In the seven themes of my program, you will discover some of the financially viable actions that I wish to implement to lead our University forward
Building on all the efforts of recent years, we can progress towards a University that inspires and motivates us all
ULB and you
We are the ULB! However, the concerns of a very large number of staff members point to a general atmosphere where criticism abounds. The distance between taking your concerns into account and what is feasible is, however, not so big.
The specific measures proposed here would make it possible to improve everyone’s wellbeing. For an overall view of what is possible, they need to be combined with additional measures developed in other chapters. These measures are based on a meticulous analysis of their capacity to be financed. You can read my financial proposals in the ‘ULB et ses moyens’ [ULB and its means] chapter, whilst keeping in mind that allocating current resources is a political choice to be weighed based on needs and priorities. Finally, I don’t think that a lack of resources justifies everything…
In this chapter, you will read about proposals concerning:
The full time and part time careers of members of the academic staff (ULB, FNRS, Clinicians, ‘cadre d’extinction’)
The members of the scientific staff
The deliberative and participative processes
The full time and part time careers of members of the academic staff
The measures proposed here mainly concern academic career management. They need to be read with those that I propose in the chapters relating to teaching and research as well as the measures relating to the distribution of posts between the academic, scientific and PATG staff in the chapter relating to ‘moyens de l’ULB’ [The ULB and its means]. The main objective is to improve the working conditions of all members of the university community.
A. Full time academics
There are currently three to four stages in an academic career
- Recruitment at the level of ‘premier assistant’ for those who do not have eight years of seniority after obtaining their doctorate (530 salary scale)
- Regularisation or recruitment at the level of ‘charge de cours’ for those who have eight years of seniority
- Promotion following a competitive procedure to the level of professor for those who have twelve years of seniority (14.5 promotions per year on average in recent years)
- Promotion following a competitive procedure to the level of full professor (six promotions per year on average in recent years)
a. Eliminating the position of first teaching assistant, so that the first level would be that of ‘chargé de cours’.
Recruiting at the level of ‘premier assistant’ is advantageous for the institution as it can benefit from an 80% reduction in the payroll tax. However, it does not recognise the value of the hired academics and it is furthermore not an attractive measure in Belgium, as it is no longer in force in other Belgian universities, nor internationally where universities equivalent to the ULB recruit at levels that give greater recognition to people’s value.
The 33 ‘premier assistants’ currently part of our academic staff should be regularized at the level of ‘chargé de cours’ as of the academic year 2020-2021, to which five to ten new recruits at this level would need to be added in 2020. The annual cost of such a measure will amount to less than 100,000 euro for the first three years. The more rapid growth in income at the ‘chargé de cours’ level will lead to an increase in the annual cost of this measure of around 140,000 euro for the following three years but will remain less than 200,000 euro in nine years. This is not an excessive cost and takes account of the subsequent promotions.
b. Increasing the number of promotions to the level of professor.
These promotions are only possible within the admissibility conditions noted above and, after a competitive procedure, the candidates will have to justify their excellence in the two main university missions: research and teaching. In the last ten years, the ULB has promoted 14.5 professors on average per year.
This situation creates frustration, is demotivating and is not perceived as fair. The candidates are not promoted, not necessarily because they do not have a high quality track record but because the promotions are handed out on the basis of the numbers of academics retiring (possibly spread out over a few years). In addition, although the ULB has taken care to set up identical rules for the evaluation of candidates from all faculties and has specified the evaluation criteria, one has to admit that the different scientific committees do not apply the same quality requirements: evaluations continue to be very different. In addition, we should recognise that, at this stage of their career, there are very few members of the academic staff who do not deserve a promotion.
Even if (and perhaps because) the requirement of a quality track record is what is expected in the academic world, we must admit that, in current circumstances, it is illusory and vain. If all the professors were excellent at everything, what would excellence then mean?
All ‘chargé de cours’ who have achieved the grade 700 + 15 must have been promoted based on the following criteria:
- Positive opinion of the scientific committees
- ‘Very good’ evaluation in one of the three main missions and at least ‘good’ in the others
Knowing that on average academics start their ‘Chargé de cours’ mandate at the 700 + 6 level, to reach the 700 + 15 level they will on average have a seniority of nine years as ‘Chargé de cours’ and at least 12 years of seniority after their PhD.
On the basis of the current distribution in the academic ranks and given that the university already grants on average 14.5 promotions to the professor level per year, the average cost of such a measure will remain below 500,000 euro per year in a nine-year time frame and will obviously be more limited in the short term (no more than 120,000 euro per year on average for the first three years).
This cost will be financed by the measures set out in the chapter ‘l’ULB et ses moyens’ [The ULB and its means].
c. Promotions to the level of full professor
The number of full professors represents almost 20% of the academic staff (19.7%). Promotions to this level can be increased.
They will continue to be obtained after competition procedures. By contrast, as for the promotions to the level of professor, ‘excellence’ must no longer be demanded for the three main missions of an academic but at least “very good” for one of these, and “good” ‘good’ in the others.
B. Supporting and recognising part-time academics
From its very beginning, the university has had the opportunity to have part-time academics within its ranks. And yet it does not recognise them enough. What would the university be without the rich and fertile contribution of these colleagues, who offer it their experience and expertise?
As a member of the Faculty of Law, I measure their contributions, which enrich the university. Full time and part time academics are complementary. Part-time academics are often perplexed by the lack of recognition from the university. In several faculties, particularly at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics & Management, a number of part-time professors give classes free of charge or give 120 hours of classes whilst being remunerated for a quarter of their workload because they are passionate about giving their time and expertise to students and to the University. Most pay for the costs of photocopies and administration etc. out of their own pocket.
Most ask for nothing other than basic administrative support and the fair recognition of their role within our university.
The ULB owes it to itself to recognise and value their contribution, harmonise their status and offer them administrative support.
A number of clinicians give classes without any formal title at the ULB. Their dedication to the institution, teaching and clinical research deserve recognition, upon evaluation of their files, with the title of ‘maître d’enseignement’ authorised to use the title of professor.
This recognition, which does not cost anything for the ULB or for the hospitals, does not change anything for the salary of these clinicians (whether they have a remunerated post at the ULB or not) and would be the minimum recognition they should receive, considering their commitment to the university.
D. Permanent FNRS staff
The ULB must pursue its policy of repatriating into its academic staff FNRS (Senior)Research associates. At stake is the possibility to continue recruiting permanent Research associates, given the fixed number of permanent FNRS positions.
At the same time and according to the same logic of an equivalence in careers, the ULB must also work to improve the pay conditions of FNRS Research Associates, that are well below those of academics within the university system – even if one takes account of the difference in their respective workloads. The pensions of Senior Research Associates and Research Directors, are also significantly less advantageous than those of members of the academic staff within the university.
E. Members of the academic staff on the ‘cadre d’extinction’
The ULB has in recent years included within its structure several colleges (Horta, la Cambre, ISTI, Francisco Ferrer). Despite the apprehensions of all the parties, these integrations have a logic and are an added-value for all. The faculty of architecture is celebrating its ten year anniversary at the ULB. This is a success! In a few years, the translators and interpreters will also celebrate their 10-years at the ULB. The pride in belonging to the Université libre de Bruxelles is very real among our colleagues, even if they come under a different academic system, which is heading for extinction. While belonging to this ‘specific’ system, which guarantees continuity in their careers, does not give rise to any real criticism, there is a legitimate demand to see the ULB better support these colleagues in terms of research which they have been asked to develop with very little resources.
It is a matter of coherence and political choice to harness the added value of incorporating these institutions and to support research in these disciplines. It is also a matter of integrity to recognise the minimum rights of our staff, whatever system they are in: access to the crèche, reduction of registration fees for children of members of the ULB staff etc.
Support for research by appointing two full time teaching assistants in architecture and in LTC in the “Ecole de Traduction et d’Interprétation ISTI – Corremans — TI department — (would come to 135,000 euro per year. In four years, this support will have helped strengthen research.
Adapting the working conditions of scientific staff
Teaching and research at the ULB are reliant on members of the scientific staff as well as of the academic staff.
The workload of teaching assistants are sometimes too heavy to allow them to keep up with their research. In addition, the expected teaching load differs from one faculty to another whereas they are subject to a single set of rules that does not take into account the specificities of the disciplines concerned. Measures need to be taken to help teaching assistants make up for the delay, due to their heavy teaching workload, in their scientific and international files compared to those of research fellows.
It would be appropriate to review the allocation criteria between faculties in order to better take into account these specificities and to adapt everyone’s workload (see the chapter ‘l’ULB et ses moyens’ [The ULB and its means].
It remains a fact that the status of assistant, contracted researcher or grant-receiving researcher is too precarious. Their time spent as a researcher is, for most of them, not taken into account when calculating their pension and the number of years of work taken into account for their pension is lower. I would commit to working for an improvement in their status both internally and vis à vis the competent public authorities.
Reducing administrative tasks
All academics are drowning in in administrative tasks that are sometimes determined by vague or supposedly inevitable rules that prevent them from dedicating themselves to their main missions. The 2030 strategic plan highlights this drift in our profession.
It is not about questioning the work of members of the administrative, technical and managerial and specialized staff nor about transferring tasks.
Rather, it is urgent to smooth links between the administration and academics and researchers by breaking down barriers between departments. How often do academics meet with members of the administration departments to develop with them processes that concern them? The current gap between the administration and academics is demotivating for everyone. It tends to oppose academics and members of an administration whose competence and effectiveness are sometimes questioned, who are seen as being without any real counterpart in terms of responsibility taking and effectiveness. The new responsibilities of the members of the administration however also include a sizeable – and presented as inevitable – increase in workload. All that impairs everyone’s work, demotivates, leads to a tendency to go back to one’s own department, one’s own team, one’s own function, a loss of involvement and participation, and the end of a culture of cooperation. It is as if everyone had to defend themselves vis à vis a ‘system’ whereas we are all working towards the same objective.
Decision-making processes are too slow, there are too many bodies without clear powers and administrative processes are piling up without their usefulness being systematically questioned. Multiple coordination problems and even parallel channels of decision-making and influence are taking root. An unclear allocation of human resources and a lax attitude towards dealing with failures, whichever type of staff is concerned, are also very damaging. These observations are regularly mentioned within the university community and lead to relationships that are sometimes burdensome, even absurd, focused on exclusively defending rights and not the common interest of the institution.
Again, it is the loss of meaning, of common objectives and organisation into separate departments which hampers fluid cooperation between all staff, prevents resources being pooled and finally hampers what one could call ‘orientation services’.
All the members of the university, the departments, the faculties must cooperate more closely. What is required is to restructure work and new forms of central administration/faculty administration/student partnership as well as decentralised methods of coordination. What is also required is to choose good tools that could, in some cases, lighten the workload. Similarly, it is high time to allow research logistic specialists to be hired in some departments of the administration. Some universities do this and there is no reason prohibiting us from enriching the administration with such profiles at a time when we expect better support from it.
Working in close dialogue with the Directrice Générale [General Manager], these fundamental issues are certainly among the concerns of a Rector who is concretely concerned about the university.
The increase in the number of students – there are close to 32,000 at the ULB this academic year – has unfortunately led to a poorer quality of student life on all our campuses and particularly on the Solbosch campus.
The places where students relax and have fun and the restaurants are overloaded. One just has to go to building F1, Avenue Paul Héger, on the Solbosch campus, to understand the scale of the problem. It is therefore urgent to reorganize the way in which buildings and environments are occupied and to expand the restaurant and conviviality areas. At la Plaine, campus occupants regret that there is only the University restaurant. The renovation and opening of a restaurant at the Forum de la Plaine are planned. A restaurant-cafeteria has been reopened on the Erasmus campus. Following the example of what the Faculty of Architecture has initiated in Flagey, the University must improve sustainable and local food offering, vegetarian and organic on the campuses and do so at affordable prices for everyone and plan access to some restaurant areas for social ASBLs [non-profit organisations] specialising in food.
