Science - January 13, 2005

‘Problems don’t disappear in new year’

Wageningen UR president Dr Aalt Dijkhuizen warned that it would be another unsettled year for the research institutes, especially with the implementation of the Focus 2006 recovery plan. The university should be in for a quieter time, at least until 2007. Here is a summary of his speech.

‘Last year we laid the foundations that will enable us to create more space for education and research in the coming years. I am optimistic about the preliminary results. The changes in the management model have resulted in a more concerted effort from central management under our new motto, ‘together because’. We are now working together on Focus 2006, and give each other constructive criticism while refining the plans. We have agreed jointly to approach the foreign market under the flag ‘Wageningen International’, and we have started with the Wageningen Business Generator to get more out of our patents and spinouts.

‘But, despite the positive developments, things did not go well last year; the institutes ran at a loss, which means we will have to make changes. Problems don’t just disappear because a new year has started. In the coming weeks we will make the definitive choices for the reorganisation/recovery plan for the institutes, Focus 2006. What we already know is that this will include the planned reduction in overhead costs of 25 percent. We will also name the subject areas and technologies that we shall start building down, those there is no longer demand for.

‘In 2004 we already decided on the first portion of Focus 2006. Of the 400 positions that we have to scrap, 255 have already gone. For the second phase, which will include the overhead reductions, we will reserve extra money to help people with relocation. Once the decisions are finalised for Focus 2006, we will concentrate on the big themes and technologies that we want to spearhead in the future. We must be selective. We need to assess in which areas we are really good and whether there is a market for our knowledge and expertise. Do we have a good network for working the market? We have to find our strength in cooperation between the university and the research institutes.

‘The university looks set for a good year; student numbers are growing, which makes the financial picture healthier. Keep working and hard and stay alert are the watchwords. We cannot afford to sit still, as there will probably be elections in 2007, and a change of government could change everything.’ / KV