Aarhus University Annual Celebration 2011

Speech from Chairman of the Board Michael Christiansen

Dear minister, dear guests, and dear Aarhus University staff and students

Welcome to this celebration of Aarhus University's 83rd anniversary. I hope that everyone will enjoy the day.

From a human perspective, eighty-three years is a long time; in fact, it's longer than the average life expectancy here in Denmark. But from a historical perspective, the university we're celebrating today is a very young one. The development Aarhus University has undergone in such a short period of time is therefore quite exceptional. A local newspaper termed AU the youngest shoot on the Nordic tree of wisdom on the occasion of the official inauguration of the first buildings in the University Park. Then as now, AU made headlines, and the dynamism and accumulation of knowledge taking place in Aarhus were noted with wonder and admiration - though naturally not in so many words.

The pioneer spirit which inspired the citizens of Aarhus to transform dreams into reality has animated the university ever since.

In my career as a student and lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, I was struck by how Aarhus University was experienced as 'those people over in Jutland'.

Believe me, this is not how people talk about AU now. In any case, the rivalry between Copenhagen and Aarhus is most often a matter of friendly teasing. The real competition with significance for all of us extends far beyond this country's borders.

Aarhus University's development began to accelerate in the sixties and seventies, when the number of students exploded and new degree programmes were introduced, including the extremely popular Master's degree programme in political science. The eminent journalist Jørgen Flindt Petersen and Dr Mogens N. Petersen, professor emeritus in political science at the University of Southern Denmark, were the first graduates of the programme. The programme would become a gateway to Danish politics - and remains so today. Just take a look at the candidates in the current parliamentary elections...

Aarhus University increased its academic potential and its international status in 2007, when the university merged with the governmental research agencies DJF and DMU, as well as ASB and DPU. At present the university and the Engineering College of Aarhus are working to finalise a merger which is expected to take place at the end of the year.

Here again, the belief in and will to create unique teaching and research environments have been absolutely crucial. The university's development entered a new phase last year when a comprehensive reform process was initiated: nine main academic areas were merged to become four new large main academic areas with broad competences in teaching and research.

This complex process of creating 'Tomorrow's AU' demands time and extra resources. But I am absolutely certain that this process is an investment which will strengthen AU in the long term.

Many times, I have been confronted with the question: Why does Aarhus University need to be any bigger? As we see it, growth is not a goal in itself - on the contrary. In fact, many of the international universities we compare ourselves to are smaller than AU. They have fewer students and larger research budgets. Competition for the best researchers, staff members and students is global. Our goal is to reach out to society as a whole and create cohesion, so that the university is in a strong position to strengthen research, flexible and modern degree programmes and knowledge exchange.

I am convinced that we at AU have achieved the impossible - what many strive for but which appears unattainable. The youngest shoot on the Nordic tree of wisdom has itself become a strong, beautiful tree with many branches reaching out to the entire world. AU's engagement in China is just one among many good examples. We make our mark all over the world on an equal footing with other major universities.

At the moment, the world is in the midst of a global debt crisis, and growth in the strongest economies is almost at a standstill. What is our solution? Well, the solution is actually simple: clearly, the countries which invest most in research and development have the highest rates of growth.

We must continue to focus on our long-term strategies and refuse to settle for short-term quick fixes. This is why we must continue to invest in research and education. Long-term political agreements in Parliament will enable us to do this. But we must also acknowledge that the conditions the research institutions in the countries we cooperate with operate under also affect our situation. There is an urgent need for European countries to cooperate on prioritising the long-term accumulation of new knowledge. And I hope that the Danish EU presidency in 2012 will contribute to putting the issue high on the agenda.

When I try to find an image to symbolise the development AU has been through, I visualise a great ship which has sailed from shallow water to blue water. It's a never-ending expedition with an exceptional crew. We will continue to set a new course towards new goals as we meet the challenges we set ourselves.

An important condition for the success of the project is that we have established a modern managerial structure at Aarhus University. We are well in the process of adopting new university by-laws which will guarantee staff a much higher degree of influence through the academic councils. As in any other organisation, good management is built on thee responsiveness of our staff. In this respect, the university has many similarities to some of the cultural institutions it has been my pleasure to work with. AU staff have a high sense of self-worth - and a correspondingly low respect for authority. By its very nature, the university attracts individualists. It's necessary to respect that. This is where the university's fantastic resources spring from: passionate engagement, intense curiosity, a desire to contribute to creating a better world. These resources are at the very foundation of Aarhus University.

Velkommen til alle.