Student housing is an issue that is just as essential. There are currently six university residences spread out on the different campuses, These residences offer around 960 places, with prices varying from 132 euro to 600 euro depending on the type of room. These places are clearly not sufficient to meet a legitimate demand.
The University has neither the resources to invest in more structures nor the vocation to become a rental agency. It must review its agreements with private partner residences who often offer accommodation at prices that are too high – and which are often as a result rented by interns in the EU institutions – and to diversify and increase the offer of housing at affordable prices. An improvement in the monitoring of the housing offer is planned and must therefore be fully supported.
The University must also strengthen its cooperation with the Brussels communes and particularly with the commune of Ixelles, which wants to contribute to improving the housing offer. For this purpose, a regulation to control the rent of student housing must be envisaged in consultation with authorities from the communes. The ULB is already working with student social property agencies and has agreed on partnerships with intergenerational housing (1toit2âges) [one roof, two ages]: this cooperation must absolutely be stepped up. In addition, some students want to see ‘Kots à projet’ [Communal student housing with a societal theme] being developed. This demand must be studied as quickly as possible and supported.
The University also grants ‘housing’ allowances for students in a difficult situation. This support can be improved and developed in the context of student-aid, which is already significant and ambitious at the ULB.
Thus, more and more students are being left with no option but to work during their studies, in particular due to the lengthening of their study period due to the decree. Some are no longer able to follow their classes and seminars or are exhausted by the accumulation of professional tasks and academic projects. Taking this into account is absolutely essential in order to ensure the wellbeing of these students. This of course needs to happen via a political decision, by amending the decree to improve how these situations are factored in. As far as we are concerned, there also needs to be better communication on the social support that we can offer in order to relieve the most sensitive situations.
With the support of the recently set up Student life observatory, detailed and objective information on student life and on the progress they are making with their studies, will help the University make decisions, in particular with regard to tackling the increasing financial insecurity of a section of our student population.
Some students have expressed a desire to be able to have their commitment to services to society recognised, such as volunteer work in ASBLs. Some universities recognise this type of commitment formally. At the ULB, such a recognition exists in some specific courses. The ULB can offer a series of projects in which the students could get involved on a voluntary basis while leaving students the option to propose their own projects if they correspond with the ULB’s values and come under the student’s area of study: professors could integrate them into the classes that lend themselves to that.
The ULB is also a venue for culture that we need to continue to support and develop. This development needs to be part of the humanist values of our University and also needs to highlight our scientific expertise.
Fives dimensions will be prioritized: strengthening the development of and support to cultural student initiatives, strengthening the University community’s contribution to cultural activities, better highlighting the connections between the arts and sciences, improving the existing cultural infrastructure and making our activities more visible to the world outside. The ULB, a venue for culture, is also developed in the chapter entitled ‘The ULB and the city’.
Well-being and health
We also have to be more attentive than ever to the wellbeing and health of our University community! The ULB offers considerable support to his medical service. It also supports the development of the policy to promote health and wellbeing carried forward by ULB santé [ULB health] with the cooperation of partners such as Aimer à l’ULB, Psycampus and others. This policy will be maintained and strengthened. Particular attention will also be given to the development of the wellbeing and anti-harassment mechanism that was initiated a few months ago.
A participative and deliberative University and closer Rectorship
We know the participative and deliberative way of working that is unique to the ULB. Despite this founding attachment to deliberation and participation since 1968 it has been increasingly difficult to draw up electoral lists for the representation of the different communities in the different bodies of the University, faculties and hospital, just as we need to note that no one is rushing to be director of a department or research centre, dean or vice-dean of faculty any longer. The faculty councils are deserted. This phenomenon is particularly worrying among students who stay away from the Boards of Administration, CoAs and other decision-making bodies (except, happily, for the CASE). One explanation that is widely given is that attending meetings where everything is already decided beforehand, where one can only marginally change things, is demotivating. Also mentioned are overly long agendas and/or ones that are packed with many subjects in which the members of the body are not interested. There is no ready made solution but we need to rethink our participative and deliberative arrangements.
There are plenty of potential paths. The one that seems essential to me, and as it happens, one put forward in the University’s strategic plan, is to recognise investment in the management of governance of the University, for all members of the University community. This should be done not just symbolically, by destroying the rumour according to which such tasks are unworthy of a good researcher or a dedicated member of the administration, of a good student or of a good teacher, but also by taking into account this investment in everyone’s workload.
To avoid taking part in meetings where few of the points dealt with are of real interest, we need to be able to organise thematic meetings in the faculties when that is possible and to adjust conditions in order to promote attendance, and to balance this with people’s professional and private lives. One potential option, for student representatives, would be to adapt their timetable and to rearrange the timing of meetings that take place during exam periods which are difficult times both for students and the teaching staff.
Reinventing representation and participation, which is not only a concern of universities, is also about thinking about original ways to achieve this, such as random drawing to select representatives. Lausanne University has adopted this system for student representation. Students randomly picked can refuse or accept their post. These students sit alongside student representatives selected in a more traditional manner. According to a study of this system in Lausanne, it increases the number and range of profiles and safeguards greater access of ‘amateur’ to student representation and, as a result, greater representativeness of the diversity of students. It thus limits the concentration of power in the hands of certain profiles. Those randomly selected are , however, often less forthcoming in deliberations. Understanding codes of practice comes with experience and, with this random selection, a certain idea of citizenship becomes apparent. That is a very specific learning process of governance and citizenship.
This type of potential path will have to be analysed together with the whole University community.
Furthermore, the University community has little contact with the Rectorship and sometimes sees it as a remote authority.
To be in touch with the community, I will commit to working a few days per month outside the Rectorship, on different campuses, with the heads of faculty, the institutes, the laboratories and research centres, the departments and the hospital.
I also propose organising some of the CoA sessions and its committees as well as meetings of the rector’s team on the different campuses. To improve consultation with the faculties, I will commit to letting the heads of faculty chair, one by one in turn, faculty coordination with an agenda co-written by them and the Rector and to favour invitations of members of the rector’s team and the rector to faculty council sessions when the Deans see as appropriate.
The ULB is working on a more structured relationship with its alumni. The majority of former ULB students are proud to have studied here and want to maintain links with their Alma Mater. The ULB’s history is special and leaves a strong mark in the memories of those who have attended it, and it often determines their current social commitments. Those who chose the ULB for their education and foundation for their professional future feel a debt of gratitude to the institution, which, at a crucial moment in their lives, was their home and the place where they developed their talents. We need them, their loyalty, their knowhow, their experience, their feedback on how they integrated into the working world, in order to help us reflect on our fundamental missions. Our alumni also need the University to help them confront the evolution of the labour market by inter alia offering them high level training throughout their lives.
Since 2014-2015, the Observatoire de la Qualité de l’ULB [ULB’s Observatory of Quality] has been sending former students a questionnaire 15 to 18 months after they obtain their Master’s certificate and thus gathers information on what they have become and their general opinion on the Master’s programme(s) they followed within our institution. A study like this allows us to gain a better understanding of the trajectory of graduates from our University, to obtain their views on their experience during their studies but also and above all testifies their wish to keep close contact with former colleagues. Similar initiatives have been undertaken in different faculties, allowing for a better understanding of their professional trajectories. With the ULB being a comprehensive university, its alumni are present in a very large number of sectors of activity at the national, European and international levels and mostly want to contribute to the reputation of our institution as ambassadors or as mentors, and to take part in numerous events – conferences and debates. Keeping and strengthening links with our alumni is an essential form of wealth. To deepen this link, a real policy must be put in place, supporting existing initiatives at the ULB.
It has emerged from institutional discussions, but also from those that I have been able to have with a significant number of former students, that we need to improve communication with alumni and to go beyond the operation of a network of different circles of alumni, which do not always communicate with each other.
Communication can be improved via the publication and dissemination of an agenda of conferences and cultural and social activities which, while it already exists, is incomplete and would be worth developing. Currently, we still need to go and look on each faculty’s website to have an idea of the extent of the conferences and activities which take place at the ULB. Another effective way of maintaining the link with the former students is to allow them to keep their ULB email address to which all the information relating to university life would automatically be sent. This is a recurring demand from alumni, who want to stay informed of scientific and cultural activities as well as about training offers put on by the university.
A close link with the alumni also makes it possible to promote the exchange of knowledge with the world outside the University. It would facilitate the strengthening of cooperation between the University and public institutions (European or international institutions, public administrations, local authorities, NGOs etc.), the visibility of the university in other countries (by creating in particular a network of alumni abroad), its ties to the professional world and thus offer a network to students. This is essential in an area where we are lag considerably behind other university institutions.
Finally, the alumni want meetings to exchange views on the future of the University. Their critical and external view of our university community, to which they symbolically belong and have strong ties with, is fundamental for our development. In this respect, the reinvention of participation raised in the preceding point also includes former students.
A significant action during my Rectorship would therefore be to make a very specific effort to support the ULB’s alumni cell in partnership with the Union des Ancient Etudiants (UAE) and existing structures in different faculties and institutes: putting in place communication tools and a participatory framework that will promote closer links between the ULB and its graduates.
ULB, teaching and learning
Our University’s 2030 strategic plan has highlighted a number of challenges for university teaching. The ULB has always strived to be open, inclusive and emancipatory university and a driver of upward social mobility. This mission has become perilous due to the substantial increase in the student population – nearly 32,000 students in 2019-2002 – with funding which has cut the subsidy per student by 23%. The number of academics has not increased proportionately and has remained insufficient to provide quality academic supervision. Furthermore, our infrastructures are not up to par with the number of students and activities. Teaching based on research remains the University’s absolute priority in spite of the financial constraints and the teachers’ work is impressive.
The ULB has proposed strategic axes to respond to these challenges. I am committed to putting them into place, with faculty authorities as well with the colleagues in charge of program and pedagogical committees to ensure that they give rise to efficient measures in the different faculties.
Here are a few proposals that seem essential to me, whilst keeping in mind that there is an abundance of other ideas to which I am and will remain attentive.
Working for the amendment of the ‘decree defining the landscape of higher education and the academic organisation of studies’ of 7 November 2013 (the so called landscape decree)
Dealing with the heterogeneity of the educational and socio-cultural backgrounds of students and the challenges related to the massification in certain programmes; rethinking student- support activities
Rethinking our BA curricula
Encouraging new pedagogical methods that ensure that our students play an active role in their education and/or reducing the workload of teaching staff
Encouraging interfaculty or interuniversity cooperation
Taking advantage of digital tools and support members of the academic and scientific staff in their teaching
Consolidate continuous training and lifelong education
Working for the amendment of the ‘landscape’ decree
Since it was implemented, the ‘landscape’ decree has been subject to many criticisms. It does not achieve the objective that was set to improve student success rates. On the contrary, indicators highlight an increase in the time taken to graduate and a negative impact on the success rate. Students no longer master their academic track and can find themselves without any funding, as the conditions in terms of eligibility for funding were not necessarily clear or understandable to them at the start of their academic track. More and more students find themselves in a very precarious situation and sign up to the CPAS (Centre Public d’Action Sociale) [a government welfare body] – 27,133 students are concerned this year in the French Community, i.e. eight times more than in 2002 – or are forced to take on a professional activity, which can compromises their studies.
