The bureaucracy at Wageningen UR irritates staff. The university is sensitive to that and plans have been made to drastically reduce its procedures and protocols in 2015. But where’s the best place to start? Resource did the rounds and noted the biggest headaches.
Many employees of Wageningen UR find the organization’s bureaucracy annoying. This was clear from the findings of the Staff Survey of 2014. This prompted Resource to ask a handful of employees to name their biggest bureaucratic headache. It didn’t take many of them long: submitting a claim for a foreign trip. All expense claims for the trip, including the taxi ride in Accra and the meal out with foreign colleagues, must be supported with receipts, while many taxi drivers and restaurants in such distant coun- tries never write a receipt on their own letterhead. What’s more, all receipts must be scanned and initialled, otherwise the system won’t accept them. It is a complex and time-consuming activity.
Older employees fondly recall the simple system of fixed daily expenses. But we’ll never return to those days, knows Annemieke Beers, director of Operations for the Agrotechnology and Food Sciences Group. ‘That system can’t satisfy the current requirements for financial accountability,’ says Beers. And that pressure to be accountable is ever growing and ever more complex, she says with regret. At the request of the Executive Board, this past autumn Beers surveyed employees of Wageningen UR to locate the most important points of bureaucratic pain. They turned out to be in the IT systems. ‘Their inadequate quality and effectiveness cause a lot of irritation,’ reports Beers.
The next step is to improve these and other bureaucratic hotspots. She wants to do that this year. It’s no easy task, says Beers. ‘A lot of the bureaucracy is imported into the system. Funding bodies like the ministry, the top sector, NWO and the EU keep increasing the demands they place on a project. We can’t change that.’ What matters, she thinks, is to deal as effectively as possible with these external rules and conditions. In addition, Wageningen UR also creates its own bureaucracy for its staff. The detested system for claiming expenses for foreign trips, for example. That’s something that will be tackled this year, if Beers has her way. Other personnel and expense claim systems are also on her to-do list. As far as she’s concerned, researchers should delegate more administrative jobs to the secretary. Obviously, there’s work to be done
RESOURCE'S LIST OF WAGENINGEN RED TAPETHE (FOREIGN) EXPENSE CLAIM Claiming the foreign trip isn’t the only thing that’s complex, in fact any expense claim is complex at Wageningen UR. Suppose you buy a book for your work. Because you order the book through bol.com, you receive the receipt and invoice digitally. You’d think you could simply submit them to the expenses system, but no, they need to be initialled. So you have to print the receipt, initial it, scan it and send it. Isn’t there a simpler way?
THE PROJECT CONDITIONS Even a novice Wageningen researcher regularly submits quotes for new pro- jects to a top sector or the EU. That means filling in a whole slew of forms. Each application has its own format and has a host of requirements that often have nothing to do with your proposal. A presentation error in the application usually means instant rejection. What’s more, over time the accountants of the funding bodies have become stricter. You have to justify your meal claims and account for everything down to the last five euros. This keeps adding to the complexity of Wageningen UR’s project account- ing. Obviously some bureaucracy is imported.
GOOD INTENTIONS Good intentions are great. In recent years, for example, the university has decided to improve the studyability of its programmes, to better organize the study choice system and to improve its care of foreign students. That’s why there are now performance agreements with government, a code of conduct designed to assist foreign students and a scheme for checking study choices. Codes of conduct come with rules that have to be drawn up, enforced, assessed and evaluated.
THE SOLE TRADER’S INVOICE A freelancer or sole trader who wants to supply text, a photo or a piece of furniture has to deal with the Purchasing and Finance departments. His first step is to submit a quote. The Purchasing department has to approve this estimate and can then give it an order number. Once the sole trader has supplied his service, his immediate client has to visit the financial department. There, the supplier is first entered in the system then a check is made to see whether the claim matches the estimate. If the amounts do not match, the invoice is rejected and must be resubmitted to get the payment made. On balance, processing the invoice sometimes costs more than the job itself.
TOILET DOCKET Suppose the toilet is backing up. You used to call the reception and the problem was resolved in ten minutes. Now you have to send an email to the Facilities Company (FB). They make up (1) a docket stating all the details of the department and the toilet. The FB then emails (2) the reception to report that the toilet doesn’t flush properly. The reception then calls (3) the building manager to ask whether it can be dealt with. If not, then (4) a plumber is called. This procedure also applies when writing paper or toilet rolls run out or the printer jams. There used to be direct contact with suppliers and manufacturers, and now dockets are made up.
BILLABLE HOURS Like DLO employees, university researcher have to ‘book their hours’, which means keeping track of how many hours they spend on research, supervising PhD candidates and teaching. In practice, their activities are often too complex and fragmented to account for accurately. That’s why researchers record, for example, that they supervise their PhD candidates on Monday and Tuesday, spend Wednesday teaching, and so forth. Problems arise when their leave days, which are coupled to the billable hours system, don’t match this information. Then the accountant comes down on them like a tonne of bricks. That makes booking hours a tricky business.