Chairman of the University Board Michael Christiansen

Foto:Lars Kruse / AU Kommunikation

Dear Minister, dear Chairman of the Regional Council, dear Mayor, honoured guests - ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Aarhus University’s eighty-fifth annual celebration. I hope you all have a good and eventful day here at our beautiful university.

This has been an eventful year for the university, during which the board has, together with the senior management team, made some very critical decisions about the future development of the university. We have thus adopted a new and very ambitious strategy for the university, which shall ensure that Aarhus University will continue to be numbered among the very strongest universities in Europe in the coming years. But the biggest and most important task carried out by the board has certainly been the change of rector. A change that was marked by the reception for our new rector Brian Bech Nielsen earlier today.

Before saying more about our new rector, I will also take the opportunity afforded by the annual celebration to thank former rector Lauritz B. Holm-Nielsen, who has, during the last eight years, led the largest fusion and reform carried out by Aarhus University or, indeed, any Danish university. What drove Lauritz was the belief that if we pool our efforts, create better coherence and forceful research environments and teaching environments, then we can meet the enormous challenges posed by the global expanding world society - and this is a viewpoint that I and the rest of the Board share. We have said goodbye to a true university man and a man of rare passion. On behalf of the Board I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for the great results you have achieved and for an always exciting and inspirational collaboration. You will go down in history as the man who put Aarhus University on the global map.

To carry the new Aarhus University forward, we appointed rector Brian Bech Nielsen to take up the position in August. We searched far and wide and selected the best candidate. That this turned out to be a former dean, department head, professor and student from Aarhus University, a genuine academic who lives and breathes for the university, just makes the whole thing much easier. And even though Aarhus University will now be headed by a Jutlander from Jutland who speaks broken Jutlandish, as I was quoted as saying at a press conference during the spring, I have no doubt that Brain will also have his eyes firmly focused on the international challenges, as indeed your impressive career shows.

And the tasks that await are certainly not easy. Times have changed - we will not see the same high level of investment in knowledge production that we saw during the previous decade. However, the fact that knowledge is the path to growth is still high on the politicians’ agenda.

The economic realities have meant that today there is much greater focus on consolidation, entrenchment and stable operation. This is also true for this university. Having said that, I would also like to acknowledge that the government has, in a time of extensive economic challenges, maintained the level of university funding in the latest Finance Act proposal. Society still investments massively in the universities - and makes completely legitimate demands of the universities in return.

We are (in general) very pleased about this. A university must be on the same page as its society so that we have the right starting point for and the correct understanding of collaboration with the state, municipalities, regions and not least the business community that will employ our graduates.

And here the university has become a major supplier as society’s demand for knowledge has practically exploded. The universities have now achieved the government’s and the Folketing’s aim that at least 25 per cent of school-leavers must complete a higher education at a university. In 50 years the number of students at Aarhus University alone has grown by a factor of 10,  from approximately 4,000 to approximately 40,000 today.

It is a great privilege that we can, in this way, contribute towards influencing the lives of so many young people. The education of new graduates is the university’s most important mission and it is a task that we take very seriously. Educating a large number of young people places huge demands on our educational system and the universities. Studying at the university should be unforgettable, epochal and it should provide the students with crucial knowledge, competence clarification and readiness for the labour market, so they can manage both nationally and internationally.

The large percentage of university students has certainly also given rise to criticism from several sources. We are letting the young down, is one point of criticism, with reference to the universities being too busy enrolling ever more students and getting as many students as possible through the degree programmes as quickly as possible. This is criticism that we must not ignore - it must be taken seriously. When I started at the university, around five per cent of a year group ended up with a university education. We were the chosen ones. Today, 25 per cent are the chosen ones.

Clearly, educating 25 per cent of a year group while still maintaining the level of quality is a much greater challenge. But this is a challenge that we have taken up because Danish society needs a high level of education. We are therefore working with differentiated study programmes, talent development programmes, more student guidance and increased lessons - so we can meet the greater educational obligations.

In other words, Aarhus University has grown big and Aarhus University has grown complex. Today, we have a university that has built new research centres, new contemporary degree programmes, core activity committees - and a management structure that is characterised by a belief that the academic pigeon-holing systems of the past must be supplemented by joint projects and a joint management responsibility. All to ready the university for the global challenges.

The major reorganisation of Aarhus University has affected both staff and students. This is especially true of the very large task of consolidating the administration and, in particular, the administrative systems. Today, there is light at the end of the tunnel - but, then again, this has to be the case, because at a university the administrative organisation and service must not overshadow academic development. In our efforts to create the optimal university we must not lose sight of the individual student or member of staff. We must at all times sustain our focus on the university’s fundamental values. They have been the central elements throughout the university’s 85-year history. They still are today and they will remain so in the future. With these words I will give the floor to Rector Brian Bech Nielsen. I wish all of you an excellent annual celebration.