The ‘Programmes annuels d’études’ (PAE) [annual study programmes], the unearned credits from previous years, the prerequisites that are not really prerequisites and other complexities of the decree make the students’ curricula incoherent and the composition of their PAE extremely difficult. True study years no longer exist and this has brought to an end the feeling of belonging to a cohort where social relations and solidarity exist.. The teaching staff is confronted to heterogeneous cohorts and find it more and more difficult adapt to the diversity of student groups.
The coherence of the studying programme is also undermined by timetable clashes, such as exams put on the same day. Organisational and administrative problems are further obstacles in the path of success, without even mentioning the (un)availability of premises!
The evaluation of the decree is ongoing within four working groups in the cabinet of the minister, Valérie Glatigny. When precise data are known, the amendment of the decree will be formally on the negotiating table.
The minister envisages a two-step reform. A first reform, in the short term, aiming to quickly remedy difficulties identified by the evaluation of the decree. It would aim to stop the lengthening of the studies and to facilitate academic and administrative management of the programmes. Four types of actions are being proposed for this purpose: putting the acquisition of 60 credits back at the centre of students’ priorities, favouring reorientation as early as possible, restoring the need for the full completion of credits of Bloc 1 to access the following one, delineating the conditions for access to the master level and simplifying the administrative and academic organisation of studies. In a second step, and if necessary, the minister proposes reflecting more broadly on an ambitious reform of higher education, the so-called ‘grande réforme.
The amendment of the decree is a major issue for the quality of our teaching, the quality of students’ courses and the working conditions of all University staff. For me it is an absolute priority to work for the amendment of the decree whilst avoiding a reform that would again entail administrative upheaval. The aim will be to resolve existing problems without creating others. Consulting different stakeholders is therefore essential. The amendment must be carried out in consultation with other universities from the French Community and it will be a matter of proposing useful and constructive reforms. In the interim, I will commit to working with the faculty authorities, with those responsible for programmes and the chairpersons of pedagogical committees and juries, in order to improve the application of the decree where its provisions leave a margin for manoeuvre, which has not always been taken into account. The objective will also be to clarify some provisions of the decree that where flexibility can be envisaged. We also need to both reflect and analyse how to specifically apply Article 100, §4, b of the amended decree of 3 May 2019, which leaves juries with the option to delineate the success of some prerequisites that cannot be transformed into co-requisites.
Working for an amendment of the decree is therefore a fundamental priority to rediscover the quality of learning and teaching.
Dealing with the heterogeneity of the educational and socio-cultural backgrounds and the economic situations of our students, as well as the massification of teaching in certain programmes
As we know, the secondary education of the French Community is unfortunately considered, based on the results of the OECD PISA survey, as presenting a number of weaknesses. It is also one of the most inegalitarian of the OECD countries. It is a challenge to compensate for the heterogeneity of the educational and socio-cultural backgrounds and economic situations of our students whilst dealing with the massification of teaching that is a feature of numerous programmes.
As put forward in the work carried out to develop the ULB’s strategic plan, in spite of the aid put in place, we are not able to deal with the heterogeneity in our students background and to help a signification proportion of them make progress. The human and psychological cost is considerable for the students, members of the teaching staff and for the University staff as a whole. We should not deny this. In spite of our commitment and the variety of study-aids put in place, our mission to promote upward social mobility has seized up. Although access to university studies is broadly open (no entry exams and numerus clausus, barring a few exceptions), things remain very unequal in terms of success. The success rate for students coming from less favoured backgrounds has fallen markedly in recent years – one student coming from a less favoured background had statistically more chance of succeeding in 1967 than in 2019. The ULB needs to reflect on how it functions and on the organisation of its teaching to deal with current challenges at a time when inequalities of all sorts are growing. This mission is key for the University and it is important to enhance student aid.
Although the students dread this potential solution and suspect it of being a step towards limiting access to studies, I think that we need to support Minister Glatigny’s proposal to implement orientation support for incoming students. High-school results and the choice of studies have a considerable impact on success rate at University. These factors undoubtedly lead to a gap between high-school and university with many students not mastering the prerequisites. The students struggle to grasp the rules governing the University and do not always a have a clear vision of the possibilities that their degree will offer of their going to University. Several studies underline the difficulty experienced by students to understand what being a student entails. They then revert to a their high-school references which will be more or less close to the university model depending on the secondary school they attended, the options they chose, in brief their previous school academic record. This may possibly be counterbalanced by their social background, and this is where the issue of inequality of access to university comes back into the picture. In the end, students are going to develop more or less efficient adaptation strategies depending on their previous academic record. Orientation-support is thus essential. This of course does not mean that a pupil coming from ‘technical’ education for example will not be able to access and succeed at university, it must be seen as a way to help them identify the areas that they need to work on to be in a position to progress in the curriculum that have a chosen. Some students benefit from this help n their secondary school or in their entourage and generally fare better. It is simply about offering this opportunity to everyone. Based on the areas where the student thinks that they have need for support, the University will be able to offer help that is adapted to their needs.
Those who have benefitted from the services of private companies who offer, often a very high price, specific training before entering university, generally do well with at university. Most of the well-off students who have taken advantage of these training are better equipped to make a success of their studies. This type of help should be offered to everyone by universities in partnership with secondary schools without the costs being excessive.
Another possible solution consists of better accompanying and informing in-coming students about the different courses offered by the University and their demands imposed.
Better orientation and accompaniment adapted to the heterogeneity of the educational backgrounds of in-coming studnts are essential so that the University can continue to fulfil its mission of social emancipation and its role promoting upward social mobility. We will need to keep consolidating actions already in place and the ULB E.COL.E collaborative platform , in this context a very precious recent initiatives.
In order deal with the growth in the number of students, we should also consider put in place ‘frontline’ digital tools to help prospective student get a precise idea about the content of curricula, their demands and which professions they open the door to. Ghent University already offers a digital platform called ‘Vraag het aan Simon’ which has proved successful.
Rethinking our BA curricula
As one will have understood from reading the preceding section, teaching in the bachelor’s programme and in particular in Bloc 1 is key. Teaching at this level has lost its value in recent years whilst it should be valued as it is fundamental for our students. We need to envisage devoting the first half of Bloc 1 to more general courses to familiarize students with the expectations of university education and to give them the fundamentals that they have perhaps not had before. Numerous colleagues regret the increased specialization of bachelor degrees. This does not necessarily help develop the maturity nor the experience required to gain access to a Masters programme.
Without initiating big reforms, an overall reflection on the bachelor degree is needed.
Encouraging new pedagogical methods that ensure that our students play an active role in their education and/or reducing the workload of teaching staff
A number of innovating pedagogical methods adapted to the increase in the number of students, but also the diversity and inequality in their educational backgrounds or targeted at the transition between secondary education and university education, are being developed. Inspired by the movement of active pedagogy, they make the students agents of their own education.
These pedagogical practices advocate the reduction of ex cathedra teaching hours to leave more room for interactivity, for the prior preparation of subjects and their discussions in classes or in groups. Of course, the teacher staff needs time to adapt their classes. The ULB has put in place different forms of support to help in the organisation of courses. These tools are often not very well known or, when they are known, the course leaders do not have the necessary time to use them. The ULB should reflect on how to allow the members of its academic and scientific staff to benefit from existing tools, how to make them visible and accessible to everyone. It must be possible to propose support. The ULB has expanded the option to ask for sabbatical leave to dedicate time to developing pedagogical projects, which is very positive because often sabbatical leave is dedicated to carrying out a research project. This possibility needs to be maintained and promoted. Revalorising teaching must be a priority for the University. A collective distribution of the main missions of academics, on a voluntary basis, such as proposed in the chapter relating to research, also needs to be able to aim to unblock time to rethink teaching.
The faculties and pedagogical committees need to be supported, as is the case now, if they want to commit to new course initiatives, to review their programme to tackle all the above-mentioned challenges, as the Faculty of Psychology currently does. The University needs to maintain this support for new initiatives.
All the measures of this type are in the interest of our students but can also lighten the workload of the teachers when their classes have been well rethought.
Interuniversity cooperation is needed, particularly to maintain some programmes threatened by a drop in the number of students. The government’s agreement envisages rationalizing the curriculum offer in the French Community. The general principle of such a rationalization can contribute to avoiding the dispersal of strengths and, in some cases, exhaustion among our teachers. We must anticipate it to avoid having it imposed on us. Such cooperation also needs to be consolidated and developed in our multilingual teaching offer with the VUB or other Flemish universities.
A rationalization of the course offer must also, and perhaps above all, be carried out within our very University. The need for such a rationalization is clear and has been so for a long time but it continues to be difficult to confront. It would obviously not be a matter of eliminating classes based on indicators such as the attendance rate or the usefulness of a subject. It implies in advance an in-depth analysis of the global course offer at the University to envisage cooperation between programmes or faculties and why not, to encourage opening up courses towards other disciplines, without undermining the coherence of programmes. The opening up of courses is a possible solution which may be fruitful if it is thought through and discussed with the concerned lecturers.
Finally, envisaging tools that ease the workload that evaluations and grading entail and encouraging new student evaluation methods, particularly for large cohorts, is also essential.
Student evaluation currently takes up an unreasonable amount of time for many of us. Administrative tasks, such as the encoding of grades, are furthermore extremely time-consuming when dealing with large cohorts of students.
Just as the pedagogical innovations mentioned above can help to free up some time, rethinking the evaluation of students seems key. Not only from a pedagogical point of view – using QCM and QRM might be adapted to certain disciplines but not all but has unfortunately become the only option when dealing with the high numbers of students – but also to ease the workload of lecturers who decide not to use these methods of evaluation. For example, for the subjects that lend themselves to it and if lecturers which to do so, evaluating several courses in a single crosscutting exam should be encouraged. Imagining alternative methods to the traditional exam to reduce the number of them must be discussed in pedagogical coordination committees or worked on with pedagogical advisors. The services proposed by CAP (the cellule d’appui pédagogique [pedagogical support cell] – former PRACTICE) are an incredibly rich resource which we must encourage teachers to draw on.
There are also experiments in some faculties – for example within the UE in physics at the Solvay Brussel School – Economics and Management, a programme written by the team takes on a large number of administrative tasks and facilitates, via the production of indicators, a critical analysis of the different evaluation formats that has been implemented. In addition this software was a real docimological dimension , i.e., it enables the analysis of coherence between the objectives pursued by teaching and the evaluation. The development and use of such tools needs to be encouraged.
Taking advantage of digital tools
The widespread availability of information technologies deeply modifies the link and access to knowhow as well as the role of lecturers. Digitalisation can revolutionize learning methods and makes it possible to reach a broader audience. Its also radically modifies the link with time.
The knowledge revolution brought about by the emergence of artificial intelligence and new forms of production of knowledge, based on big data, requires an adaptation of our course programmes and of the competences that we want to develop in our students.
Using digital tools is a way to multiply the ways knowhow and knowledge is accesssed. Rather than substituting ex-cathedra course formats, that require the physical presence of a lecturer, these tools must offer new ways to access knowledge and make learning more versatile. These tools can take on different formats which need to be encouraged and expanded at the University. ‘Blended learning’ will have help students to orient themselves in a critical way in the mass of information and knowhow that is accessible. As a corollary to advocating this, we need to rethink the number of hours students sit in a lecture hall so as to allow them to enhance the personal and active dimension of their work. We need to encourage in-depth analysis of current issues by our students, which requires having time, rather than the accumulation of information. The University is the place par excellence for rediscovering the time to think, by contrast with the ultrarapid information distributed via digital means.
