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Administrative elite has taken over Danish universities

While the number of staff at secretary level has been almost halved at the University of Copenhagen, the number of senior consultants has tripled. But this has not made work easier for researchers. According to critics, they spend too much time on administrative tasks.

The number of high salary administrative specialists has exploded at the University of Copenhagen in recent years. At the same time, there are now fewer secretaries and less clerical/office staff.

This is according to a new survey of the trends in staffing at Danish universities that, for the first time, maps out which parts of the administration have grown, and which parts have been cut back.

»A mobilisation has taken place. The administration at the universities used to be largely subjected to the researchers. Today, the universities are professionally managed organizations that need to be able to tackle corporations like Novo Nordisk, the publishers of international rankings, and the Danish parliament. This requires an administration consisting of finance experts, lawyers, communication heads and senior consultants, and this is why we see this significant trend,« says Andreas Kjær Stage, who is PhD student at the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University.

He and Kaare Aagaard from Political Science at Aarhus University have mapped out the trends in the composition of staff at the country’s universities. It has just been published in the journal ‘Higher Education’.

Many of the job titles did not exist 20 years ago. Today, they are ‘the new normal’

PhD student Andreas Kjær Stage, Aarhus University

At the University of Copenhagen, the so-called elite administration has tripled since 1999, while secretaries and those with office or clerical professions, which have traditionally worked in the central administration and at the departments, have been reduced by 42 per cent. The same applies to the number of technicians and laboratory technicians, that has fallen drastically. In 1999 they accounted for 28.1 per cent of the total staff at the University of Copenhagen. In 2017 the group had been reduced to 15.4 per cent.

»The growing group of administrative specialists consists of lawyers and economists in highly paid management positions and project positions with titles like ‘senior consultant’, ‘specialist consultant’ and ‘coordinator’. Many of the job titles did not exist 20 years ago. Today, they are ‘the new normal’,« says Andreas Kjær Stage.

He says the group also consists of an increase in the number of communications staff who help management with PR and strategic communication. Here, you can distinguish between the people working in the University of Copenhagen’s central communications department at Nørregade, and the approximately 100 communications staff that are distributed among faculties and departments at UCPH where they help researchers communicate their findings and results. This is a communication effort which has been estimated to cost the University of Copenhagen DKK 63.5 million in 2015.

Office staff could do the tasks

Ingrid Kryhlmand, who is staff representative for clerical staff members of the University of Copenhagen, has followed this development closely.

The way I see it,  it is completely unreasonable to hire highly paid senior consultants to do administrative operational assignments that other office staff are trained to take care of.

Ingrid Kryhlmand, staff representative for office/clerical employees

She was employed as a medical secretary at the University of Copenhagen in 1987 and has since then seen how the administration has grown rapidly.

»Back then, there was one lawyer, one economist and one office staff member in the secretariat for the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. Today, there are 400 administrative employees, of which at least 200 are  professional and managerial staff,« says Ingrid Kryhlmand.

Salaries in the UCPH administration

Dean: DKK 115,105

Head of division DKK 69,540

Head of administration  DKK 63,740

Senior executive officer DKK 60,559

Finance consultant: DKK 55,519

HR consultant DKK 52,964

Senior consultant DKK 50,798

Section secretary: DKK 36,991

Secretary DKK 35,196

Medical secretary DKK 33,739

The numbers are from 2018 and show the average monthly salary for employees at UCPH in Danish kroner (DKK) including pensions, supplementary allowances, and one-off remunerations, but excluding holiday pay, remuneration for special holidays and redundancy payments.

The growing administration should be seen in relation to the fact that the University of Copenhagen admits many more students today than 20 years ago, and that the faculties are growing. According to Ingrid Kryhlmand, there is more than enough to do for the many many administrative staff. In other words, it is not so much a question of the administration in itself growing, but more a question of who it is that is doing the administering, and whether they are worth the money:

»I find it atrocious that so many heads of office, deputy directors, senior consultants, senior consultants, senior executive officers and middle managers who have turned up over the past 10-15 years. This is a huge layer of middle management, and it is in itself fostering far more administrative tasks than before. You have to ask yourself whether it is necessary with all these middle managers. Are we getting value for money?« she asks.

Ingrid Kryhlmand says that many of the tasks that the professional/managerial employees do today are exactly the same tasks that were previously taken care of by office/clerk staff  – but at a lower salary.

»When an office staff member stops, you often see an automatic search for an employee at the professional/managerial level, or at best, a double job advert. If you look at, say, the most recent job advertisements for academic staff in a professional/managerial position at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, the job description is administrative assignments, and they do not contain any significant academic assignments. The way I see it,  it is completely unreasonable to hire highly paid senior consultants to do administrative operational assignments that other office staff are trained to take care of,« she says.

Ingrid Kryhlmand call it the “Huey, Dewey and Louie effect” and says that it is the reason why the number of senior consultants has tripled, while there are fewer and fewer administrative staff:

»The managers are themselves academics and find it hard to see that other groups can perform the work as well. They are most comfortable hiring someone who looks like themselves.«

Administrative tasks land on the researchers’ desks

A senior consultant at the University of Copenhagen gets an average of DKK 50,798 in pay, while a secretary gets DKK 35,196 (both including pension). The question is whether there are too many expensive senior consultants in the administration. and whether they are at the expense of office and clerical staff that have been cut back in the departments?

A lot of our research takes place in our leisure time. But we now also use our leisure time to do administrative work

Allan Randrup Thomsen, professor and staff representative for Danish specialist doctors

»Out in the departments, there has been a tendency for tasks to be pushed over to the scientific staff every time they cut back on a traditional secretary position. We use a disproportionately large amount of our time on administrative work,« says Professor of Experimental Virology at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences Allan Randrup Thomsen, who is staff representative for the Danish specialist doctors’ association.

