How do we make work pressure manageable again?

TU/e still continues to be popular as a possible place to study. Last week the Executive Board together with the deans made a difficult, though understandable decision that is intended to relieve the pressure a bit. In the academic year 2018-2019 there will be four programs for which a maximum number of students can enroll and admission will be determined by means of a decentralized test. Vice-president Jo van Ham and DPO Director Nicole van der Wolk explain what else is being done at a central level about the work pressure.

The intake will continue to be high in the coming years and the quest for talented lecturers and scientists to keep up with that growth in terms of manpower is not getting any easier either. Jo van Ham: “The growth we have experienced in the past few years and the investments that must consequently be made in education constitute a threat to our research. After all, the budgets for that have not increased accordingly and this threatens to devastate our research. However, it is the very interconnectedness of our education and our research that is essential in training engineers, so we were forced to intervene in order to be able to warrant the quality.”

This is why for the academic year 2018-2019 the programs Industrial Design, Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering and Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences will see a maximum for the number of students that can start on those programs. A decentralized test will determine later who will be admitted. It is the first time that TU/e has to use this approach.

At a central level more initiatives will be developed in due course that are intended to relieve scientists. Van der Wolk: “For example, work pressure must become an essential part of the annual interview. During that interview it must be discussed what someone does and does not still do. Within a group, for instance, a manager should also use a more differentiated approach to tasks within his team. It should be checked each time within the four domains of education, research, valorization and management where the emphasis should be per scientist for the coming period. Give that one person some more time for his educational duties now and allow him to go easy temporarily for the other domains. This will make it possible for the whole group to function more efficiently. There are courses for managers to teach them how to work in this way.”

Vice-president Van Ham hastens to add that each scientist does need to remain active within each domain. “The intention is definitely not for anyone to engage exclusively in teaching. That would be contrary to our requirement that everything needs to be interwoven.”

A helping hand for project proposals

What also takes scientists more and more time is their search for research resources, both nationally and at a European level. “The drafting of project proposals takes a great deal of time, as does finding the right organization where you can submit your application and finding suitable strategic partners”, Van Ham explains. “Once the resources have been granted, you continuously need to render account administratively and have to devote time to interim reports. In order to lend a helping hand here, we are setting up a Research Support Network (RSN). That network will be filled with people who are already within the departments, because they speak the language of the scientists they work for. Those persons will be supported by the Innovation Lab. We are not setting up a separate central department for this, then.”

Van Ham says that several departments already work with this kind of support staff. “It stands to reason that scientists themselves remain responsible for the substance, but questions like ‘where do I need to submit it’, ‘when’ and ‘how’, and ‘how do I prepare a proper budget’ can then be dealt with by the RSN. This should leave scientists more space for their actual task: conducting research.”

Quest for talented scientists

Finding talented scientists and lecturers has proved to be anything but simple in the recent past also, Van der Wolk admits. In the second quarter of this year, for instance, there were still 117 open vacancies, mainly for scientific staff. This is yet another factor contributing to the pressure of work. “We need to let go of any modesty in this respect as well”, says the DPO Director. “We must present ourselves as an attractive institution which people love to come to work for. What are our unique selling points? And, another important item, how we can scout for talents better and sooner.”

A taskforce led by Rector Frank Baaijens will set to work on this subject, Van Ham adds. “We also need to brand ourselves as an attractive employer.” Van der Wolk expects the taskforce to come up with recommendations in this area even before the end of this calendar year.

No extra budget will be available for the supporting services in the coming years. “No, we can only spend our money once”, Van Ham emphasizes, “and we have decided that it is not going to the OBP (administrative and support staff) this year. Although services that are directly affected by the growth of our education or research can count on extra resources, of course.” Van Ham thinks that there is something to be gained through a more efficient structure of processes. “For the OBP we are busy with a large-scale operation right now to realize that.”

Within the foreseeable future a vision document will be published for the operational management, Van Ham promises. “In that document more information will be provided and we will also try to find out what we can still do in that area and what may not be possible anymore.”

The unions have organized three lunch sessions about work pressure: on October 26 and November 9 and 25. They all start at 12.30 hours and will take place in the Gaslab. In the last session the Executive Board will enter into discussions with employees.

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