If the emergence of digitalisation is not properly accompanied, it may lead to a phenomenon where easily accessible knowhow that that has not been questioned will dominate. If the University does not seize this opportunity, other actors in the ‘uberisation’ of knowhow will fill this void.
Consolidating continuous education and lifelong learning
With Continuous education one can acquire new skills and to respond to emerging challenges such as the non-linear nature of professional paths and the acceleration in the emergence of knowledge and technologies. It also responds to the need to open the University up to its environment in order to contribute to the socio-economic and cultural development of the city. Around 15% of those learning on our campuses today, do so via continuous education (5,000 adults per year). This is without doubt the sector of education which is growing the fastest. The ULB has a important offer of continuous education (more than 100 certificates since 2013). Success at the ULB is based on the excellence of our teaching, the integration of continuous education into the faculty strategies, an offer which meets the needs, the quality of the trainers and the efficiency of the programmes. To continue along this path, certain actions need to be reinforced or evolve.
Synergies between initial and continuous education will be encouraged, all the more so as Minister Valérie Glatigny plans to encouragethis synergy. It is an illusion to think that one can integrate all the skills needed for a complete professional carrer into one single degree or certificate. With the rapid evolution of our environment our degrees are like perishable goods if they are not updated. Continuous education is therefore not a competitor of initial edication but complementary and sometimes compulsory for some professions (e.g. in the health sector). For many, while continuous education is not yet a deontological obligation, it is becoming an absolute necessity. Several possible solutions will be explored, for example the identification of bridges between initial and continuous education, the design of innovating hybrid pedagogies to deal with the massification of the demand and the heterogeneity of prerequisites, a reflection on the status of continuous training trainers and their recognition at the ULB.
The transfer of knowledge and competences to society is an efficient tool to take part in the evolution of innovating ecosystems in Brussels and in Charleroi. It encourages citizens’ participation, a critical mindset and creativity, it strengthens cohesion, employability and competitiveness by creating a bigger pool of talent. We will need to promote partnerships with other actors (institutional, academic, hospital and private) and take account of the diversity of our potential learners coming from varied professional and cultural backgrounds. Continuous educationstrengthens the links with our alumni by offereing them a service throughout their career to keep their competences up to date. A challenge will be to mobilise our alumni to better detect their needs and to integrate them into our pool of trainers.
Continuous education falls outside the current public funding scheme for education. Continuous training has to finance itself thanks to specific external funding and tuition fees. If the activity can generate profits, they will be reinvested (for example via fund) in the creation or incubation of new and ambitious continuous education programs or in transversal support. In addition, as you will read in the chapter on the ULB’s means, we need to ensure public subsidies for the continuous education that the government of the French Community intends to develop.
Organisationally speaking, continuous education is based on faculty initiatives and resources. To gain in coherence, this decentralization needs to be organised in a network. which will enable to promote crosscutting projects, avoid internal competition and administrative division. In this sense, for example IT automation of certain procedures (such as registrations) should increase efficiency and will integrate lifelong learning into the academic paths of our students and learners.
ULB and research
In spite of the underfunding of its research, in spite of various obstacles, in spite of a much less sizeable asset base than other universities – and therefore less of personal means, the ULB is at the cutting edge of research in the French Community. Its researchers have international recognition and its excellence is praised in several cutting edge areas. We also know that a university’s global reputation owes a lot to the quality of its research such that this quality is the cornerstone on which our teaching and our role in society are built. We must therefore better support this high quality research. Here are my proposals in this area, including the priorities of structural support for setting up projects and ‘actions blanches’.
- Structural supporting for setting up projects and accessing funding
- Financing ambitious projects that have not been selected
- Improving scientific assessment procedures
- Dare to carry out ‘actions blanches’
- Encouraging a joint allocation of the main missions of academics
- Simplifying the internal allocation of resources for researchers
- Improving financial support for platforms and equipment
- Recognizing the value of a doctorate and improving the conditions of doctoral students
- Taking care that researchers are hosted in a team and in adequate premises
- Favouring open access publication and ending the dependence vis à vis big operators/publishers
- Expanding and enhancing the recognition of research and the technology and knowledge transfer
- Improving cooperation between science and industry
Structural support for accessing funding
The share of the operating allowance dedicated to research is devoted to the salaries of a section of the researchers of the University. The majority of research funding comes from project calls, international or within the French Community, as well as from research contracts. Among these, we can highlight: funding from the French Community (ARC; FSR; EOS) and funding from the FNRS and associated funds (FRIA, FRESH); federal and regional funds; private funding; EU and international funds and also funds from our university assets. The European Union’s framework programme for technological research and development has become one of the structuring pillars of research policy.
These tenders are more and more competitive and the success rate is becoming much too low by comparison with the quality of applications submitted. That has a demotivating effect: the time devoted by researchers to drawing up projects is too important given the success rate; the costs of submitting calls are huge given the sums allocated; the time devoted to finding funding is becoming disproportionate, no to the mention the corresponding economic cost, estimated in some studies as being overall greater than the amounts distributed.
This multiple system of funding also leads to a complexity that is sometimes poorly exploited or giving rise to unhappy experiences. Researchers then resort to traditional sources of funding or to those that seem, to them, as being more accessible (essentially university or faculty resources), even if they are more limited in nature subject to fierce internal competition.
Of course, our university alone will not be able to change the complex landscape of research funding. However, it is the University’s duty to do all it can so that the management of its own funds devoted to research helps to reduce the negative effects. For example, we should simplify as much as we can our internal project calls and accompany to the best of our abilities the steps taken by our researchers in replying to external calls. It is furthermore the responsibility of University authorities to inform researchers and to orient them so as to optimize the available of resources, in particular European and regional ones.
The support for researchers for the planning and design of their projects is still insufficient. The Research Department’s help is already precious, but it needs to be enhanced. Of course, it cannot offer support in terms of the disciplinary competence, but it can help in targeting calls based on funding bodies and deal with the drafting of the more administrative parts. This can help researchers, particularly in the human and social sciences where participation in tenders can be improved.
Setting up a pool of research logistics experts is a priority. They would help faculties, centres and research teams, whilst benefiting from pooled knowledge.
Financing ambitious projects that have not been selected
The ULB already finances the projects of researchers who, although evaluated positively and well ranked, have not been selected. This support must be maintained and no doubt reinforced. In addition, this internal policy must be advertised more clearly among researchers, too many of whom do not know what it is all about.
Improving scientific evaluation procedures
Evaluation is a fundamental element of scientific practice and has always existed. There can be no question of doing without transparent evaluations of research and researchers and the allocation of research means – financial and in terms of posts – without carefully assessing projects and candidates. The decrease in resources is, however, making competition acrimonious. It is therefore necessary to have objective selection criteria.
The generalization of the upstream and downstream evaluation of all the aspects and all the phases of scientific activity has become too time-consuming.
We need to improve scientific evaluation procedures. It is important to envisage lighter procedures for basic financing, often relatively small, for which the key is to opt for trust in the researchers and avoid excessive competition.
More extensive procedures are justified for selective programmes with considerable funding, but they should be limited to the evaluation of projects and candidates.
The malaise of numerous researchers vis à vis evaluations is often fuelled by doubts about the functioning of ranking committees and lack of confidence in the objectivity of the assessments. It is therefore important that transparency prevails in these respects.
The people evaluated do not systematically benefit from real feedback and must often make do with general conditions or with reductive quantitative criteria. Some funds, such as FRESH or the mini-ARC, only give feedback that is very cursory and not systematic to the unhappy candidates. It is important to ensure that researchers are provided with adequate feedback on the evaluation.
The evaluation procedures do not have to be applied in an identical manner in all areas of research. Asking questions about the real impact of a publication is legitimate in some fields but not in others. And even in areas for which using numerical indicators can prove interesting, the quality of a researcher cannot be assessed only on that basis. We need to favour the evaluation of projects according to more qualitative criteria and, for example, ask the researcher to present the three most representative publications of his/her research activities and specify its implications and their personal contributions.
The academic authorities and institutions should give very clear guidelines on the different evaluations, explain their objectives and the criteria applied so that researchers understand the issues and submit their applications based on their being fully informed.
Interuniversity cooperation to draw the attention of stakeholders in national and international funding to these questions is essential. The role of universities in this respect – and that of a Rector in some funding bodies – is important.
Dare ‘actions blanches’
Funding via calls for proposals drastically slows down the possibility of carrying out new research for which the results are uncertain. Qualitative studies have thus shown that, given the competition and the relatively high failure rate in securing funding for proposed projects, more and more researchers submit projects that have already started and for which they can already show results. This logic neglects the importance of exploratory projects.
The ULB must take some risks and support ‘actions blanches’ (the term comes from Alain Supiot). These type of actions leave researchers the initiative to choose themes, without them being determined in advance by demands relating to profitability or output. They must be designed not as a response to questions asked today but as a means to raise tomorrow’s questions. The discoveries that revolutionized the world have often been surprises for which men and women devoted many years and endless effort, without accounting or administrative pressures. Through the ‘action blanche’, a team is financially supported to develop a theme without having to present a detailed project identifying precise milestones and objectives and can thus dedicate themselves to basic research without time pressure, without a regular evaluation and without annual output obligations. It is a gamble of course but one which is part of what perhaps constitutes the heart of the university’s mission: creating precedents. Be it in research or in our way of managing the institution on a daily basis, we have to free ourselves of routines and habits more than any other institution.
Simplifying the internal allocation of resources
We urgently need to create a support fund for the minor expenses of researchers.
To respond to different expectations expressed, the University has already created several budget lines (mobility, translation fees, fees for defending dissertations, printing dissertations etc.). Often, the request for this funding requires filling in a form, which, even if it is often relatively straightforward, adds an extra administrative burden for actions that are the daily bread of our researchers and should be automatically funded.
Rather than giving a budget to each academic, I propose bringing these different budgets together into a single fund which everyone can access to obtain operational funding without having to submit multiple justifying documents.
Encouraging a joint allocation of the main missions of academics
Flexibility in the distribution of teaching and research tasks of academics in a five year period will allow some to free up time for research and others to be able to do likewise for teaching, in a well understood process of sharing the main missions of academics. All should be able to dedicate themselves more to one mission without being judged. Generalised competition underlines the importance of cooperation, on a voluntary basis and via agreement between academics, but supported by the University, in scientific and teaching activities.
An overall reflection, without any taboos, on the creation of other research structures, broader and more interdisciplinary, must also be carried out.
Support for platforms and equipment
Some teams secure considerable funding and equipment but for some of them the equipment is difficult to maintain due to a lack of financial and human resources covered by the funding that they have obtained. These large items of equipment make a strong contribution to the attractiveness of the structures and research sites. The teams struggle to update equipment and platforms, where self-financing models do not allow for maintenance, and put considerable pressure on staff working on these platforms and equipment. This support must be improved. The ULB must envisage administrative support or freeing up teaching time for academic coordinators of these platforms when funding does not allow this to be paid for.
Recognize the value of a doctorate and improve the conditions of doctoral students
The number of doctoral students has doubled in recent years. The supervision of their work has considerably improved since the entry into force of the ULB’s PhD regulation in 2013-2014. And yet the rate of completion of PhDs has improved and amounts to more than 50%. It varies depending on a range of factors:
- Gender: men are slightly but systematically at an advantage compared to women in all research areas;
- Status: the success rate is considerably higher for those with a research grant compared to research assistants funded by the ULB (staff assistants) or to contracted researchers;
- The discipline;
- The grade obtained at the end of the second cycle of studies;
- The employment situation (full time/part time/unfunded) and working conditions.
