University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


University of Copenhagen, constantly in the red?

For the second year in a row, the University of Copenhagen has had to let staff go because of a bad economy. Leif Søndergaard, staff representative for academic employees at the university, comments on the effects of repeated rounds of cutbacks

Up to 145 members of staff at the University of Copenhagen have been sacked in this round of cutbacks, as a result of the 2010 budget. Questions about how necessary this is have been raised amongst the staff.

But cutbacks are now a reality for the University of Copenhagen employees, for whom have the Personnel Policy principle number four, ‘Secure Working Conditions’, take on a whole new meaning.

Instead of sharing the burden of financial cutbacks across the whole university, the management have chosen to hit hard in select areas . Thus the troop of full-time lecturers at the Department of Biology will have been cut down by a total of over 40 per cent after this year’s and last year’s cutbacks. My colleagues predict that teaching will be in a chaos from as early as this spring.

As a staff representative, I often talk to my teaching and research colleagues these days. They report that the morale is as low as it gets at the affected departments; not only among the colleagues facing the sack, but amongst all of the academic staff.

It is clear that the cutbacks last year hit those aged 60 and above in particular, whilst this time it’s those aged over 50. This is making everyone anxious for the coming years: Will I have to leave my house and home, or can I last until I retire?

The younger scientists are asking themselves: Is there a future for me at at the university at all? Or should I instead look elsewhere before I get too old?

Ph.d.-students are wondering how the university management can see fit to fire their tutor. I have heard of an international Ph.d.-student, who had just come to Denmark because they had heard that the University of Copenhagen was a good place to study, and who is in complete shock because their tutor has been fired.

Trust in the university management is as low as it can get; one believes in the management’s claims even less than previously, and trust in them was already pretty limited. From what I hear from my colleagues, we can erase Personnel Policy basic principle number five, ‘Rewarding Cooperation’, from the Personnel Policy.

I hear from my international colleagues at KU that their networks from back home are deeply shocked and shaken that the University of Copenahgen would just simply fire academic staff in this way. Initially, international universities refuse to believe that it is possible to fire researchers so easily in Denmark. Once they have been convinced of this actually happening, they are shocked to hear the extent of the cutbacks.

Among the fired this year and the last, there are several internationals that the university has now turned into very poor ambassadors for itself abroad. These researchers will now travel back to their home countries in Europe and the USA, and pass on their account of the chaotic and catastrophic conditions here.

Thus the University of Copenhagen’s image abroad will be destroyed for many years to come, and it will be more than difficult to convince international researchers that it is an attractive option to work here, and to entice international students to study here.

I am incredulous that the university management has decided to introduce this terrible working environment at the university, for it must have been a conscious decision.

As a professional management, they must have been well aware of, and have discussed, the consequences of the 2010 budget to the organisation, before they made it so? It’s not visible in the minutes of the meeting , but that doesn’t mean that the professional members of the management didn’t consider what effect cutbacks would have on the local milieu, and on the research and education. There certainly isn’t anything surprising in what I have reported from the local workplaces at the departments.

There will be plenty to see to if my colleagues’ enthusiasm and commitment is to be re-established. It will take a long time, presumably years. I hope that the management has a plan for how to go about this. But I fear the answer. Based on the experience of last year’s cutbacks, there’s a great chance that the answer will be: nothing!