Science - June 22, 2006

English to be working language in 2008

In 2008 English will become the working language of Wageningen UR. Official documents will be written in English and no longer translated from Dutch, according to the draft institutional plan, which outlines the policy for the coming four years.
‘International staff and students should no longer think, what have I missed?’ explains the president of the Executive Board, Dr Aalt Dijkhuizen.

Introducing English as the standard language fits in Wageningen UR’s policy of aiming to become the European knowledge centre for nutrition and the environment. To achieve this the board wants to attract more European students. At present some thirty European students come to Wageningen each year to do an MSc programme; the aim is to have at least a hundred in four years’ time.

The executive board has been preparing the four-year institutional plan (IP/OP) since last year, and has had extensive consultations with those involved inside and outside Wageningen UR, from members of parliament to professors. The consultations have produced many ideas.

One of the ways the executive board intends to provide an incentive to improving the quality of education and research is by rewarding good groups. ‘The groups that do better will get more opportunities. Quality will be rewarded.’ The board has already compiled a list of criteria for judging the quality of research. When the annual budget for the groups is determined, the number of publications and citations and the number of projects and grants from the Netherlands Scientific Research (NWO) will be taken into account, along with other criteria.

When it comes to assessing the quality of teaching and education, Dijkhuizen is still looking for suitable measuring instruments. ‘At present we have the Muggenenquete, which indicates student satisfaction. This is important but does not represent all aspects. That’s why we are now trying to compile a basket of good performance indicators together with Van Hall Larenstein.’
Dijkhuizen stresses that quality is very important for Wageningen UR. ‘Our salaries are high, so we can’t compete when it comes to price. If we are to have a good price-quality ratio, then quality must be high. That means we have to make choices – you can’t be champion in all disciplines.’

The coming four years the executive board plans to invest millions in research on three themes: Biobased economy, Nutrition, health and behaviour and Climate-proof design and development of coastal areas and deltas. Each theme will receive one million euros from the institutes’ ‘basic knowledge budget’. According to Dijkhuizen, the graduate schools of the university have pledged to make a similar sum of money available. ‘Part of that amount have to come out of their own resources, but part of the contribution will come from the extra money we will make available from the Focus 2006 cuts. Last year that money went to education. Next year we intend to invest in research.’

Korné Versluis

IPOP at a glance Medical alliance
Wageningen UR plans to create a strategic alliance with a medical faculty to strengthen its research on nutrition and health, with the objective of acquiring big research projects. More students
The annual intake of students must increase to 1150. The executive board wants broad Bachelor’s programmes, in which new specialisations can be set up easily to respond quickly to new trends. University recruitment will focus on a small number of attractive programmes. Higher tariffs
The institutes’ tariffs will go up to improve their financial position. Less bureaucracy
The administration needs to be streamlined. The number of administrative systems needs to be reduced along the lines of ‘lean, mean and simple’. Three themes
Extra investments for three themes: Biobased economy, Nutrition, health and behaviour and Climate-proof design and development of coastal areas and deltas. A small proportion of the investments is intended for education. The executive board plans to attract more students for these themes. Three fields of expertise
Investments will be made in three fields of expertise: bio-nanotechnology, systems biology, and scaling and governance. Cooperation with hbo
The plan is to create one educational institute for both the University and Van Hall Larenstein University of Professional Education (hbo). Wageningen UR should become an example of successful cooperation within higher education. The cooperation has not yet taken off, and that must change, Dijkhuizen thinks. ‘In four years things will be very different.’ Programmes will be better coordinated and matched so that hbo students can transfer more easily to the university. A distinction between hbo and university will be maintained. Tenure track
A trial tenure track system will be introduced. Each year, two or three promising young researchers will have the opportunity to participate in the programme. They will get extra guidance and opportunities to prepare them for a professorship. Job contract
All employees in scale fifteen or higher will get a job contract for a period of five years. At the end of the period their performance will be assessed and on the basis of this they may be offered a different job. One organisation
The organisational structure needs to be streamlined. The executive board is considering getting rid of the ‘individual company structure’ of the research institutes and merging them into one company (bv). There is an outline of the IPOP (in Dutch) on the Wageningen UR intranet.