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University of Copenhagen
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Scientist board member: A new prorector’s salary will be worth it

Management — A new prorector position is to help the University of Copenhagen identify and hire the best international scientists, both for research and management positions, says professor and board member Jesper Grodal. He calls it a key position at the university.

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is expanding its management team with an extra prorector who will be responsible for strengthening the university’s research. The price will be in the vicinity of DKK 1.5 million a year. But according to math professor Jesper Grodal, it is a price worth paying.

»The costs of his or her salary will be quickly recuperated,« says Jesper Grodal, who is also an employee-elected member of the Board of Directors of the University of Copenhagen. In the autumn of 2019 he secured his place with DNA researcher Eske Willerslev, after promising a significantly increased focus on researchers’ conditions at the University of Copenhagen and giving researchers more influence over the decisions that affect them.

READ ALSO: Eske Willerslev and Jesper Grodal: »It feels like the decision-makers don’t know what they’re doing«

According to Jesper Grodal, the future prorector can be a kind of ambassador for research in the recruitment to the University of Copenhagen, he says:

»It’s about recruiting the best staff internationally. And this requires that you have an understanding of how international research works. International recruitment of PhD students and postdocs most often takes place in January, for example, with offers and counteroffers, so if you delay it until the month of April, this can be a problem. This is a simple thing, but it is nevertheless quite important, and perhaps not something that an HR department takes into account when organising their procedures.«

»Permanent appointments are probably the most important decisions that a university makes«

Jesper Grodal says that the board hopes to have a strong international researcher on the prorector position who can help set up good procedures at the university.

»At a slightly higher level, for example, UCPH is launching ambitious tenure-track and professor-track programmes following the same pattern as universities abroad, and here, in-depth knowledge on how these actually take place is absolutely crucial so that we avoid beginner mistakes. Permanent appointments are probably the most important decisions that a university makes.«

»At US universities a provost is employed to facilitate and assure the quality of recruitment, and to make sure that relevant professional expertise is involved, both internally and externally. And this has served them very well.«

The University of Copenhagen has previously had a prorector with direct responsibility for research, namely the chemistry professor Thomas Bjørnholm. He left the University of Copenhagen in 2018 for a position as scientific director of the Villum Foundation.

Has the University of Copenhagen been in need of someone like Bjørnholm in the intervening period?

Cutting this particular position probably does not make good business sense, either for research or for the bottom line, in the long run.

Jesper Grodal

»UCPH employs approximately 5,000  VIP and 4,000 TAP staff, has an annual turnover of DKK 9 billion and wants to become a world leader in research. Then it is a good idea to have a leading international researcher with specific responsibility for the research area in top management. Cutting this particular position probably does not make good business sense, either for research or for the bottom line, in the long run.

»It’s no secret that researchers at UCPH have at times felt that there was too great a distance between the researchers and the administration. This is also why it is important to get more top researchers at UCPH directly involved in management. It is not, in my view, a career path. It is a way for leading researchers, who already have their careers in place, for shorter or longer periods of time to give something back to the community,« he says.

What can this prorector do if, say, he or she were to help find a new permanent dean for the Faculty of Humanities?

»The prorector is to help faculties design their procedures and sometimes also go in and help out in individual cases. When one of my colleagues was recruited from Stanford, the former Prorector for Research Thomas Bjørnholm grabbed the phone and persuaded him to accept our offer. This made an impression,« says Jesper Grodal.

But it’ mostly about good procedures, he says. And about the University of Copenhagen living up to its own strategic goals of recruiting and retaining the best international researchers.

»This is a point in the university’s strategy,« says Jesper Grodal.

The university board has on purpose planned a long application process with deadline at the end of August 2020, so that Rector Henrik C. Wegener will have some months for a thorough international search for suitable candidates, according to Jesper Grodal. He encourages his colleagues, nationally and internationally, to talk to Wegener and others in management if they are tempted to apply.

»I sincerely hope that everyone at UCPH will help out in getting a strong field of candidates. We hope to get a candidate who is a top international researcher, and the right person in the job will really be able to make a difference,« says Jesper Grodal.

Job interviews are expected to take place in September and the board is likely to make a decision on the appointment in October.

Translated by Mike Young