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University director: »I acknowledge that employees will be uncertain about the future for a long period of time«

Q&A — The University Post spoke to university director Søren Munk Skydsgaard about the reform to the administration at the University of Copenhagen, the hiring freeze, and upcoming layoffs.

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) stopped all non-essential hiring on administrative positions at the beginning of February 2024,

This was to minimise the number of layoffs lined up the second half of 2024 as a result of the reform to the reform of its administration.

The freeze on all non-essential hiring will remain in place until the end of 2024. If there are any vacant technical and administrative positions during this period, managers need to assess whether it is business-critical before they refill the position.

The University Post spoke to UCPH director Søren Munk Skydsgaard.

READ ALSO: University of Copenhagen freezes all non-essential admin hiring

Which positions are of so-called business-critical grade, and which can be dispensed with?

»I cannot say exactly which positions. Managers will assess it locally in each individual case. As a manager, you have to consider which positions you can choose not to fill for a period of time, and which are absolutely necessary.«

You say that the decision will be made locally. But you have just decided that an assessment of whether a vacant technical and administrative staff position is to be filled moves up one organisational level. Why?

There will be a long period of uncertainty and it is a challenge. But it’s about reducing the need for redundancies

University director Søren Munk Skydsgaard

»We have discussed it in the General Collaboration Committee (HSU) and have agreed to introduce a qualified hiring freeze – not an absolute hiring freeze. And the way to qualify it is precisely through dialogue with one level above, where you, as manager, need to explain why a position is of business-critical grade. I think we will make the most informed decisions in this way.«

So managers who are further away from the specific workplaces and tasks are better at assessing which positions can be dispensed with?

»No, the assessment takes place in a dialogue between the manager, who would normally make the decision, and the manager above them. In this way, you stress test the arguments for why a position needs to be refilled.«

External consultants are not included in the hiring freeze. Why?

»The hiring freeze has been introduced as a preventive measure to limit the number of layoffs in connection with the reform to the administration. The hiring freeze therefore only applies to the positions that will be affected by the cuts. The use of external consultants will not affect the need for layoffs.«

Lack of colleagues

The hiring freeze also applies to fixed-term contracts. But wouldn’t it make sense to hire temporary staff in positions that cannot be refilled because of the hiring freeze?

»In some cases, you will have the option of hiring in fixed-term positions. The hiring freeze is not absolute. We just want to make sure that the decision to hire are better informed. There may be situations where you assess that another permanent employee would be able to take care of a new function. You have to assess whether you can make ends meet locally without taking on new hires.«

The hiring freeze will so far apply until the end of 2024, that is almost a year. Doesn’t this set up a really long period where present employees run the risk of having to do twice as much work?

»There will be a long period of uncertainty and it is a challenge. But it is about reducing the need for layoff, and we have therefore agreed in the General Collaboration Committee that it will run for the rest of the year.«

The purpose of the non-essential hiring freeze is not that employees should have to double their work load

University director Søren Munk Skydsgaard


During this period, some employees will lose one or several colleagues because they quit, go on maternity leave, sick leave or do something else entirely. Who is to take over the specific tasks from these missing colleagues?

»This is precisely why any rehires have to be a local managerial assessment. It may be that you can downgrade some tasks during the period, or move things around so that you make ends meet. The purpose of the qualified hiring freeze is not that employees should have to double their work load. And in some cases we will, of course, have to refill vacant positions.«

But there will probably still be employees who, in the course of the next few years, will take over tasks from a departing colleague on top of their existing responsibilities. Can you prevent them from being overworked?

»The intention is to avoid it. That is why this is a qualified hiring freeze. It will be a managerial assessment of what is possible and what is not. And if it turns out that the assessment you made first is not correct, you have to make a new one.«

Getting the balance right

Do the various preventive measures (hiring freeze and voluntary resignations, ed.) not mean that there is the risk of a huge loss of experience in the UCPH administration?

»When you make big changes, there is always a risk that some employees will choose to quit. Employees that we are sorry to lose. That’s the way it is with big changes, you will never be able to completely avoid it.«

And it’s worth it?

Of course, it is up to individual employees whether they can live with this, or whether the transition phase is too uncertain for them to want to stay

University director Søren Munk Skydsgaard

»The administration reform is about creating a unified and more efficient administration that supports a cohesive university — better than it does today. We will hold on to that vision. In the transitional phase there will be costs that are an inevitable part of this process.«

Why should UCPH administrative staff choose to stay when the future is so uncertain?

»This is an assessment that individual employees will have to make themselves. As part of the visions we have for the future UCPH, we strive to make the administration a really exciting place to work. The administration will support the university even better than it does today, and this will provide new opportunities for administrative staff. They will be able to have other types of careers, expand their skills, and have greater opportunities for mobility.«

»But of course, it is up to individual employees whether they can live with this, or whether the transition phase is too uncertain for them to want to stay. And when we avert layoffs through the freeze on non-essential hiring, there will be more current employees who can continue in the new administration.«

Nothing new about layoffs

When can employees expect clarity about upcoming layoffs?

»We will discuss it on an ongoing basis with the General Collaboration Committee, HSU, and we will have a follow-up group meeting in mid-March, where we will continue the discussion. Whether we finish there or not, I cannot say at this stage. But I want to get the plan completed as soon as possible so that we can communicate something to employees. We expect the layoffs to take place in the second half of 2024. I can’t say anything more.«

Just a guess. How many jobs are to be cut?

»I’ve been reluctant to guess, because it depends on many different things. I simply don’t know.«

Is it fair to keep thousands of employees in this state of uncertainty for almost a year?

»In planning the administration reform, we have had to consider a lot of different things. The design phase, which we are currently in, is a very comprehensive and complex process that we could easily have spent more time on. But this would also have prolonged the uncertainty for employees, so we’ve been working to find the right balance.«

»But I acknowledge that employees will be uncertain about the future for a long period of time«.