University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Give us back the honest dialogue

Administration reform — Although the University Act ensures employee and student participation in important decisions, the entire process of the administrative reform has been characterized by pseudo participation.

Universities in Denmark are not just ordinary businesses. They are places that lay the foundation for Denmark’s future by conducting research and providing research-based education at the highest international level.

This task is unique to the university as an institution, which is why Section 10, paragraph 6, of the Danish University Act states that every university board must ensure that employees and students are not only involved but also have co-determination in »significant decisions.«

Nevertheless, university director Søren Skydsgaard managed to go through an entire interview on the administrative reform in this media without giving concrete answers to any of the University Post’s relevant and very specific inquiries about examples of employee co-determination.

Analysis phase: proximity and bad experience with centralization

It is my impression that many employees were looking forward to cleaning up bureaucracy and frustrating processes and create a more efficient and user friendly administration. But it seems that throughout the process, there has been a blind focus on cost savings and a desire to centralize administration and decision-making processes. Despite employees’ repeated calls for the opposite.

In the ‘analysis phase,’ questionnaires were sent out that were so broadly formulated and showed such poor insight into university work that many questions were impossible to answer in a meaningful manner.

Yet the clearest conclusions of the analysis phase were that employees are asking for proximity, and that the existing centralized units achieve the lowest ratings of user satisfaction.

Based on this analysis, a design proposal for the board was prepared in the autumn of 2023, which— with its corporate units, service centers, partner models, and a mantra saying that digital apps can substitute for proximity— stood in stark contrast to the conclusions of the analysis phase.

The rejection that went unheard

Based on this, employees in [the staff-management cordinating committee, ed.] HSU rejected supporting the design proposal— the rejection occured at the meeting on September 21, 2023. However, the management chose to ignore this, and the board decided to continue unabated and launched the design phase based on the rejected proposal.

It is worth noting that employee representatives in HSU specifically justified their rejection based on bad experience with the already implemented centralizations, service centers, and partner models, and turned down the concept of app-based proximity.

READ ALSO: Is the reform a foregone conclusion — or do employees have a say in the decision-making?

The proposal was next presented at various information meetings, where employees once again expressed their concerns, and once again were reassured that their concerns would be taken seriously and that good solutions would be found.

Design phase: one-sided focus on cuts rather than improvements

In the design phase, lack of real dialogue persisted. Personally, I wasn’t involved in any of the many working groups in the design phase, but I have spoken with several colleagues across the university that were. They all share the impression of a one-sided focus on cuts and a lack of responsiveness to concerns.

Everyone seemed to be left with a feeling of not have been heard or taken seriously

Also common is the impression of a remarkable indifference to the plethora of suggestions for real administrative improvements, which could immediately be implemented, resulting in an improved and more efficient administration.

This impression is confirmed, for example, in the op-ed by the five VIP representatives from various user groups established in the design phase.

Everyone appears to be left with a feeling of not being heard or taken seriously. This applies to both academic staff and technical and administrative personnel, in departments, at faculties, and in central administration.

The proposed design for UCPH’s future administration is in all essential details identical to the design proposal rejected by the employee representatives in HSU. Thus, the proposal to consolidate administration into corporate silos and install user-oriented service in three service centers with outgoing partners is maintained. Moreover, there is continued insistence on using online banking-like solutions and chatbots to substitute for proximity in administration.

Result: bad timing— and closure of the University Post

Particularly worrying is the timeline, where it is planned to dismiss 190 employees before any simplifications have even been implemented, and then ask the remaining overburdened employees to plan and implement new processes, governance structures, and digital solutions, which are not yet in place in the current proposal.

It doesn’t require particularly well-developed analytical skills to predict that the administration will completely collapse and take years to recover if the reform is implemented revolution-style as currently proposed.

Symptomatic of the process is also the decision to announce the closure of University Post as a publicly accessible, independent media, as a side note in an appendix to the decision proposal.

It is particularly paradoxical when considering the focus of recent years on branding the University of Copenhagen as one university. It is in the pages of University Post that we as employees can keep track of what is happening at the rest of the university — and debate across faculties.

Lack of real dialogue damages trust

The biggest problem with the lack of dialogue is that we end up creating an inefficient organization. It is a problem that employees in design teams and working groups do not feel that their experiences and concerns are being heard. But even more importantly, all the employees who are dedicated to delivering the best possible service lose their engagement.

Experience shows that it is important to  »involve employees early and ensure their engagement«

At the back of Boston Consulting’s benchmark analysis of the administration, which forms the basis for the board’s decision to launch the reform, there is a review of the experiences from other, much smaller, administrative reforms at Danish universities. The experiences show that it is important to »involve employees early and ensure their engagement.« This can only be achieved if there is a genuine interest in engaging in dialogue and understanding the employees’ perspective.

When the university director can go through an entire interview without providing a single concrete example of employee participation, but instead resorts to hot air and undocumented declarations that everything will be fantastic, it damages trust and reinforces the widespread and growing frustration over the project.

Let’s reform instead of revolutionize

Fortunately, the solution is right in front of us: throughout the process, employees and students have shown a huge willingness to engage in dialogue. They have shared their frustrations and innovative improvement proposals. Discussed meaningless workflows and unclear areas of responsibility. Provided examples of local solutions for others to follow.

Let’s institutionalize this and instead of the destructive administrative revolution being proposed, gradually reform the organization by using the many proposals for administrative improvements that have been put forward.

A university thrives on dialogue and arguments

We could ask the local units every year to point out processes that are frustrating and have a UCPH ombudsman office look into whether they can be improved. That way, I am sure that we will both improve administration, revive job satisfaction, and save resources.

A university thrives on dialogue and arguments. We are used to dealing with complex issues and finding the best solutions through discussion. It is with sincere willingness for dialogue that we maintain UCPH as a world-class university—and comply with the University Act.