Among the difficulties expressed by researchers (PhD students and graduates), we would highlight the following: lack of means, mainly in social sciences and for those with grants from large external bodies; excess workloads, particularly for staff assistants and more often in the social sciences; heavy administrative and logistic tasks – both in the case of staff assistants and the researchers on external funds, and more so in social sciences and in applied sciences than in other areas; problems supervising the PhD, mainly in medical sciences and social sciences; finally, the completion of work that cannot count towards a PhD, especially in social sciences, in applied sciences and in medical sciences.
A policy of targeted support based on these factors must be put in place.
The job prospects for those who obtain their doctorate and their very uncertain future also explains work being abandoned and of course a reticence about committing themselves to the doctorate. The number of permanent academic posts has fallen considerably whereas the number of doctoral students is increasing and the degree is not always recognised in the working world, including in the University (except for permanent academic and scientific careers).
The ULB must, with the CREF, work on having the doctorate recognised in the world of work (including within the ULB) and offer paths for professional integration into the job market.
Taking care that researchers are hosted in a team and in adequate premises
While the way in which the institution welcomes new recruits has considerably improved, their welcome into research teams and the availability of (adequate) premises poses a problem for some. Some also talk of a hostile environment or loneliness. It is quite simply unacceptable and I commit to dealing with this issue, which should no longer even arise and no longer be a source of concern.
The same goes, as abnormal as it may seem, for researchers who secure significant funding or big pieces of equipment that the ULB encourages them to obtain and who, for lack of premises, do not know where to set themselves up or gather in a group of ten in premises designed for four…
That will be a priority for me.
Favouring open access publication and ending the dependence vis à vis big operators/publishers
The ULB is working to allow free and wide access to the publications of its researchers. This is not a straightforward undertaking and efforts must be maintained in cooperation with all the universities and public authorities. It must also support initiatives of the faculties, research teams and researchers along these lines.
Expanding and enhancing the recognition of research and technology and knowledge transfer
Our recognition of research is already widely practised and can attest to a large number of successful experiences. A balanced partnership implies independent partners, each endowed with the freedom to define the principles that it wishes to observe in the partnership. The commitment of researchers in partnerships, industrial or other, must not therefore be dictated by the imperative need to find additional sources of finance for their research activities.
It is worth noting that, in a number of areas, industrial stakeholders or public authorities are interested in partnerships with researchers who work in exploratory research, very much upstream of the transfer of technologies. These partnerships must be encouraged.
Partnerships with public sector stakeholders or non-profit stakeholders are not subject to as many systematic incentive policies as the partnerships with economic stakeholders (industry, services) whereas the potential benefits for both parties are considerable. They must be encouraged, particularly in the social sciences.
The Research Department must send value recognition experts to the labs and recruit more value recognition experts in the social sciences.
The economic valorization of technologies (but also manufacturing procedures; software and other applications linked to information and communication technologies; biological equipment; knowhow or particular expertise protected by confidentiality) is often presented as a necessary priority. However, our University depends considerably on external partners to accompany this policy.
For example, the vast majority of the staff of the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) within the Research Department is financed by contracts whose renewal at regular intervals complicates the management of these activities. We also need to recognise that this inevitably makes our policy in this area highly dependent on the expectations of these funding bodies (Regions, European Social Fund etc.). Nonetheless, our University must be able to interact with these funding bodies to promote our own priorities. For example, the Research Department should be able to recruit more value recognition experts in social sciences, an area in which the potential for economic and societal recognition is undoubtedly the most unexploited. In addition, the TTO should be encouraged to send value recognition experts more systematically directly in teams. That would make it possible to strengthen one’s work in making an inventory of and identifying technologies that could be protected by patents and/or being recognised by the granting of licences, the transfer of rights or creations of spin-offs.
Other forms of knowledge transfer can be put in place, based on the model of the UK’s KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnerships) programme, which is one of the most remarkable international examples of political programmes promoting the transfer of knowledge through the mobility of qualified human capital. The KTP programme is based on a three-way partnership between a company, a university and a duly qualified graduate who will undertake a project within the company for a period of one to three years under the joint supervision of the university and the company. The university employs the graduate and the company co-finances his/her salary as well as the grant received as part of the programme. Through this programme, in March 2019 around 800 partnerships were active, of which 80% involved SMEs. In addition to its contribution to the transfer of knowledge between science and industry, the programme is a useful tool to improve the employability of highly qualified graduates. There is no particular theme in these programmes, which offers the regions the flexibility to choose the issues that particularly interest them.
In addition, the University has surrounded itself with a partnership with several company incubators in Anderlecht (EEBIC), Nivelles (Cap-Innove), Charleroi (Biopark-Dev) and with investment funds, soon also on the U-Square site. The University must promote these partnerships to fully encourage the prosperous science-industry cooperation whilst taking care that all the projects that can potentially add value, be that in an economic sense or through their impact on society, are properly accompanied.
ULB and its means
As we all know, universities are cruelly underfunded. You can read here about my position on the refinancing of universities as well as three particular measures that I propose. I then call for a rethink of the allocation of a proportion of these means through a revision of the criteria for staff allocation between faculties.
The evolution of the Belgian institutional landscape is a major issue that I have, as a professor of public law, followed actively for a long time. The ULB must anticipate future institutional reforms. There is no doubt that we are heading towards a Belgium made up of four regions, in the context of which we will be the leading university in the Brussels Region. The Brussels political configuration will certainly allow us to benefit from this reform. However, this should not prevent us from strengthening our presence in Wallonia, in particular in Hainaut where we have high profile footholds and representatives. We have to turn the institutional evolution of the country into an opportunity for us. As the leading university in the central region of the country and a major player in Wallonia, the ULB can be even stronger in a Belgium made up of four regions.
My proposals relating to the funding of the university allow for the budgetary implementation of the measures set out in the other chapters of this programme on the understanding that, if some of my financial proposals do not materialise – quod non – the current and foreseeable resources as well as the measures for which the implementation does not require any revision of the legislation, allow these measures to be funded in spite of everything, on the basis of a large consensus. The latter is always necessary for a harmonious academic policy that cannot be imposed ‘top down’. I will set out my proposals here in two chapters: one devoted to the university’s means and the other to the means of the faculties.
I – The means of the university
- Refunding higher education
- Improving the tax situation in research
- Tax shelter for scientific research
- Cooperation with other Francophone universities
- Pooling forces and means by hub
II – The means of the faculties
- Revision of the criteria for allocating staff between the faculties
I – The means of the university
The refinancing of higher education
We are aware of the issue of funding via a fixed amount (closed-envelope) system and the sterile competition between universities that this method of funding entails. The situation of underfunding universities has become untenable. Funding is regulated by the Law of 27 July 1971 on the financing and supervision of university institutions, amended on several occasions, in particular by the Decree of 11 April 2014 adapting the funding of establishments in the new organisation of studies and the Decree of 16 June 2016 covering various measures in higher education, which foresees refinancing until 2021. Refunding is therefore coming back to the negotiating table. Minister Valérie Glatigny announced to the press: “No austerity in higher education.” However, we need to remain lucid. Even if the government’s agreement announces that it wants to get out of the fixed amount system and catch up on the structural fall in the financial support per student, it only envisages a gradual refunding of 50 million euro by 2024 whereas the CREF was calling for 150 million euro. The distribution between universities and other institutions of higher education gives reason for hope of the ULB receiving about 7 million euro…
The negotiations are currently ongoing and for me it will obviously be about committing to continuing with them. Public policy tools and the mechanisms for funding higher education cannot be limited to mere arithmetic coefficients dating back to 1971. We need to recall that the public benefits of university education are higher than the public expenditure needed to finance it. In Belgium, for example, the tax revenue received from taxation on the income of university graduates exceeds the cost of publicly funding higher education, even when taking into account an estimate of tax revenue that would of course have been obtained if those subject to tax had not done university studies. Of course, the tax revenue must not be earmarked but we need to recall that public expenditure is not invested in higher education for nothing. On average, in the OECD countries, public return is four times greater than the costs borne by public authorities. In a 2017 study, the Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad demonstrate that every euro generated by the direct operation of the Flemish universities brings in 6 euro of profit for the Flemish economy, and that each person directly employed by these universities leads to the creation of nearly three jobs in Flanders. In all probability, the same goes for the Francophone part of the country. Public funding therefore seems to be a profitable public investment, not to mention the priceless benefits of higher education for society: dissemination of knowledge, corporate citizenship, increased turnout at elections, lower unemployment, a positive impact on economic development and the GDP, intergenerational education, etc.
In spite of the 2016 refinancing, the amount received per student has fallen steeply in the course of the last twenty years. The weighted amount received per student as financial support has gone from 5,900 euro in 2006 to close to 4,500 euro in 2018, and this is in constant terms (euros in 2004), i.e. taking into account inflation. A fall of over 23% of the amount received per student is drastic and partly explains the difficulties encountered by a number of colleagues in successfully carrying out their missions. We should note that, with higher education itself, the trend in allocations per university student is more negative than that observed for the other institutions active in higher education. As a result, university education is the level of education most affected by the reduction in financing of higher education (CREF memorandum, 2019).
The main objective is to remove the fixed amount system, provided that funding per student is made fully objective and reviewed upwards to correspond to the reality.
For this variable part of the financing, the current weightings used in the context of the ‘nombre pondéré d’étudiants subsidiables’ [weighted number of students that can be subsidised] are obsolete. It would be appropriate for us to put in place internally an analytical accounting system that would facilitate a better understanding of the structure of the costs of our teaching, of our research and of our administration. That will allow us to be in a position to assess our costs and therefore to calmly start negotiations on the revision of weighting coefficients.
We should also eliminate, or at the very least to review, the rules that set the maximum for the number of students that can be subsidised according to their choice of studies, given that the supposed economies of scale no longer correspond to reality.
Current funding levels are jeopardising the survival of programmes with few students. In some fields, there is a real risk that some disciplines may no longer be taught in the French Community. In order to ensure that these study programmes continue in the long term, the variable part of the funding must restore a minimum for the number of students, i.e. a minimum funding even if the number of those signing up for these programmes falls below this floor. In parallel, for these programmes, even more than for the others, it would be appropriate to develop them together with other universities from the French Community, with the VUB or even with partners of CIVIS (see point 3 below).
Finally, variables related to the socio-economic characteristics of the student population welcomed by each institution should be better taken into account. To date, the amounts devoted to student-aid continue to be insufficient. This point is important for the ULB, which has always set great store by the fact that it offers upward social mobility to the most disadvantaged students.
Similarly, the proportion of funding devoted to infrastructure, in particular the proportion earmarked for the construction of buildings must be reviewed upwards. It should be linked to the increase in the number of students and of the number of competitive research projects obtained by the universities, as they require buildings which are adapted to meeting their needs.
Finally, and this is crucial, we need to call for subsidies for lifelong learning. Minister Valérie Glatigny intends to substantially develop continuous training, including in the context of initial training for teachers. Funding for that must therefore be envisaged.
The transitional solidarity mechanism, which guarantees that each institution receives, in the current funding model put in place by the Decree of 16 June 2016, at least as much as it would have received in the preceding model, must be maintained for a period of five years.
Finally, as the government’s agreement envisages, the mechanisms of the ‘non-residents’ Decree of 16 June 2006 must be reinforced in order to better regulate the number of foreign students in some courses. Mechanisms that envisage financial contributions to the cost of studies by foreign students when they have the means to do so will need to be envisaged whilst respecting EU law and its rules.
Improving the tax situation of research
In order to support scientific research, the framework legislation of 24 December 2002, in its Article 385, envisaged exempting universities from a part of the payment of the income tax for researchers. A law of 23 December 2005 has codified this provision and inserted an Article 275/3 in the ‘code des impôts sur les revenus (CIR)’ [code for taxes on income].
