The Dean's summer greeting 2018

Dean Niels Chr. Nielsen wishes all staff and students a good summer with updates about what’s happening at ST and a status on the faculty's special focus areas.

2018.07.06 | Christina Troelsen

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

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

Dear staff and students at Science and Technology

Summer is upon us, and almost by tradition I’m sending my summer greetings with updates about what’s happening at ST. ST is under significant development and there’s a lot going on. As usual, I’ll take my outset in the strategy 2016-2020 for the departments and the faculty. This strategy is the hub of systematic development of a strong faculty, and things are progressing well. Our strategic and thematic focus areas are advancing as planned. We’re investing more than DKK 1/4 bn. in new development areas; recruitment of staff and students in engineering and digitalisation is moving ahead strongly; and the thematic centres are on track as planned. There is no doubt that, compared with other natural sciences and technical fields in Denmark, ST is extremely proactive and ambitious, thanks to the huge commitment from our staff. In this context, I’d like to express enormous praise for the progress departments have demonstrated with their strategy plans. This is precisely where by far the greatest activity is taking place at the faculty.

In this summer greeting, I’d like to look at some of the areas on which we’ve had special focus over the past six months.

In early May, Aarhus University could announce a large-scale master plan for the university's physical development over the years to come. The aim of the plan is to establish a strong campus environment for education and research activities in central Aarhus. At ST, we’ve been working on visions for the physical development of the faculty for some time. The plan we have launched is both ambitious and targeted, and I’m convinced that we will realise our visions. Earlier in the spring, we cut the first sod for the new buildings for the Department of Food Science at Skejby, and moving the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics to University City has entered the preparation phase. This means that we can now finally realise our plans to move activities to Aarhus. We’ve been waiting a long time, but shortage of space has meant that this has not been possible before now. Before long, we’ll be able to start preparations to move the Department of Bioscience’s activities from Silkeborg and Kalø to the University Park, and reinforce our teaching activities there. At the same time, we’ll be starting work on gathering together the engineering activities at Katrinebjerg and at the Science Park. 

Developments are not just taking place in Aarhus. Our buildings in Roskilde are about to be renovated, and Foulum will see a denser building complex so that we can ensure that we have the buildings we need to support our activities in the future. We are also focussing on new areas related to bio-economics. Buildings are a vital framework for the massive developments taking place at all ST sites. I’m in no doubt that development of our physical framework and gathering ST’s research and education activities in Aarhus on and around a strong campus environment will have a great impact; not only for ST but for AU as a whole. Moreover, the physical developments now manifesting ST’s plans and visions for a strong and sustainable faculty are a good sign that we are moving in the right direction. ST is in the middle of a stable progression, we have robust finances and we’re well on the way to investing and realising the unique potentials inherent in the combination of natural sciences, applied and sector-oriented research, and engineering.

Almost a year ago, we suddenly found ourselves in an entirely new situation, in that the Minister for Environment and Food decided to put public sector consultancy out to competitive tender. For ST, this meant that annual contract funds of DKK 380 million would gradually be put out to competitive tender. This has resulted in extremely hard work to win the contracts, and so far our strong professional skills have proved to be fully competitive. In 2017, we won the two tenders within our area; one for wildlife management and the other for monitoring wolves. In August this year, we expect the next two major tendering procedures in the bio and environment fields; dry nature as well as air, emissions and risk assessment. Researchers and other players are busy with preparations, and I’m convinced that in the tendering process we can again deliver the right high quality to be competitive.

There must be no doubt whatsoever that we will continue to invest great effort and resources in ensuring our quality and in winning contracts. The area in itself is a vital part of ST's activities, and it is also a key component in our strategic initiatives, which are increasingly challenging global sustainability goals. In recent years, ST has built up a strong financial base, but we must not rest on our laurels. We must be ready to meet new challenges. For example, a new government-funding model is underway, and as yet we do not know what this will entail.

With a focus on societal challenges, including the UN sustainable development goals, over the last year ST has launched a number of thematic centres, each of which clearly indicates some of ST's strongholds and at the same time marks areas in which we have a strong focus on developing further in interaction with society. We have focus on the circular bio-economy, water technology, advanced materials, innovative food, digitisation, climate change and life sciences at the interface to the healthcare sector. We’re already beginning to see signs that these centres have not only attracted a lot of media attention, but also attention from funding sources. In this context, I can mention that at the beginning of the year the strategic water technology centre, WATEC, received DKK 40 million from the Poul Due Jensen Foundation, and, as the first of a number of ESS Lighthouse environments, the Centre for Integrated Materials Research has just received DKK 34.5 million from NUFI (National Committee for Research Infrastructure). Other centres are also working with ‘big funding’, and all the centres have established strong relationships with industry, municipalities and regions, as well as both Danish and international research environments. It is gratifying when society and businesses see the importance of collaboration with the strong knowledge environments at universities within areas of enormous importance for society. We must be even better at profiling the rich possibilities inherent in this kind of collaboration.

