We all have opportunities in this context, and we have taken the first steps towards positioning ourselves, among other things via our substantial investments and the large thematic centres as well as the upcoming AU Conference on Sustainable Partnerships. We’re talking about research, consultancy, education and, above all, interdisciplinary and international collaboration. Take education. AU's ambition is to educate more students for private business and industry. ST is doing this with our engineering and digitalisation initiatives, which will increase the population of students at the faculty by approximately 50% in areas with great potential for the business community, and where we can currently see a shortage of graduates. It’s an ambitious development, and we’re well on the way.

What’ll be the next step?

We’ll have strong focus on increasing our interdisciplinary and international activities, with even greater efforts for societal challenges, digitalisation and the UN SDGs. These are areas where we expect greater interest from students, this is where we expect there will be more national, international, public and private funding, and this is where the business community sees great potential and a huge need for knowledge and talent. This is also where there’s a massive need for knowledge-based consultancy. It’s vital that we develop excellence in these areas and nurture our cooperation with external partners. Together with innovation and entrepreneurship, there will be even more focus on this in the future. ST has the potential, and the plan is to make this potential visible with all of our partners.

As I said, the Campus 2.0 project is an important physical framework for our ambitious development. It includes development in Aarhus and in Foulum, Flakkebjerg and Roskilde; the four main sites for our primary activities as we gradually move activities from Aarslev, Silkeborg and Kalø to Aarhus. We’re well on the way. For example just look at the beautiful building for the Department of Food Science in Skejby, where we’ll be having a topping-out ceremony in January. In the coming period, we’ll be putting strong focus on developing the excellent activities at all our departments and centres, including new exciting specialist areas. This is the backbone of ST. The foundation for all collaboration is in our professionalism and quality.

Christmas is just around the corner. Do you have a greeting for the students and staff at ST?

I’d like to thank all our staff - scientific, technical and administrative - and all our students for their huge efforts over the past year, your efforts are the solid basis for a strong ST. And I'd like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

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