The Francophone universities apply this exemption very differently. Compared to the exemptions obtained by Flemish universities on the basis of the same provision, this difference is glaring. For example, according to data from CREF, in 2018 the VUB, which nonetheless has less staff than the ULB, obtains 16,329,897.37 euro whilst the ULB only obtains 6,952,305.58 euro of exemption from professional income tax deduction (6,788,025 euro in the 2019 budget). Several factors explain this difference. Whatever the case may be, I propose setting up a ‘tax optimisation’ cell within the financial department to support the ‘reduction of taxation’ allowed by the CIR.
I also propose challenging the constitutionality of Article 275/3 of the CIR in that it does not envisage the reduction of taxation for a part of the professional tax deduction of teaching-researchers.
Partial dispensation of the professional tax deduction of all the members of the academic staff
Article 275/3 of the CIR has not envisaged the exemption of a percentage of the income tax deduction for members of academic staff and has limited it to ‘researcher/assistants’ and to ‘post-doctoral researchers’ whereas the framework legislation that it codifies envisaged a dispensation to support scientific research regardless of the category of staff that develop it. Now, we know that academics devote, as do members of the scientific staff, at least 50% of their work to research. This restriction therefore constitutes discrimination between categories of researchers, which is contrary to the Constitution.
The application of the provision to the academic staff would allow the ULB to be exempted from the payment of 9,500,000 euro (i.e. 80% of an average estimate of the income tax deduction paid annually for the whole of the full-time academic staff). As a minimum, an exemption proportional to the percentage of research activities of an academic would have to be obtained (i.e. 50% of an average estimate of the tax deduction). The ULB would then be exempted from a payment of around 6,000,000 euro.
A negotiation with the tax administration based on this breach of equality, but also on the obligation that public authorities have to devote at least 1% of GDP to research and development as per EU law (Regulation 1291/2013 of the European Parliament and the Council of 11 December 2013 covering the establishment of the framework programme for research and innovation ‘Horizon 2020’), will be the very first step. Belgium is struggling to achieve 0.7% in 2019. This measure would improve Belgium’s performance without needing to resort to the finances of the French Community.
The strength of this proposal is that it will unite all the universities, both Francophone and Flemish, in calling for support for research which Belgium had committed to in the 2020 timeframe…
The procedure to be followed consists in lodging a claim with the tax administration within six months of the payment of the professional income tax and referring the case to the court if they refuse. The latter will be able to refer the case to the Constitutional Court on the issue of the breach of equality between categories of researchers.
An alternative consists in modifying the ranks in academics’ careers, as Flanders has done, and in envisaging ranks for ‘research’. That said, this solution would not make it possible to optimize the exemption as it would again only target a proportion of academic staff members. It would also imply that we have academic ranks which correspond to ‘chef de travaux’ or the equivalent, which the ULB no longer use.
Tax shelter for scientific research
Chapter III of the Code des impôts sur les revenus (CIR) [code for taxes on income] allows an exemption from taxes for companies that invest in a framework contract for the production of an audiovisual work (commonly called the ‘cinema’ or ‘art scene’ tax shelter).
To support scientific research, such a tax shelter should be envisaged for investors in the production of scientific research at university. Approaches made to the Minister of Finances indicate that there is a real possibility of the tax shelter being expanded to include scientific research.
I propose drafting a draft law with tax experts and economists. It could again allow Belgium to support research and development.
Cooperation with other Francophone universities
As will have become clear, the issue of refinancing universities concerns all universities, particularly those from the French Community. A partnership with them to obtain better funding is essential. The sterile competition works in favour of the policy of underfunding universities. This cooperation is also absolutely necessary to maintain certain study programmes threatened by a drop in the number of students. The government’s agreement envisages rationalizing the educational offer in the French Community. While I can be in agreement with the general principle of such a rationalisation, which may contribute to avoid the scattering of our efforts and in certain cases, avoid our colleagues becoming exhausted, we should ensure that it is compatible with the priorities of our faculties. We should therefore anticipate it to avoid having it imposed.
Pooling resources by hub
The ULB currently had two hubs: the ‘Pôle Santé’ and the ‘Pôle Charleroi’. Pooling tasks and resources by hub is essential. Allocating supplementary resources is envisaged for development plans for faculties if the resources are channelled to the hubs.
The creation of new hubs is becoming all the more urgent and has not been happening, even though it has been advocated for a number of years. The question of creating thematic hubs is complex and has been dividing faculties for so long and we should go beyond the controversies and be pragmatic! When a thematic hub corresponds to a specific location, its creation it should not pose a problem. If the “Pôle Santé’ has successes to show, this is because it corresponds to the current geographic situation, or that programmed, of the faculties concerned. The ‘Pôle Charleroi’ is not thematic and yet works well, even if it needed support for its creation. Currently, setting up a hub for science and technologies is only being discussed between faculties that are located or are going to be partially located on the campus de la Plaine and is therefore more of a geographic hub than a thematic hub as the Faculty of Architecture is not part of the discussion. Rather than debate ad infinitum which themed hubs to create in human and social sciences, or in sciences and technology, I propose to keep the concept of geographic hub which can bear a themed name if it corresponds to one. The Solbosch campus, with its varied disciplines, could have one or two hubs according to the synergies that are developed there, according to the possibilities for pooling tasks and resources determined by the location of human and material resources. It would entail a more rational management of equipment and consumables.
To be fully efficient, the pooling of faculty and central administration resources must also be developed. The pragmatic establishment of hubs based on thematic synergies and/or geographic synergies will enable the faculties to rediscover new resources for projects and to focus on their primary missions by passing what is not at the heart of their profession to the hubs. The staff that will be allocated to it will no longer be faculty staff, as I propose below in the allocation of staff.
II – The means of the faculties
Revision of the criteria for allocating staff between the faculties
The allocation of academic, scientific and PATG staff between faculties, according to criteria developed in 2009 under the rectorship of Philippe Vincke and then improved in 2013 and 2018 constituted major progress in the allocation of means by putting an end to its lack of transparency and by allowing an objective and transparent distribution of resources between faculties. Developing it has been complex, just as implementing it has been! I am aware of the undeniable advantages of it but also the constraints as I have implemented it from both sides of the mirror: as Dean and then as Vice-Rector.
The current principle is to determine a target number (expressed in FTE) for each category of staff according to objective, clear and transparent criteria, aligned in part on the law on funding universities, with rebalancing of allocation of means between faculties based on these criteria. This allocation of resources allows faculties to develop their five-year pedagogical and scientific strategy, which was impossible for them up until then as faculties only knew what to expect after three annual meetings about sharing from the ‘central pot’.
These criteria have today also demonstrated their limits. The target for each category of staff can only be determined in a distant future. As a result the rebalancing of the staff takes time because there are not enough retirements to progress in this rebalancing in a decisive way. But also, because part of the staff is allocated to non-profiled chairs or to the repatriation of qualified researchers, which has not been anticipated beyond 2023. These posts are allocated without reference to the target category of staff (except for one non-profiled chair per year).
In my view, the main limitation of the system relates to the perverse effects that it leads to. These include:
- The allocation criteria are based on a leading indicator: the ‘nombre pondéré d’étudiants subsidiables’ [weighted number of students that can be subsidised] up to a limit of 75%. The pressure on the disciplines in which there are few students is therefore very strong whereas those that have a high number of students are not helped as much as the extent of the extra burden brought on by their massification.
- The faculties end up focusing on themselves: whereas previously numerous academics were teaching in other faculties, this number has drastically fallen except if there is a formal participation to the staff allocation of a faculty which ‘is lending’ a teacher to another. The faculties cooperate less and less with each other and this entails that they object to participating in joint or interdisciplinary projects with staff which is specifically allocated to them.
- The academics appointed on non-profiled chairs are counted as staff of the faculty within which they have been appointed by the rector’s team whereas, by definition, this choice is based on the excellence of the track record of the candidates without reference to the faculty’s needs. They therefore arrive without the development strategy of this faculty having been taken into consideration. Some of the faculties which benefit from the added value of these academic profiles sometimes dread such an appointment! We then end up with the opposite effect of the one desired.
- The faculties that want to pool their resources are stopped in their tracks because the human resources that they would make available to other faculties would stay in their accounting books whereas they have been made available to others.
- The allocation criteria only concern faculty staff and not ‘central’ administration staff. The barriers between the faculties and the central administration are exacerbated, the brakes are applied to the pooling of PATGS resources and the mobility of staff is restricted and even impossible.
- The permanent FNRS staff ((Senior)Research associates and Research Directors) are not taken into account in the calculation of the academic staff of the faculties. This choice has a logic to it as they are not financed by the operating allowance of the university. That said, they are contributing to the development of faculties and their work favourably influences the indicators of the staff allocation criteria: they teach, supervise PhD students, obtain external contracts and funding, take part in the administration of the faculty. They also influence the allocation of the academics’ workloads. The faculties that do not benefit from their added value, particularly those that have a staff deficit, struggle to take ownership of the rule. This observation makes it essential to rethink the very structure of teaching workloads.
I therefore propose expanding the current system of allocation of staff between faculties by taking into account the specificities of each faculty. Our faculties are organised very differently and that is the rich nature of our university. The workloads of the members of different staff are very different from one faculty to another. Some simple examples: in some faculties, the academics participate in practicals and not in others; scientific staff supervise TFE/MFE or participate in the jury, in others not; members of the PATGS are in charge of communication or of helping to obtain external funding but this is far from being the case everywhere etc.
It is obviously not a matter of harmonizing the organisation of the faculties but, on the contrary, of taking account of the way in which they work by taking that organisation into account as well as the real costs of their teaching and of their research to adjust the allocation of staff. In my proposal, each faculty establishes a five-year development strategy in which it proposes an allocation of workloads between academic, scientific and PATG staff, sets its pedagogical and scientific objectives and establishes its needs. The university develops a plan to allocate staff on the basis of different faculty strategies whilst always taking account of the indicator of the rebalancing scale but no longer exclusively.
The ongoing faculty development plans concern resources for the 2020-2024 period. It will be about making good use of this period to evaluate the need of the faculties, to think about a strategy with them, to establish an analytical accounting method and to put in place a new approach.
I would also like to maintain the competitive procedure for non-profiled chairs but to put it very gradually in the accounting books of the staff of the faculties and not before five years. The recruitment of academics based on the excellence of their track record is a major asset for the standing of the university, which all the universities are envious of. It allows for the development of original research independent (for a period) of pedagogical needs and also represents the prospect of a career for young researchers.
Finally, based on the refinancing envisaged in the 2024 timeframe and other financial income mentioned above, I suggest investing in the academic, scientific and PATGS staff. The 2016-2020 refinancing has only been dedicated up to a limit of around 8% for the academic and scientific staff, 2% for the PATG and 20% for support for research. It is urgent that we reinvest in our fundamental missions.
ULB and the hospital hub
Healthcare and hospital sector politics are major issues for the ULB, its academic hospital and its hospital partners in Brussels and in Wallonia. The healthcare sector offers a large number of courses, many and varied research themes and potential for development for numerous areas of the University, which concern more than just the faculties that are directly concerned. As with the rest of the University, the hospital is under the pressure of various legal, financial and administrative constraints. Its founding missions are tending to fade away as competitiveness and survival are becoming major priorities, to the detriment of our colleagues. We have nevertheless witnessed successes, innovations, commitments and excellence in all areas of healthcare, in teaching, research and access to care for everyone. The ULB can be proud of its hospital and hospital partners, who bring together the cutting-edge medicine of our country.
