New Year´s greetings from rector Brian Bech Nielsen

Dear staff and students

With this first newsletter of the year; I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a very happy New Year and to express my deep appreciation of all your hard work in 2015.

2015 confirmed AU’s status as a research-intensive university. Every week, I read about impressive research breakthroughs and results, good news about grants, awards, honorary positions and appointments – and not least our strong contribution of consultancy to society and government. Research and knowledge exchange that are helping to change our world.

The new year began with a major piece of news: FEAS’ purchase of the AUH Nørrebrogade property in Aarhus. This is a major event that will create many new opportunities for development for the university. I’m looking forward to getting started on consideration and discussion of how we can get the most out of the area.

This year, Aarhus University will also continue the work of ensuring that research is more deeply integrated into our degree programmes. We want to give our students even better opportunities to explore their subjects in depth during their studies. Students must be driven by passion, curiosity and strong analytical skills – and not least the courage to think out of the box in relation to solutions and cooperation.

Our degree programmes must be in step with society’s needs, both in relation to growth and new knowledge and the continued development of civil society and culture. And even though interpreting and predicting those needs is a challenge, we must nonetheless make sure that the content of our degree programmes reflects social realities and needs, so that we can give our graduates the best opportunities to make a difference. This is why we will continue to strengthen our dialogue on the development of our degree programmes with both students and employers in 2016.


A sound financial position

It was unfortunately necessary to restore our finances two and a half years ago. As all of you remember, it was rough sailing. But on the other hand, we’re now seeing that our intervention worked. We are expecting an operating surplus of close to DKK 50 million for 2015. I would like to express my appreciation for this. It hasn’t been easy for anyone in the organisation.

As a result, we’re now in a reasonable position to be able to offset the cutbacks that will follow from the 2016 Finance Act for some time to come. I’m thinking in particular of the new annual ‘reallocation contribution’ cutbacks of two per cent on education and other purposes, in addition to the reduction of government research funding programmes by DKK 1.4 billion in 2016.

We’re forecasting a balanced budget for 2016. But I’ll make no secret of the fact that budgeting will become a major challenge in subsequent years. Fortunately, we can spend the next six months calmly and deliberately developing a plan for how we’re going to tackle the challenges of 2017 and onwards.


Better framework for self-government

The ministry has been keeping us on our toes with initiatives like stricter requirements for external funding, degree programme resizing and the study progress reform. The latter two policy initiatives mean a considerable extra administrative burden for us. The study progress reform is a particularly large challenge. Achieving our institutional accreditation in 2016 is another major task. Accreditation is an extremely detailed and time-consuming process that will ultimately allow us to certify the quality of our own degree programmes. The quality of AU’s degree programmes is already quite high, so we’re more than willing to take on this responsibility, and we welcome the freedom it entails.  

And generally speaking, we intend to engage the higher education minister and our other politicians in a dialogue aimed at achieving a higher degree of autonomy in our management. It’s necessary to discuss the appropriate level of autonomy versus micromanagement. I fully acknowledge that our politicians want to have a say in how we manage the billions society invests in us, and the board and the senior management team are willing to engage in even closer dialogue than we have today. In return, we must have less reporting and monitoring of day-to-day operations.

The senior management team is going to continue working to improve our internal dialogue about our operations and development. We have a good working relationship and constructive dialogue with the university’s advisory bodies, but we will make every effort to involve them even more.

Dialogue is also the focus when I visit our departments, centres and administrative units. Hearing your honest, unfiltered opinions is liberating and absolutely crucial. And thank you for not beating around the bush. Straight talk is the shortest path forwards.

It’s impossible not to be caught up in the passion for your work that drives this university’s employees.

One of our most important tasks as a university is to maintain the highest possible levels of ambition for our fields. Although financial realities sometimes get in the way, they must not prevent us from setting the bar as high as we possibly can. And that ambition is a realistic one – because Aarhus University is a very strong university with highly respected employees and highly dedicated students.