A calmer phase after turbulence for centres moving to faculties

The relocation of the specialised centres to the faculties which is currently underway within LU has generated concern and discussion.
“But once you know where you are moving, a calmer and more constructive phase begins”, says Bo Ahrén, chair of the University’s specialised centres. But Merle Jacob, professor of research policy, finds the path to the right faculty to be rather long and uncertain at LU.

Bo Ahrén.

The Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and CIRCLE, which is a centre for innovation research, are now in the more constructive phase, according to Bo Ahrén. They have both found their faculties, the first more or less unwillingly and the other with enthusiasm after a long search.

The current University management has shrunk the University’s specialised centres, known by their Swedish acronym USV, from thirteen to seven centres; by the end of the year there will only be four left. Bo Ahrén, the chair of USV, is beginning to see a pattern emerge in the relocation process.

“The worry among the staff usually dissipates once there is a decision as to which faculty will receive their centre. One lesson is the importance of clarity and communicating as much information as possible, as early as possible”, he says.

At the same time, the decisions are to be prepared through broad discussions, which is difficult to combine with clear messages to staff about the future. CIRCLE staff at least were able to get a clear message – they will be moving to LTH and the Department of Design Sciences. The staff will continue to sit together but will be employed by various departments at three different faculties.

“We have long wanted to move to a faculty and have not had any internal strife about it. We are very happy that the vice-chancellor got personally involved in the process during the spring, which speeded everything up”, says Magnus Nilsson, deputy director at CIRCLE.

The reason why it has taken such a long time – the decision on CIRCLE’s faculty move was taken centrally in 2012 – is partly the unclear mandates in the negotiation.

“When we contacted the faculties that are closest to our activities (LUSEM, Social Sciences and Engineering) they wondered why we presented ourselves. We are small, after all, in comparison with the rest of the organisation and did not have any decision-making power behind our wishes”, continues Magnus Nilsson.

The Lund University Rules of Procedure state that well-established organisations with both research and education are to be organised under the faculties.

“That provides a greater density among researchers as part of a larger context, which benefits the long-term perspective in both research and education”, says Bo Ahrén.

Merle Jacob.

Merle Jacob is professor of research policy and has investigated the governance and organisation of the Swedish system for research and innovation. She agrees with the University management that interdisciplinary centres thrive best within a faculty. It is pointless to compare ourselves with successful American universities with many independent centres such as Stanford or Berkeley, she believes, as those universities have a completely different form of funding, with their own strong finances and the potential for directly funding their centres. However, Merle Jacob is critical of the process concerning the faculty moves at LU.

“It is inefficient and resource-intensive. The matching should have been done using the best knowledge production as the guiding principle. Here the University managements – the current and the former – should have shown more strategic leadership”, she thinks.

There has been turbulence at CMES around the centre’s move to the Faculty of Social Sciences. When the former director Leif Stenberg got a new job at a British university, Torsten Janson was appointed as his successor. But he hadn’t even taken up the position before he resigned. In order for the centre not to remain without a director, an unusual measure was taken: the chair of USV, Bo Ahrén, has stepped in temporarily and is backed up by the head of the faculty office at the Faculties of Humanities and Theology, Gunnel Holm.

“Business as usual is the top priority. Grants must be applied for, research and teaching must continue as usual while a new director is recruited”, says Bo Ahrén, adding that a positive consequence of his intervention was that it gave him a very good insight into how a centre functions, including through interviews with all employees.

The next formal stage for both CMES and CIRCLE is a risk analysis which is underway during the spring, to be followed by formal decisions on moving, probably before the summer break.

Merle Jacob would have liked the management to gather the deans and the directors of the centres at an early stage and to have allowed each centre to present its activities. After that, in her view, the deans should have been challenged to think about how the University could create the best knowledge production together with the specialised centres – what new potential research collaborations and study programmes do they see at their own faculties?

“Only after the matching process should money come into the picture. Now the centre directors have had to go round with their hat in hand, and it is clear that not all directors are equipped for this kind of negotiation.”

Not all deans are keen to take financial risks to create new activities either. Merle Jacob describes this as a personality issue.

“But creating the best possible knowledge production is at the core of what the University does, not to keep the faculties’ activities exactly as they are. If everything that is new and exciting happens outside the faculties, they will eventually wither away.”

Jenny Loftrup

Facts:

USV, the Universities’ specialised centres, have shrunk from thirteen to seven organisations under the current management. There are just over 40 interdisciplinary centres at the University, most of which are already within the faculties. The interdisciplinary centres included in USV are currently:

• Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) – moving to the Faculty of Social Sciences

• Food for Health Science Centre – to close at the end of the year

• Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies

• CIRCLE, Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy – moving to the Faculty of Engineering

• IIIEE, International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics

• LUCSUS, Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies

• The Pufendorf Institute – no teaching activities