Contracts to motivate universities

January 1, 1999

The leaders of Danish universities will have to prove that they are giving value for money if research minister Jan Tr?jborg's plans to introduce modern leadership principles are realised.

Future university leaders will need management training to combat what a recent report calls "weak, old-fashioned, crisis management".

Mr Tr?jborg is introducing a bill setting out modern leadership principles to cover development contracts between the higher education establishments and the ministries of research and education, which share responsibility for higher education.

Mr Tr?jborg believes that the development contracts, which will run for four years and replace the grants system from January 2000, will motivate universities to be more ambitious and set strategic goals for both research and education.

The university development contracts are the third Tr?jborg reform proposal since he was appointed in March.

First was a new recruitment procedure that took effect in September. Aimed at strengthening and centralising university leadership so that resources are better used, the new procedure means that university leaders now decide which researchers are to be employed.

Second came a patent bill aimed at better exploiting public research. This is meeting strong resistance in Danish parliament and universities and research circles because it limits researchers' rights to the patents resulting from their own research.

Now Mr Tr?jborg wants a dynamic university leadership that thinks in terms of production and efficiency.

"The ministries and the universities should find some objectives that the institutions are obligated to meet," said Mr Tr?jborg.

Universities will agree to a number of concrete quality parameters and will be funded to achieve the targets.

Among Mr Tr?jborg's ideas are:

* Comparisons with equivalent universities

* Quality assurance of the whole university

* Success criteria for research

* Targets for collaboration between universities, research institutions and the business community

* Defining the universities' "research-based education"

* Targets for student dropout rates, changes of study line, and lengths of study.

Although many university rectors are positive about Mr Tr?jborg's plans, they have reservations. Henning Lehmann, rector of Aarhus University, said:

"In relation to the very ambitious concept, there is a need for considerable simplification."

His colleague at Copenhagen, Kjeld M?llgord, said the new contracts was a path to reaching a constructive dialogue with the research ministry: "But it is a very uneven plan. There is no connection with the rest of the grants system," he added.

Henrik Toft Jensen, of Roskilde University Centre, warned against comprehensive detail controls. "Otherwise it will just be a large registration system," he said.

Niels Lykke Jensen, section head at the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (AC), many of whose members are employed by the universities, said: "Quality at the universities cannot be raised if, on the one hand, traditional grants are followed while, on the other hand, there is an independent target and quality system. Grants and quality must be coupled.

"The collaboration between the ministries of education and research is anything but well-lubricated - there is no collaboration. They must jointly find out how the development contracts can be formulated, so they can include both research and education," he added.

AC has issued a report saying that Denmark's rectors, deans and institute leaders lack management training and insight into organisational matters when they take up their posts, which has a great negative effect on the quality of both education and research.

Hans Peter Jensen, rector of the Technical University of Denmark and chairman of the Danish rectors' conference, said there is no great need for management training for the rectors.

"The rectors today haven't reached their positions purely by chance: they've gone through the system as institute leaders and deans," he said.

"In that way they've attended a long-term management course," said Mr Jensen.

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