Organisation - February 9, 2012

Unfamiliarity with rules for talent assessment

There is broad support for the basic principles of tenure track but room for improvement in the implementation, says the evaluation committee that reviewed the new career policy for scientists.

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The university introduced the tenure track system in September 2009. Scientists can only get a contract or get promoted if they achieve measureable quality objectives and are capable of developing into a professor holding a personal chair. 91 scientists are now on the tenure track - 48 new appointments and 43 among existing staff. But more than two years after its introduction many participants still don't know exactly how they are assessed and scored, or by whom.
The evaluation advisory committees should explain better how they assess whether someone can start on the tenure track, says the committee. Many researchers think the 'hard' criteria (how many publications, PhD students, grants) are the deciding factor whereas the committee also looks at 'soft' criteria (talent and skills). They should explain that much better to candidates, says the committee in its recommendations. 'The tenure track criteria have come in for a lot of criticism. The evaluation advisory committee recommendations should be transparent, with more focus on the quality assessment', says committee chairperson Tammo Bult.
When the tenure track was introduced in 2009, the five science groups each implemented the career policy in their own way. Each science group developed its own procedures according to its own priorities, which has led to a divergence in the rules in a number of respects. The committee advocates an exchange between the science groups of knowledge and best practices, with the aim of making implementation more uniform.
Many scientists are not yet familiar with the rules of tenure track, but that is partly their own fault, says Bult. 'I was struck by the fact that many participants and professors don't know enough about how tenure track works. As a professor you ought to know the rules too in order to know what is expected of you. The information available on the website could be improved but you can also actively search for information yourself by calling the HRM department.'
If the career policy is a success, the university will have a lot more professors holding a personal chair in ten years' time. 'What kind of qualities will the professors need then and how are you going to manage that?' asks Bult. 'You should be thinking about that already, otherwise it will just hit you.' And what if the participants unfortunately fail to make the grade? There is not going to be a general 'exit policy' aimed at helping them get a new job; the committee advocates tailored solutions within the chair groups.
The Executive Board has adopted the committee's recommendations. 'The evaluation shows we are going in the right direction in recruiting, developing and retaining top-quality talent', says rector magnificus Martin Kropff.

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