And we must not stop at Denmark's borders. Collaboration takes place across faculties, borders, institutions and disciplines. We want to help overcome some of the challenges the world is facing. In this respect, the UN's sustainable development goals are a fantastic framework for increased collaboration: whether it be students, researchers we want to recruit, companies or international research institutions we want to collaborate with, everyone knows what is at stake, and all the main players have focus on the challenges faced by society. If we are to make a difference, it is imperative that we look beyond the university and cooperate with the outside world. Together, we can help to make a difference, and find solutions to some of the challenges. Among other things, this is the very reason for setting up the strategic centres.

But we won't stop here. International aspects must set a clear imprint on much of what we do as a faculty. Internationalisation is an important focus in ST's strategic plan, it is crucial in our work with the strategic thematic centres, and therefore it will also be in focus when the Dean's Office meets with the Advisory Board in August. In recent years, the faculty management team has been working intensively on the topic ‘From local to global’. We must continue to develop international excellence - in a globalised world, people go for the best, and that’s just where we want to be.

We all know that education is important, and that the university's main product is well-educated young people. In my opinion, this product is crucial for the development of society, and in the battle for knowledge to continue to have a role in an increasingly post-factual society. ST has a very special obligation to deliver the research and education that society needs, and for some years now it has been common knowledge that there’s a huge, almost insatiable need to educate more people in engineering and digitalisation competencies. Therefore, we’re also working hard to fulfil the ambitious objectives in initiatives for engineering and digitalisation at ST and Aarhus University. Recruitment of researchers and more students for engineer study programmes is progressing steadily, and it will be interesting to see this summer's admissions figures. In the digitalisation area, our new programme in data science been positively received and has been approved by the Ministry, on the condition that AU receives positive institutional accreditation.

In the spring, we held a ‘rehearsal’ for the new entrance examination for quota 2 applicants, and this went entirely according to plan. 145 applicants for computer science, physics and IT product development programmes turned up for the exam, and this provided some valuable lessons to build on next year, when all quota 2 applicants for ST's study programmes will have to take an entrance examination. The new admissions system will help students to clarify their choice of programme. The objective is to increase quality and reduce drop-out rates.

Retention of students is something we’ve been working on in different, but very targeted ways. Across the faculty, there is room for improvement in this area. Therefore, a steering committee has been appointed, among other things to coordinate the development of a catalogue of initiatives to offer departments better opportunities to manage and initiate targeted actions, so that students do not drop out for the wrong reasons. The steering committee is already well underway.

On February 7, the senior management team adopted common standards for recruiting tenured academic staff at AU. The common standards include the use of search committees, re-advertisement, assessment committees, stays abroad and appointment committees. To a large extent, these standards reflect procedures we had already initiated at ST some years ago. Nevertheless, the decision on common standards is very important, as the entire university is the framework for our development. The main challenge is to ensure that we attract the brightest talents to our positions, and in particular that we can attract more women to research. The tenure track scheme is an important tool in ensuring this, and we now have more than 25 employees on the scheme. The next step is to plan the first interim evaluations of tenure track and set focus on general career development.

The faculty management team has been working for some time on a new financial model for ST. The aim of the work has been to set up a transparent, fair and straightforward financial model with built-in incentives to enhance the quality of core activities. Work on the new financial model has now come so far that the principles have been discussed in all relevant bodies, and the faculty management team has just made the final touches so that the model can be taken into use in connection with setting the 2019 budget.

Good and reliable administrative support is a prerequisite for very much of what we do at the faculty. At ST, our administrative units work with processes and operations optimisation to help ensure good administration. And it is worth noting that they do this with a requirement of 2% savings every year. It is a difficult task, and it is not hard to see that the administration is doing all it can to meet goals while at the same time providing the necessary service. There are things that should be done differently, and new routines have to be incorporated. And not only by the administrative staff; effort and increased attention is often required of us all. I’m grateful for all the effort and commitment in this context from the administrative side and from the departments.

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of you, who during the year have successfully attracted funding, won contracts with the public sector, published ground-breaking research results, landed cooperation agreements with companies in Denmark and abroad, contributed to educating new talents for our society, and generally managed to achieve important results for major and vital tasks. Congratulations with your awards and accolades, exams passed, projects completed, and all of the other goals and ambitions you have fulfilled.

I’m sure that each of you can look back at an academic year that has seen large and small events, results, challenges and victories, and I'd like to thank everyone who has helped bring ST closer to realising our common goals. Your commitment, with not only your own strong expertise, but also in communities and interdisciplinary collaboration in which you strengthen each other and ensure a good working and study environment, is an important basis for the success of the faculty, now and in the future. Our success depends on clear goals, constructive collaboration and strong values. In future, we will concentrate even more on the good values that will take us forward to benefit all of society.

I would like to wish you all - staff and students - a wonderful summer.

Dean Niels Christian Nielsen

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