Major quality boost awaits the support services

Over the next two and a half years, all the support services will be subjected to review in order to determine how they can facilitate the scientific staff even better, and how they can improve their performance and – where possible – their efficiency. Vice-president Nicole Ummelen doesn’t exclude the possibility from the outset that (parts of) certain services might have to merge. Leon van de Vorstenbosch, chair of the Services Council, is worried. “The current support staff-scientific staff ratio at TU/e is 0:34, the lowest in Dutch academia. How much efficiency can still be gained with that ratio?”

photo MR Gao / Shutterstock

It’s clear that the reorganization of TU/e’s education support services, carried out five years ago, serves as some sort of blueprint for all the changes the support services will face in the years ahead. Under the name of SQUAD, which stands for Support Quality Drive, all eleven support services will be subjected to review, to be carried out in phases. Furthermore, the directors will be asked to draw up a self-assessment report for their support domain. The Executive Board will set aside €1.3 million euros for the services to draw up such a report and to engage external expertise. Following a review round, this self-assessment eventually has to result in an improvement plan. This will set in motion a comprehensive quality assurance round for service provision at TU/e, vice-president Nicole Ummelen says, "as is customary for education and research."

Ummelen, who is in charge of the project on behalf of the Executive Board, explains why the university’s support services need to undergo an overhaul. “First off, we need to include service provision in the starting points that we outlined in 2018 in our Strategy 2030. Because our university’s growth and the changes in education and research will bring about a change in the demands made on our support staff.”

Available budget

And those demands are becoming increasingly diverse, according to Van Ummelen. “I don’t mean to say, incidentally, that service provision doesn’t function properly at this time,” the vice-president says. “But we have to be honest. When we look at our available budget, which won’t be that high in the coming years, we are forced to organize our support services more efficiently. After all, we want to continue to provide high quality. But you can’t always recruit personnel when demand grows, which is why you need to reflect on that demand and discuss it together. Support staff members shouldn’t just discuss this issue with scientists, they should also discuss it among themselves. See if there is any overlap between services, don’t operate like an island to yourself, but cooperate when necessary and when possible.”

Ummelen says that in the future, the university will have to opt for standardized processes and systems more frequently instead of for a customized approach. “I understand that everyone prefers a customized approach, but that’s very expensive; we will need to find the right balance between these approaches.”


Leon van de Vorstenbosch, staff member at Real Estate and chair of daily management at the Services Council (DR), which represents the interests of the staff members of TU/e’s support services, says that he is deeply worried about the forthcoming operation. “First off, the DR is incensed by the fact that the Executive Board informed us about this plan just two weeks ago, which is also when we first saw the documents. This while the plan had already been announced on intranet and discussed with staff members at two services.”

Van de Vorstenbosch is chiefly concerned about the ever-increasing work pressure among the support staff and the very low support staff-scientific staff ratio at TU/e. “That ratio has been 0:34 for years now, the lowest in Dutch academia. You can find those figures in the Vision operational management, and concerns over work pressure have been expressed in several documents, including TU/e’s work pressure Work Plan, published in 2018. That’s why the DR wonders how much more efficiency is still to be gained. The first thing we need to do is to address the issue of work pressure. Just look at how high it is at Education and Student Affairs (ESA) right now due to the increase in student numbers over the past years. ESA has hardly recruited any new personnel, and some staff members are really about to get overwhelmed. Under these circumstances, it has become very difficult to recruit new young talent for the support staff, or to retain it once it’s there.”

The Services Council and the University Council decided two weeks ago to work closely together on the issue of SQUAD during the coming years, Van de Vorstenbosch says.


According to vice-president Ummelen in the coming period, the ball is in the court of the directors of the services. They have been asked to draw up a self-assessment report for their service, supported by the program team and by staff members at their own services – allocated to this project in part with the 1.3 million euros earmarked by the Executive Board – in the space of four months.

This assessment will be carried out in phases, and the services IMS (Information Management and Services) and DML (Data Management & Library) will go first. Ummelen says that this choice wasn’t made without reason, “because we believe that there are many opportunities for collaboration at these services. The services will continue to work together further along in the process, since their activities and tasks are closely aligned.”

Pieces of a puzzle

After phase one with IMS and DML is completed, three more rounds will follow, during which the remaining services will be subjected to review. “Because we can’t close shop during this operation,” Ummelen says. “Throughout this entire process of self-assessment, we will continuously keep our eye on the big picture, because we need to put all the pieces of the puzzle together when the process is completed.”

Ummelen doesn’t rule out the possibility that certain services might end up collaborating more closely in the end, or that they might even cease to exist altogether as individual services. “Yes, this could lead to a merger of services,” But she also points out that no mergers took place during the reorganization of TU/e’s education support services. “Departments and services did however decide at the time to collaborate on university-wide issues and services.”


As a result of the upcoming operation, certain tasks might become redundant in the new organizational structure. “We will be honest and transparent about this throughout the entire process, because we don’t have a secret agenda. But we will have to look for other solutions for people we can’t retrain or reallocate.”

However, SQUAD shouldn’t be viewed as a disguised spending cut, the vice-president says. “No, certainly not. The starting point is that service provision becomes more efficient, starts to look for more mutual collaboration, and facilitates the scientific staff even better. The people concerned will be expressly involved throughout the entire process. Just like we did five years ago during the reorganization of our education support services.”

Steering group 

A steering group has by now been set up for SQUAD, whose members include Gerrit Kroesen, dean of the department of Applied Physics, and Johan Lukkien, dean of the department of Mathematics & Computer Science. TU/e’s service provision is represented by HRM director Mariska Brzözek, ESA director Patrick Groothuis, and FMC (Facility Management Center) director Martin Boers.

Ummelen wants to start after summer recess. “I see that the past period has taken its toll on our staff members, including those who work in service provision. That’s why I hope that everyone will take time during the summer holidays to rest and recharge, so that we can start in September.” TU/e hired external specialist and advisor Pieter Binsbergen to assist. He has experience with similar projects at several institutions, including Radboud University Nijmegen and the University of Twente, Ummelen says.

Marjo van der Valk, TU/e’s spokesperson for the unions, says that union representatives were informed about the upcoming changes and the start of the process some time ago already. Van der Valk: “It’s a recurring topic on our agenda during our joint meetings at this point, and we will shortly meet with the program manager.”

For people who have more questions about SQUAD there is a Q&A-page on the intranet.

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