In Belgium, there are only seven academic hospitals set down by law. The Hôpital Erasme is among those – with the Universitaire Ziekenhuis Brussel (VUB), the Centre Hospitalier universitaire du Sart Tilman (ULG), the Universitaire Ziekenhuis Leuven (KUL), the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc (UCL), l’Universitaire Zienkenhuis Gent (UGent) and the Universitaire Zienkenhuis Antwerpen (UIA). So this is a fundamental asset and an essential component of the excellence of our University and something that we need to preserve!
The financial situation of the Hôpital Erasme has substantially improved. Its gross revenue is in the positive, its debt has been contained and it is once again in a position to take out loans . But the financial recovery of the Hôpital Erasme has been a very tough period for the staff and it has left its imprint on them. The time has come to emerge from austerity to give the Hospital a second wind. Cost reductions have reached their limit and the Hospital’s Board of Administration needs to adopt other financial strategies.
We also need to complete the governance reform advocated by the working group on governance in 2015. Everyone agrees that we also need to open up the Hospital by promoting synergies with ULB faculties and by creating partnerships. The establishment of a loco-regional Brussels hospital network decided by the Law of 28 February 2019 is underway as well as the creation of the ‘Grand hôpital universitaire de Bruxelles’ (GHUB). These projects must be supported by taking into account of the specificity of all the stakeholders.
Completing the governance reform of the Hôpital Erasme
The strategic planning that the Hôpital Erasme still needs to pursue implies that the governance reform should be completed. The point of departure for this reform was the 2015 assessment undertaken by the working group on the Hospital’s governance. Since this assessment, the axes of the reform have not all been implemented. It has emerged from my numerous meetings that some dysfunctional elements that had been detected then continue to disrupt the smooth operation of the Hospital and that there is still room for a number of points to be improved. As Rector, I would do what I can to help the Hospital in this exercise and to support it in developing its strategies.
The first step in this sense would consist of, as the report on governance advocates, having within the Rector’s team a Rector’s delegate for hospital policy. I would follow this basic recommendation as I would ensure that the Hospital Committee foreseen by Articles 13 § 3 and 77 of the ULB’s Organic Statutes be set up. Mandated with following up on the University’s relations with the academic hospital, this permanent committee is also mandated to reflect on the ULB’s hospital network policy and, in this context, on hospitals connected to the ULB. It will also ensure that staff are better informed and provide reassurance about the future of the health sector.
The Brussels hospital network and the Grand hôpital universitaire de Bruxelles (GHUB)
The hospitals are faced with two major challenges:
- Integration into a hospital network foreseen by the Law of 28 February 2019 amending the coordinated Law of 10 July 2008 on hospitals and other care institutions, which plans to organise hospitals on the Belgian territory in a maximum of 25 networks, including four in Brussels (1);
- The creation of the Grand Hôpital universitaire de Bruxelles (GHUB), bringing together the Hôpital académique Erasme, the CHU Brugamn, the CHU Saint-Pierre, the HUDERF and the Institut Jules Bordet (2).
1. The hospital networks in Brussels
Of the maximum of four networks envisaged by the law for Brussels, two have already been set up. One brings together the Cliniques universitaires St. Luc, the Hôpital St. Jean, the Cliniques de l’Europe and Saint-Pierre-Ottignies; the other is articulated around the UZ Brussel (VUB) and hospitals in the Hal-Vilvorde region.
Setting up one or two networks among the other hospitals of the Brussels Region meant adopting two decrees in order to allow the public hospitals to join with private hospitals. These have been adopted in first reading by the assembly of the ‘Commission communautaire commune (Cocom)’. The draft decrees are currently being submitted for an opinion to the legislation section of the Council of Sate and the Consultative Health Council, the body of Cocom empowered to formulate opinions on any draft or proposed decree.
In accordance with the law, the hospitals cooperate with each other within the network in order to propose a better offer of quality hospital services. A network is therefore defined as cooperation between hospitals which each maintaining their legal personality and autonomy, but which agree on a common goal. This hospital cooperation will take the form of a non-profit seeking association that will not be subject to administrative supervision (as envisaged by one of the aforementioned decrees).
The strategic policy related to the offer of loco-regional care will be defined by the hospital network and each hospital will remain responsible for the competences non-attributed to the network. They decide together on the competences that they want to transfer to the network and define their management strategies for the provision of healthcare. Each structure keeps its autonomy, its management bodies and its own staff, with the network playing a connecting role.
A convention is currently being discussed to bring together into a single network the Hôpital académique Erasme, the Hôpitaux de la ville de Bruxelles (the CHUB), the Hôpitaux Iris-Sud (Etterbeek-Ixelles, Joseph Bracops, Molière-Longchamp and Etterbeek-Baron Lambert) and the CHIREC and to define the network’s philosophy. This convention aims, via a gentlemen’s agreement, to allow mutual help between hospitals, to organise their offer of basic healthcare, the promixity of health services and the management of cutting edge care. The law does not impose a defined form of integration, the hospitals in the network choose the competences that they manage in the network and those that come under their own strategy.
In the future, the hospitals, will be able, if they so wish, to opt for a more enhanced form of integration. In this case, the law has envisaged a heavier procedure and in particular an agreement from the medical board of each hospital in the network in order to be able to transfer a matter concerning the status of the staff to the network.
The law entered into force on 1 January 2020 and the networks have now to be set up quickly. The ongoing negotiations will, in principle, soon reach their conclusion. If this was to turn out not be the case, quod non, my rectorship will, in consultation with the hospital committee that I have committed to setting up, be in line with the negotiations that are currently being carried out.
Once a network has been set up, it will also have to coordinate supraregional healthcare. According to the law, the supraregional healthcare mission concerns healthcare which cannot be offered in each locorgional hospital clinic network.
The law has however not foreseen that this cooperation between networks be endowed with a legal personality. It can therefore be organised by agreement and decide the terms of continuity of care and the arrangements for the intake of patients by the partners. These supraregional agreements will make it possible to strengthen cooperation, in particular with the network from Hainaut when it has been set up – but also with the network of UZ Brussel and hospitals from the Hal-Vilvorde region.
2. The Grand Hôpital universitaire de Bruxelles (GHUB), bringing together the Hôpital académique Erasme, the CHU Brugman, the CHU Saint-Pierre, the HUDERF and the Institut Jules Bordet
For months the ULB and the Hôpital académique Erasme have been negotiating the creation of a hospital hub, of European and international dimensions, with privileged hospital partners from the city of Brussels – the CHUB : CHU Brugman, CHU Saint- Pierre and the Institut Jules Bordet.
From the numerous discussions that I have had, it has emerged that there is broad consensus on the need to bring together current hospital structures, so as to have a harmonized offer and to ensure the highest level of quality care and its accessibility to all in the Region. Everyone agrees in saying that a ‘standalone’ situation is no longer viable. The objective of bringing the hospitals together is to strengthen the vocation of the University, the Hôpital Erasme and hospitals from the City of Brussels, and to develop care for the patient taking into account their healthcare journey before, during and after their hospital stay.
Today’s medicine (and its funding) favours outpatient services and all the organisational methods that shorten the lengths of stays in hospital (except in some areas). Proximity is therefore essential. At the same time, the growing number of complex or rare pathologies requires a concentration of resources, healthcare professionals and patients in a hospital site with appropriate infrastructure, to avoid the dispersal of knowledge and strength, and to keep improving the quality of care, which also depends on the volume of activity. What is obvious for rare pathologies may also be for complex pathologies or basic healthcare. To take a simple example: a maternity clinic that sees the birth to one newborn per day could be less equipped than a maternity clinic which sees many births. The aim is not to get rid of all the maternity clinics but to rationalize the different structures of a region in order to have a better service and increased quality of care. The same will go for the different sites of the future GHUB.
Both scientific research and teaching, based on a diverse clinical activity, will be enhanced as will the training of multidisciplinary teams.
Finally, these regroupings will put an end to competition between partners and will promote the mobility of doctors and/or patient. Funding will be improved by economies of scale as well as through the pooling some material and human resources. Investments in medical innovation will be more rational and coordinated, for the benefit of all activities and sites.
The negotiations are ongoing and if they are not finished, it will be my task, as mentioned to pursue them with the advisory hospital committee that I have committed to setting up.
I have heard the legitimate concerns of all the stakeholders. That is why, in the implementation of the convention which will be finalised or in the negotiations around it if it has not yet been finalised, the widest possible consultation will be carried out so that each hospital and its staff are heard. The lessons from setting up the clinical biology laboratory, the Laboratoire hospitalier universitaire de Bruxelles (LHUB), must of course be learnt.
This is a complex dossier but it is a promising one for the future of the healthcare sector. I am committed to use all my competences as a specialist in public law with expertise in the issues related to the grouping of structures as well as the competences that I have gained from being Vice-Rector and from coordinating the integration of Colleges into the ULB structure. I will work in order to achieve this in in very close cooperation with the delegate of the Rector for hospital affairs and the hospital committee.
ULB in the city
Communication and relations are highly intertwined with the web: Internet, networks, interconnections etc. A web is also the right term to describe how the ULB fits into the Brussels, Francophone and Belgian arena.
At the heart of this web is Brussels. And, at the heart of Brussels is the district of Ixelles, considered by The Guardian as being the second ‘coolest’ place in Europe. Brussels and the Brussels Region are exceptional places to live and offer the ULB a foothold that is the envy of a number of universities throughout the world. Multiculturalism is a major feature of our surroundings and the political institutions – regional, national and European – offer our University a direct connection with the pulse of this res publica, which is the academic concern of many of our curricula and researchers.
We need to develop these privileged historical links and relations, be they with the City of Brussels, the communes – in particular the one that hosts us, Ixelles and Anderlecht – and all the economic, cultural, political and non-profit institutions that make the heart of Brussels beat. The evolution of a federal Belgium will offer the Brussels Region more autonomy. We need to be lead-players in managing this autonomy.
The threads of this web also link us to the Walloon Region: our footholds in Wallonia, and in particular in the Charleroi region, are essential assets that we also need to strengthen and expand. We need to cultivate our uniqueness but also work to put in place productive and stimulating partnerships with other institutions.
In this respect, the relations that link us to our sister University, the VUB, are key. Sharing consolidating successful joint initiatives between the French and Flemish communities is so important in a Belgium that is too divided. Cooperation with the VUB also covers the urban development of our campuses. We need to be exemplary in terms of sustainability and in terms of reducing the energy footprint of our sites.
Partnerships with the Brussels communes and the City
The most burning issue of course relates to setting up the Grand Hôpital universitaire de Bruxelles, which is discussed in the chapter entitled ‘The ULB and the hospital hub’.
We also need to be particularly attentive to the mobility of those using our campuses (ULB and VUB). From this point of view, a number of efforts must be made, in consultation with the Ixelles’ urban planning department, to develop a true university campus in the Solbosch-La Plaine axis, where users should be able to move around in full security and in a pleasant environment. That is far from being the case today, and this seems to me to be a priority.
Along these lines, we also need to work together with the commune to expand the offer of student accommodation at affordable prices, which could require a control on rents. We know how students stimulates the life of a city and its districts; from Flagey to Ixelles cemetery going via our hospital locations, men and women of the ULB, irrespective of their age, breathe life into the city and have a right to expect a rich and varied quality of life and cultural offer.
Cooperation with the VUB
The rector Yvon Englert has considerably reinforced trust between our two sister universities. We need to take this dynamic forward though a strategic alliance at the time of a future reform of the state which is heading towards a form of federalism based on four regions.
This cooperation covers all aspects. I have already mentioned the urban planning and architectural dimension, which includes among other things the Usquare Cité Internationale project, which will make it possible to offer an increased amount of accommodation to our students, in particular those coming from abroad. The ULB will also have to be part of a supra-region dimension, this time via its hospital network.
