According to Eddy Hus, the third member of the Executive Board and also interim director of the USC, the reorganisation won’t bring any forced lay-offs. The changes could however lead to cuts in the budgets for equipment and the hire of temporary staff. “What we’ll actually do is set a cap on how much the provision of services is allowed to cost our university,” explains Hus.
The nine units that currently make up the USC will be merged to a new total of six services. The two ICT units will be combined into a single service, and Real Estate Services and Facility Services will also be merged under the new arrangement. The directors of the six new services will report directly to the Executive Board.
Complaints about the service
The USC came out of a 2015 merger between the ICT, Finance and HRM departments, Education, Research and Student Affairs and Erasmus Facility Services. The merger was accompanied by sizeable budget cuts and staff downsizing. The reorganisation proved a tough and challenging experience for everyone involved. As a result, the original plan wasn’t fully executed, according to Eddy Hus. While people were pleased with having ultimately reached agreement with the unions and the participation bodies, it dampened the energy required to implement the complete programme. “I think that people were more or less exhausted by all the developments – and the attention that was claimed for years by the development of the new campus only made things worse. I understand that everyone needs a breather now and then – but you need to make a start eventually.”
‘Don’t expect the university to reach any deeper into its pockets. Every euro spent on support services can’t be invested in research or education’
“A lot of things went well after the merger, but some trends were less positive: the USC was a bureaucratic establishment, and one thing that struck me was that it shared very little information with its clients or the management. There are some 90 processes within the USC that you could actually report on, but I’m still waiting for the first decent report,” notes Hus. Also, the USC’s most important clients – the faculties and their deans – were dissatisfied with the quality of the provided service. Hus: “The deans had complaints about the service: the phone wasn’t picked up soon enough, the heating didn’t always work, you couldn’t rely on the audiovisual facilities, collaboration with the faculties was sub-par and they felt a lack of influence on how the USC functioned.”
At the same time, the USC faces a budget deficit of EUR 1.5 million per year. But don’t expect the university to reach any deeper into its pockets, says Hus. “The USC already receives 90 million euro per year. But every euro spent on support services can’t be invested in research or education.”
USC Director Kees Lansbergen stepped down two months ago. He was succeeded by Hus, who intended to study the processes within the USC up close and sit in on the meetings of the management team. This means Hus is currently wearing two hats: he both reports as the director of the USC to the Executive Board and sits on that same Board as a member. This potential conflict of interest is overcome by assigning responsibility for the USC to the Board’s Chair Kristel Baele. While the University Council has its doubts about this arrangement, Hus promises that in due time the position of USC director will actually be scrapped altogether.
Hus emphasises that if USC operations are to be improved, the faculties will also need to make a number of adjustments. “It isn’t always clear which member of the faculty the USC is expected to deal with,” he explains. “It will be a dean on one occasion, a faculty director the next, and the third time round a controller. On top of which it’s often unclear what kind of mandate someone has been given.” In the near future, there will alway be a faculty director to represent the faculty on operational matters. However, a number of faculties still need to set up this position.
‘Professionalisation’ is how Hus refers to the changes at the USC: “For example, right now a faculty may submit a 600,000 euro investment proposal for audio-visual facilities. In many cases, it isn’t entirely clear who will be footing the bill. In the near future, I’ll be able to ask the faculty director: if we make this investment, will you pay for it?”
The new arrangement will still leave some of the USC’s central services in place though. The USC’s front office, for example. And will the name ‘USC’ itself be preserved, even when most of its departments have become more or less independent again? Hus doesn’t really care; the main objective is providing students, lecturers and faculties with high-quality service at the right price. “We do need to get rid of that acronym. Right now, the sign over the door to the service counter says ‘USC front office’. Many students and staff members have no idea what that stands for. I’ve ordered this sign to be replaced with something like ‘service desk’.”
By now, most of the plans have been coordinated with the deans, the USC management team and the University Council’s Personnel, Facilities & Organization (PFO) Committee. In early July, Hus will be meeting with the USC’s staff council to discuss the plans. After the summer, the new reorganisation plan will be submitted for review to other interested parties like the participation bodies and the unions.