Christmas greetings from the rector

In his Christmas message to AU employees, Rector Brian Bech Nielsen takes stock of 2014 and looks forward to 2015.

Dear employees

Very soon, we’ll be taking a break from our day-to-day lives and letting Christmas and New Year’s take over.

And we need a break. With cutbacks and organisational changes, this hasn’t been an easy year at Aarhus University.

But it was a decisive year. We restored our financial health, and we tackled the problems and obstacles that arose as a consequence of the organisational changes of 2011. 

Because of our financial situation, we had to say goodbye to a number of talented, dedicated employees in 2014. Unfortunately, this prioritisation was necessary. I hope that the assistance we were able to offer helped the affected employees on their way forward.

I would like to thank you for our many constructive discussions in the course of my annual round of visits to departments, centres and administrative divisions. You described your concerns, challenges and successes clearly and frankly. It’s important that we get open, honest feedback, especially critical feedback. Otherwise the senior management team can’t establish the frameworks and conditions that will enable you to conduct high-quality research, teaching, consultancy and administration.  

2014 was also the year the senior management team initiated a very wide-ranging problem analysis. There were unmistakable challenges after the major organisational changes of 2011, and it was necessary to address them. We have striven to face these problems directly and analyse them with the help of a major internal investigation. An enormous job that has involved virtually the entire university and which led to the decisions that were announced in October. In the senior management team, we anticipate that these initiatives will put us on the right track and lay a solid foundation for the continued development of Aarhus University.  

There are no quick, easy solutions. But I’m sure that we’ll reach our goals by working together. We have a fantastic university, and I’m sure that we’re all looking forward to watching it flourish and prosper. However, we cannot focus on Aarhus University alone. Society’s demands and expectations are constantly increasing. Each year, our society invests about 22 billion kroner in higher education, so it’s only natural that politicians, industry leaders and ordinary citizens take an interest in what the universities deliver. On of the ways this interest is expressed is in the form of increasing political micromanagement. The study progress reform and the resizing of degree programmes are among the most recent expressions of this trend. These initiatives certainly present a challenge to our adaptability. But the intense awareness of the higher education sector they express is fundamentally positive, because it attests to the extremely important role universities play in the development of society.

In the senior management team, we are looking forward to 2015. With the appointment of Berit Eika, pro-rector for education, and Jane Kraglund, university director (as of 1 January 2015), important vacancies in the senior management team have now been filled. The recently completed budget shows that our finances are now in balance, and that we are following the course we set in 2013. The operating budget will balance starting in 2015. But we are not anticipating an increased operating budget over the next two or three years. For this reason, we have to stick to the financial track we’ve laid.

The ongoing organisational changes are expected to fall into place in the course of the spring. Hopefully, this will mean that frustration and uncertainty will be replaced by discussions about the content of our work, about development, and about quality not least – and preferably in a broader sense than what can easily be expressed by a spreadsheet. Quality in our degree programmes is not least an issue of the academic level our graduates achieve. As I mentioned before, we won’t grow financially over the next few years. Instead, we’ll grow in quality. Which is at bottom what we’ve always done and striven for. What makes our work meaningful is precisely the quality with which we shape our highly qualified graduates, produce and communicate important research results, and develop the administration that supports these academic activities. That’s what makes a difference in our world, and that’s the essence of Aarhus University.  

Thank you for all your hard work in 2014 and your dedication to Aarhus University. We hope that you will all enjoy a well-deserved holiday together with your family and friends.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.