Allan Randrup Thomsen says it is absurd that scientific staff have to spend time on administrative work which was previously done far more efficiently by technical/administrative staff at a much lower salary. The administration is a burden on the research and teaching, as it means that there is less time for the core tasks.

»The consequence of the increase in administrative tasks which we now have to take care of, is that it takes time from our research and what we have actually been recruited and trained to do. We don’t have enough time as it is. A lot of our research takes place in our leisure time. But we now also use our leisure time to do administrative work,« Allan Randrup Thomsen says.

The problem is, to take the travel reimbursement system ‘RejsUd’ system as an example, it takes up an unnecessary amount of time because the scientific staff do not have the routine in doing the registration on it. And at the same time a large number of hours is spent completing forms and sending invoices back and forwards in the system.

»It is often double work, because it still ends up having to be handed over to a secretary. Either because you’ve done it wrong, or because the registration needs to be checked somewhere else in the system,«  says Allan Randrup Thomsen. He questions whether the large amounts of internal administration are actually needed.

»In many contexts you can ask yourself whether the treatment is commensurate with the diagnosis? To a certain extent, we as a university help create internal administration. We generally have a very bureaucratic way of solving things, and it requires a lot of administrative resources,« he says.

Cheaper administration in per cent

According to director Jesper Olesen of the University of Copenhagen, it is quite natural that there has been growth in the administration relative to 20 years ago. He points out that the administration percentage overall is declining. And that the University of Copenhagen’ scientific staff (VIP) / technical-administrative staff (TAP) ratio is also unchanged over the last 10 years. Something that does not hold for other Danish universities like the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

The university has grown. There has therefore also been growth in the administration. But if we look at the figures and compare with the university’s total costs, we use a lower proportion of money on administration today than before.

Director of University of Copenhagen, Jesper Olesen

»The university has grown. There has therefore also been growth in the administration. But if we look at the figures and compare with the university’s total costs, we use a lower proportion of money on administration today than before,« says Jesper Olesen.

He believes that the increase in the number of senior consultants relative to office/clerical employees has to do with the university becoming a more complex organisation.

“Financial management and the other administrative tasks have become more complex and require a higher level of education than office/clerical staff have. At the same time, technological developments have led to many of the tasks that office/clerical employees had previously, being replaced by self-service systems which have rendered many of the positions obsolete,,« says Jesper Olesen.

Do you understand the professors who complain that they spend too much of their time on administrative tasks, and that they need a secretary who would be able to do the job twice as fast for half the salary?

»I understand the frustration of many researchers having to carry out administrative tasks, that they are not trained for. But you should remember that the perceived burden does not always match the savings that you actually achieve,« says Jesper Olesen.

Jesper Olesen says it is about financing and the prioritisation of resources.

»In the perfect world I would prefer researchers used 95 per cent of their time on research and education, and that it was office and clerical staff that did the administrative work. But the calculation is not that simple. Secretaries do not just cost half in terms of salary. They also cost the space they take up, and at the University of Copenhagen the price per square metre is expensive,« says Jesper Olesen.

He points out that technological development is also the reason why many laboratory technician positions have been cut in recent years:

»Instead of laboratory technicians, we now have robots that are handled by employees with a different education background. At the same time, we have many more PhDs today that solve many of the tasks in the laboratories which were previously carried out laboratory technicians,« says Jesper Olesen.

Not evil bureaucrats

Staff representative for technical/administrative staff Signe Møller Johansen is one of the many senior consultants who has been employed in recent years at the University of Copenhagen. She was employed 11 years ago and has seen how universities have become more micro-managed with more rules and regulations:

»The more regulations, the more there is to administer. There is a good deal of complexity in the systems, laws and regulations, that we are subject to as a university. And there is tighter political control of the universities, which means that we need to produce numbers and reports, and achieve targets to a much larger extent than previously. The boom in externally funded research has also had an impact, because it has set off more administration in the field of research,« says Signe Møller Johansen.

She does not know much about what the new group of senior consultants can do that office/clerical staff can’t. But she points out that senior consultants are a diverse group that take on a wide variety of tasks, and who work in all corners of the organisation – in research groups, at departments and faculties, and in the central administration.

»If you think that the senior consultants only work with administration and that they are all in the central administration, then you are mistaken. Things are far more complex,« says Signe Møller Johansen.

Senior consultants are roughly divided into three groups. There are the specialists who contribute to research and education and that typically included in the research teams or who are in the administration as experts in legal issues, external funding, IT, construction or budget management.

»In addition, there is a large group of professional managers or coordinators, who can be anything from laboratory managers, research coordinators, team coordinators or managers of student counsellors. And finally, there is the group of experienced generalists, who typically work as project managers or strategy consultants with interdisciplinary projects and processes across UCPH,«  says Signe Møller Johansen.

It’s not that senior consultants in the administration are just evil bureaucrats. Just like anyone else we are interested in the university functioning as simply and smoothly as possible.

Signe Møller Johansen, staff representative for professionals/managers group at UCPH

Her impression is that the tasks for the technical-administrative staff have changed over the years, and that the composition of the workforce has therefore also changed.

»I think everyone will agree that there is too much political control and too much bureaucracy. It’s not that senior consultants in the administration are just evil bureaucrats. Just like anyone else we are interested in the university functioning as simply and smoothly as possible. But it is not us that dictates the political control or the legal framework within which we work. And you will therefore not solve the problems by just getting rid of the bureaucrats. Like all the other job profiles at UCPH, we do a lot of work every day so that the whole UCPH machine can run smoothly,«  says Signe Møller Johansen.

Translated by Mike Young

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