The ULB’s foothold in Wallonia
A number of our students come from Wallonia. Today, the ULB is, via the UCharleroi Campus and links with UMons, developing its three fundamental missions in the Walloon Region: teaching, research and services to the community.
The Gosselies campus brings together some 1,700 people active in the sector of biotechnologies, in University research centres, laboratories and institutes but also in spin-offs, a specialized incubator and private companies. Together this forms the Brussel South Charleroi Biopark. All this activity has come about due to the attractiveness created by the presence of cutting edge ULB research institutes there.
Since 2015, the University has also invested itself in the centre of the city of Charleroi. The reason for that move was to concentrate all the university training in Charleroi in a single place – around the Zénobe Gramme building. Research in different fields of the humanities has also considerably developed in the last few years in this location.
The choice of this location is justified by the fact that there will soon be a Campus of Sciences, Arts and Professions there, in particular through the implementation of the ambitious Cité des Métiers project.
In partnership with the UMons, the Université ouverte and the Haute Ecole Condorcet, the training offer has increased with the aim of increasing the number of students accessing university education and, in the long term, the number of graduates. The approach has been to offer university bachelor’s degrees in the following three areas: life sciences, engineering sciences and human and social sciences. A specialized Master’s degree in territorial management and urban development is also offered and other programmes are currently under discussion and preparation.
There will be challenges in the coming years with the Charleroi sites as they will be renovated but we will be all the better equipped to deliver high quality teaching in the near future.
Finally, with the support of FEDER, we are setting up, in collaboration with UMons and some other research center, a Centre of Excellence in Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Development, whose mission will be to study and to experiment with production systems for future energy.
At a time when climate issues are at the heart of citizens’ concerns, our University has a duty to pursue its commitment, which dates back a long way, in favour of sustainable development and the climate. Six key actions have been decided in the ‘climate’ plan adopted by the Board of Administration to reduce our University’s carbon footprint. We should pursue our efforts and adopt a pro-active policy. We must ask ourselves about the sustainability of our campuses and put sustainable development at the centre of our teaching and our research and all our activities. The ‘climate’ plan will no doubt need to be reevaluated because its exorbitant cost (77 million euro) is currently not within our reach. We must therefore target the most efficient actions because the issue is an essential one, concerns the whole of the University community and cannot be ignored.
Furthermore, there are a number of subsidies available for the refurbishment of existing infrastructure, in particular via Bruxelles-Environnement, which we should claim in order to help us achieve our goals. Let us make our campuses green areas, let us not forget to take the opportunity to do so during construction and refurbishment projects. Let us commit the whole of the University community to the objective of being carbon neutral and let us encourage inter-faculty projects in favour of innovation and sustainable development. Let us make healthy and sustainable food on our campuses a priority and let us encourage the waste sorting.
Our role in social upward mobility
With a presence in two Francophone cities where the unemployment rate is very high – Brussels and Charleroi – especially among young people who have a poor level of education, the University has a duty to develop a structured cooperation with public authorities, to develop real partnerships both in the area of initial education and in continuous training. The common threads of this effort must be excellence and quality. It is not about offering degrees and training ‘at a discount’. Real democracy consists in giving everyone real opportunities to make a success of their lives and to gain their autonomy (in all senses of the word), not to offer the illusion of equality and promotion that would not withstand the test of reality. In other words, our societal commitment does not consist in artificially lengthening the waiting period which separates young people from their adult life but to offer them all the tools to face the best way possible, both on a personal and a community level.
The role of continuous training in partnership with the City
Our University is developing and investing in Lifelong Learning and this is key given the evolution of knowledge and the mobility in terms of employment that will continue to grow. This is developed in the chapter entitled ‘ULB, teaching and learning’. Here, the partnership with the Region needs to be enhanced in a strategy to improve the employment rate. The partnership signed between Bruxelles-Formation [Brussels training body] and the Centre de formation continue des métiers de la santé [the Centre for Continuous Training of Healthcare Professions] for the training of the unemployed is a wonderful example of this, as is the FEDER contract for training for oncology professions.
Beyond these targeted actions, the University also needs to address a wider public, which does not necessarily come into our lecture halls. We need to enhance the recognition of our work vis à vis the general public by proposing a form of high quality and lively popularization of science for all citizens. It is our responsibility to ensure that our research is disseminated without making any sacrifices in terms of the scientific demands that guided them. Whether through conferences, publications or cooperation with the media, we need to encourage this dissemination and unceasingly keep a check on its quality. In these troubled times when rumours, scepticism as far as science and knowledge is concerned and the return of superstitions and collective anxieties, our role is more important than ever. It is by ensuring a critical mindset, a scientific method that things can be put into perspective. The University must continue to be the democratic look-out and my rectorship will be steeped in this vision of our time and of our responsibilities.
ULB and external relations
External relations do not simply refer to the ties, collaborations and partnerships with university and research institutions around the world but also to the place and role of our University in the capital of Europe, to the contacts with a large number of bodies and networks, including other Belgian universities and in particular those from the French Community. These relations are crucial for our University which distinguishes itself in terms of openness to the world as well as to its its direct environment. This openness is visible in our commitment to creating, transmitting and sharing knowledge with all.
International relations and development-aid
The University has invested considerably in the development of its international relations in the last twenty five years and has initiated or consolidated strong links with numerous partners all over the world. We should continue with this momentum in a context where mobility and the joint construction of knowledge at the international level are central to high quality teaching and research. The ULB can be proud of the number of students and teachers who carry out mobility stays and also that it is seen as an extremely attractive university for students and staff members coming from abroad and who contribute to forging our identity as an international University.
Numerous framework agreements, mobility partnerships and other cooperation conventions today allow us to develop joint projects, carry out co-supervision of dissertations and develop courses including an international dimension, both with institutions considered as the most prestigious in the world as well as with lesser known establishments which offer excellent opportunities to students, researchers and teachers.
The ULB has established privileged partnerships with several universities in the world. It has also made a strong commitment, for several decades, in university development-aid (mainly in Africa), a tradition which was consolidated under the outgoing rectorship. This needs to be maintained. However, we need to be aware that international relations is a sector in constant evolution which needs to be very regularly re-evaluated, taking into account the quality of our collaborations, our partners’ wishes but also the context in which they are evolving. The ULB also needs to continue to show its active solidarity with partners facing threats for the exercise of academic freedom. It is also essential that we continuously contribute to debates concerning, at a global level, university funding, the creation and the sharing of knowledge.
Alongside the networks that the ULB has contributed to establishing, such as the European alliance CIVIS, the G3 partnership or UNICA (Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe), it needs to enhance its active presence in the management of institutional networks such as the EUA (European University Association), the AUF (Agence universitaire de la Francophonie) and the AIU (Association internationale des universités based at UNESCO).
The deployment of the ULB’s international relations concerns the entire university community and requires fluidity and coherence between the many departments and members of staff that are involved in the dynamics at the institutional level. The faculties need to be invited to play a central role here by supporting the projects that are developed both ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’. It is essential that the investment of staff in the consolidation of these international partnerships (including the development-aid activities) be better recognised and valued.
Discipline-related international networks need to be encouraged (even outside institutional networks) by supporting the initiatives of all those who work for the internationalization of research and teaching practices. Concretely, this means logistical, financial and administrative support. From this standpoint, it is essential to keep in mind that, while some of our laboratories and curricula are recognised at the international level and are not short of visibility or resources, others struggle to find an institutional base that allows them to be deployed. With this in mind, I would like the internationalization of research and teaching practices to be also one of the priorities of the vice-rectorships in teaching and research.
(Re)thinking our internationalization also requires that we be more attentive to the specificities of disciplines. Depending on the field of knowledge and the subject of research, the degree of and approach to internationalization vary considerably. Certain disciplines, concerned with more national, local or regional subjects can be developed more locally and deal less with international aspects, whilst for others the international dimension is at the heart of the approach to building knowledge and disseminating it. The issues raised by the internationalization process therefore differ from one discipline to another and a coherent international policy needs to better respect these specificities. It is important to remember that all knowledge created and taught in a university has intrinsically an international dimension as it is part of a global collective process that has been ongoing for centuries. Establishing support and strategies that are adapted to the specificities of the different forms of international commitment must be privileged.
Finally, strengthening our international presence demands, for some major projects, frank, direct and constructive cooperation with the other universities from the French Community so that our voice can be heard better. In this respect, the CRI (Commission des Relations internationales) and the CCD (Commission de la Coopération au Développement) of the ARES offer a remarkable area for exchange, debate and cooperation in which the ULB needs to invest fully.
The ULB’s role in the capital of Europe
The ULB’s role as a University located at the heart of Europe has been highlighted for a long time. However, we need to recognise that a lot remains to be done to improve our visibility and our relations with the institutions of the European Union. A global strategy needs to be put in place for this purpose and it should, in particular, rely more on our alumni who are working within these institutions. A number of them have been trained in our prestigious Institut d’études européennes, which, given its close relations with the EU institutions but also with a the multitude of governmental or non-governmental actors and representatives from civil society that gravitate around the EU institutions, needs to occupy a central position in this new strategy.
Relations with public authorities and with other Belgian universities
The ULB has once again an important position in the French community and has repositioned itself in the centre of the chessboard, notably in a political sense. It has and it will have a major role to play in the upcoming and inevitable negotiations about the reforms of the state. The University needs to position itself as a major actor in this context, which involves strengthening its relations both with democratic political parties and established powers, authorities of the federated entities and local powers. Enhancing these institutional relations is today a priority to ensure the future of our University.
The ULB also needs to strengthen its cooperation with the other universities of the French Community. Dialogue and cooperation are essential, in particular, to be in a position to develop a common and united position during negotiations regarding their funding, the changes in the ‘landscape’ decree and the international positioning of our institutions. Of course, defending a common position is not always easy in a competitive context but it is crucial given the scale of the upcoming issues. Within the French Community, frank and loyal cooperation is particularly needed with the UCLouvain and the Université Saint-Louis-Bruxelles, which are the closest universities linguistically and geographically, especially with the aim to maintain programmes threatened by a drop in the number of students. The government’s agreement envisages rationalizing the teaching offer in the French Community. If done in an intelligent way, such a rationalization can contribute to avoiding the dispersal of our strengths and, in some cases, exhaustion among our teachers. We should certainly anticipate it, in cooperation with other university partners, to avoid having it imposed on us.
Outside the French Community, we also need to strengthen cooperation with Dutch-speaking universities, to which, with the exception of the VUB mentioned in other chapters of my programme, insufficient attention has been paid in recent years in spite of their geographic proximity and the prospects for cooperation both in terms of teaching and research. The VUB must of course continue to be our privileged partner. The joint development of the Usquare project in the former barracks of the gendarmerie [police force] offers us an interesting opportunity to strengthen our links with our sister institution. The other Flemish universities, such as the KUL and UGent, must not be neglected either.
External relations and communication
The ULB is a reservoir teeming with initiatives, ranging from the most high-performance scientific creativity to micro-projects carried out together with citizens’ organisations. The visibility of all that the University community produces and organises could be better ensured and sharing with other institutions, our alumni and other communities.
To communicate around our constant scientific, pedagogical and social output, the ULB has external communication tools (an institutional repository, a website) which often act as the first point of interaction between, on the one hand, our institution and its staff, and on the other hand, our foreign and local partners and colleagues and our current and future students.
We should improve the user-friendliness of these tools that need to be easy to use and coherent. We need to make sure that all that the University community produces is easily accessible but also to reaffirm our identity and our values in a transforming university environment.