Put departments in charge of contract education

The University’s contract education needs to grow in order to match the skills needed among companies and public authorities in the region. A new report proposes to give the departments the main responsibility for the development of contract education. Employees who work as consultants on the side are to become more involved in the University’s own contract education which is to be integrated into our daily activities.

As an incentive, the capacity for external engagement should be made into a formal qualification – in addition to research and teaching expertise.
The proposals were presented by associate professor Agneta Blom at Örebro University who, on behalf of the University management, has investigated how Lund University’s contract education needs to be developed. In addition to the members of the University management and the deans, she has interviewed some 60 people in key posts at the University, as well as examined how contract education is organised at Chalmers University of Technology and Stockholm University.
No one knows the exact extent of contract education conducted by Lund University staff; the only report compiled of such activities is of those offered by the university-wide unit LUCE, Lund University Commissioned Education.
“LUCE organises popular contract education of an international scope and, often, on behalf of major Swedish clients, such as SIDA. However, regionally, our range is smaller and there is a need to be met, especially in industry”, says Bo Ahrén, pro vice-chancellor with special responsibility for external engagement.
The purpose of the report has been to identify how the University can better contribute to the provision of skills in the region, in both the private and public sector.
“Society is changing rapidly. People are unemployed while companies have a hard time recruiting staff with the right skills. The University must contribute and share. We can offer courses within specific areas of expertise or with researchers and lecturers from several different subjects who take a broad approach to different phenomena, such as the impact of digitalisation on industry and public authorities”, says Bo Ahrén.
The goal is to integrate contract education with the departments’ regular activities, while keeping LUCE as a central support service.
“Contract education is to become a natural part of teaching and not something we do during evenings and weekends, although this does not mean that secondary employment will disappear altogether.”
In addition to discussing and establishing the new structure, the strategy requires a market analysis as well as an inventory of the needs in the region and the ideas and opportunities within the University, says Bo Ahrén.
After many years of universities focusing on research internally, the author of the report Agneta Blom, senior lecturer at Örebro University, believes she sees a trend towards increased interest in external engagement.
“Obviously, some will still be sceptical, but contract education is not for everyone. However, I’ve seen a lot of interest from people wanting to contribute more to society locally, both within management and in conversations with people in different areas of the University. There are many good ideas and a passion that needs to be channelled and allowed expression”, she says.
There is much to gain from increased exchange with the region, says Agneta Blom. By integrating contract education, lecturers will not only get to meet young students but also adult professionals, on a daily basis, and this can help stimulate and inspire teaching. However, formal incentives are needed to inspire change; Agneta Blom suggests that external engagement skills be considered a qualification that carries a lot of weight during recruitments and salary-setting. She got the idea from Chalmers, where all contract education is to be performed by staff within the scope of their employment.
EFL (Executive Foundation Lund) is a long-standing institute for continuing professional development at Lund University. It is a well-established brand with a good reputation in the regional business community. EFL is an independent institution, but it recruits teaching staff from Lund University to its contract education courses.
Will EFL be affected by the change in the structure of the University’s contract education?
“Not really, but I hope that the University will interact more with EFL. Some courses offered there could just as well be offered by LU. I envision that – once contract education has become firmly established in the departments’ daily activities – institutes like EFL will play a role in which their excellent relationship with the business community can develop”, says Bo Ahrén.
The implementation of the report has not yet been the determined – first, it is to be discussed within the vice-chancellor’s management council at the end of September.

Comments on the report on contract education

”We lack an in-depth discussion of competition with EFL”

Susanne Norrman, head of office at LUCE, Lund University Commissioned Education, which has 16 full-time employees working with contract education on behalf of the University:

“The report is descriptive and concise. I was hoping for something more substantial, more discussion of principles, analysis and concrete suggestions. I would have liked to see some examples of needs in the region or a definition of what the regional business community is.”
“It’s good that attention is called to contract education and that the report found that those who use LUCE’s services are pleased. At the same time, both the University management and the faculties point to the lack of strategic management from LUCE. The proposal to conduct a regional needs analysis is good. We haven’t done it before because it wasn’t part of our remit.”
“When it comes to giving incentives to development, the report provides only one example: Chalmers. It doesn’t go deeper into the discussion of what this could be like at Lund University. EFL is not addressed at all, and this is a fundamental issue. The relatively small regional market puts us in direct competition with EFL, and this does not benefit anyone; it’s also confusing for the client. Lund University must have a united front towards the regional business community. EFL is a strong brand and we respect their skills, but we can’t be competitors or receive different levels of pay for our teaching staff. LUCE never pays teachers directly; they receive payment through the departments.”
“I argue that LUCE plays an important supportive but also driving role, even if contract education becomes more established at the departments. We often receive questions about which companies we have met, what their needs are, etc. In my opinion, we have to feel that we are in this together. The whole concept of external engagement needs to be clarified and more established, and LUCE must participate in the forums in which the dialogue is conducted. The investigation proposes that we form a special committee for these issues, but I think it would be better to use the existing committee/council structure and that we are given a clearer role in it.”


”External engagement must become part of staff duties”

Robert Holmberg, head of the Department of Psychology:
“I support the report and the proposals presented. Contract education is a way for the University to give back to society. In order for the departments to succeed in doing so, external engagement must become part of the staff’s duties to allow space for the planning of contract education. Now, a lot of it takes place on the margins – people don’t have time.”

“We have about 90 employees. Many of them participate in different forms of contract education, and have some form of secondary employment. There is a great need for ongoing professional development within the professions to which our study programmes lead: psychologists, behavioural scientists, and so on. However, within the department, we have now started to plan our own contract education courses, and our sights are set on launching them in 2018. These include courses in health psychology, gender psychology and psychotherapy. We try to be proactive and fulfil the interest we have identified in our sector. Obviously, there are also other needs, for instance, within the regional business community – needs that we have no clue about – but that LUCE can identify through its networks.”

”Integration of contract education is a good thing”

Jesper Falkheimer, head of Research, External Engagement and Innovation:
“The report provides a good description of why and what needs to be changed. LUCE performs its task well, but if LU wants to meet the needs of the region as well, our contract education must be expanded and become an integral part of the departments’ work.”

“The question is how to do it. We need an analysis of the external needs and strategies for what we want to accomplish. But we can’t get stuck on internal organisational issues – we need to move faster. The most important thing is to establish the strategies at faculties and departments, and find structures that also take into account existing activities like EFL, an important player that is frequently commissioned by regional businesses within management.”
“Making external engagement skills a formal qualification is a good idea. It’s not about taking the bite out of research and education – free and critical thinking is indispensable, and this academic integrity is precisely what makes the University’s contract education so popular.”
“The departments have a lot to gain from the integration of contract education – also financially – but it requires setting aside resources and time as well taking certain financial risks initially.”

Britta Collberg