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Academic Council to the management: Forge closer ties with the foundations

The faculty management team’s wish to forge closer ties to strategically important foundations has the support of the Academic Council. “This has been needed for a long time” was one of the comments when the council discussed the different elements in the Action Plan for external financing.

2018.03.08 | Nanna Jespersgård

Dialogue at management level can increase the possibilities to attract more grants to Health and at the same time time bring more early career researchers into play, says Helle Prætorius Øhrwald, chair of the Academic Council.

When the winds of change blow, some people build shelters, while others erect wind turbines. The academic council prefers wind turbines – at least when the topic is the faculty management team's 'Action Plan for external financing'.

Most importantly, there is support for a new practice whereby the dean personally meets with selected foundations to reinforce relations at management level and acquire knowledge in relation to submitting major applications that match what the foundation’s want. The planned meetings are a logical continuation of the rector's visits to private foundations, but they are also a break with previous practice, where it has been up to the individual researcher or research group to make themselves visible.

"I would expect that such a reflection of wishes and expectations at management level would increase the possibility of attracting more grants to Health, and a management initiative like this can, if it is implemented correctly at the faculty, at the same time bring more early career researchers into play and thereby strengthen the position of these researchers," said chair Helle Prætorius Øhrwald after Ole Steen Nielsen, vice-dean for research, presented the action plan for the Academic Council's members. 

It is not top-down!

Other members of the Council also acknowledged the management's desire to professionalise the relationship with the external foundations and thereby contribute to the mobilisation of foundation grants. As one council member put it, "there’s been a need for this for a long time", which Ole Steen Nielsen was actually pleased to hear. He took the opportunity to warn against a possible misunderstanding that is often associated with initiatives ‘from above’:

"It’s good you think this is due diligence, and aren’t sitting there thinking 'top down', because that has never been in the spirit of the action plan. On the contrary. The idea is for the departments and research groups to follow-up with contacts to the foundations at local level," said Ole Steen Nielsen, before Dean Lars Bo Nielsen added:

"But we also find that the foundations want to contribute to addressing the major social issues that must be resolved across research fields, and it is here that we as management can help to strengthen initiatives across AU and between organisations.”

Here is the action plan

The new action plan consists of a total of five focus areas. These are:

  • Building relations to foundations
  • Better utilisation of ReAP, the system that is used for registration of external funding from foundations
  • Professional networks across departments
  • Strategy meetings with the research support office at top management level
  • Preparation of white papers for selected research areas

In relation to ReAP, the action plan emphasises that registration practice must improve. The goal of ReAP is for the management to use a radar diagram to read off how the faculty's researchers apply and do not apply – including what succeeds and what does not.

"It can be perceived as sensitive when management is looking over your shoulder. But, obviously, we are talking about confidential conversations about information which will never be publicly available, as ReAP is not about going after people with poor results. The aim is to map practice and using that as a basis to become better at attracting funding," said Ole Steen Nielsen.

Greater number of professional networks across departments

Initiative number 3 in the action plan, Professional networks across the departments, includes  theme meetings similar to February’s workshop on the Lundbeck Foundation's thematic advertisements, which attracted close to a hundred researchers, while initiative number 4, Meetings with the Research Support Unit at top management level, deals with a new type of strategy meeting with the participation of the vice-deans Lise Wogensen Bach and Ole Steen Nielsen, as well as the head of the Research Support Office rather than 'just' ordinary employees.

"Again, it's not about top-down but about streamlining the cooperation on Health's strategy by also meeting and discussing the common direction at management level. The challenge we face is that we are not one unit, so we must be more successful than today," said Ole Steen Nielsen.

Many enemies and only a few lukewarm friends…

The fifth and last element in the action plan, Preparation of white papers for selected research areas, gave rise to debate about whether the cardio-vascular area (blood circulation), which the dean and the faculty management team have selected for the initial pilot project, actually was the most appropriate place to start.

"Why choose a classical area that is found at just about all Danish universities, when we have many other research areas at Health that are more obvious to position ourselves in?" asked a council member. To this the dean replied that we have to start somewhere, while knowing full well that the choice of one field at the expense of others can result in "many enemies and a few lukewarm friends", as another of the council members put it with a twinkle in his eye.

"I agree that the new white papers should not all be focused on the traditional organ and disease field, but we have to start somewhere, and this is a pilot project! The cardio-vascular region is broadly represented across the faculty, we have very strong environments, and it is a pathology that represents a major challenge for society. That it is also my own area has, all things being equal, made it easier for me to appoint the three people responsible for the white papers and get the project underway," was the reason given by Dean Lars Bo Nielsen – and accepted by the academic council.

The agenda and appendix as well as the resolution minutes from the meeting are available on Health's website.

Facts about the Academic Council

Academic councils may make statements on all academic issues of substantial relevance to the activities of the university and have a duty to discuss academic matters presented by the rector and others for their consideration. At Health, the council’s tasks are to:

  • make statements to the Dean concerning the internal distribution of grants;
  • make statements on key strategic research questions and educational issues and plans for knowledge exchange;
  • make recommendations on the composition of expert committees appointed to assess applicants for academic positions.

The Academic Council comprises representatives of the academic staff, including employed PhD students, and student representatives.

Members of the Academic Council

Order of business for the Academic Council



Research, Health and disease, Academic staff, Department of Biomedicine, Health, Technical / administrative staff, Department of Clinical Medicine, Health