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Rector: AU should have five faculties instead of four

The Faculty of Science and Technology at Aarhus University has grown so large that the rector is now proposing to split it into two faculties. The goal in doing so would be to make the dean’s leadership task more manageable, which in turn would improve quality and create better balance at the university as a whole. In this connection, Dean Nielsen Christian Nielsen has decided to step down six months before the end of his current contract.

2019.02.07 | Anders Correll

The rector is initiating a process aimed at splitting up the Faculty of Science and Technology. Archival photo: Lars Kruse

Niels Christian Nielsen is stepping down as dean and returning to his professorship on 15 February.

The Faculty of Science and Technology’s revenue accounts for almost half of Aarhus University’s total budget. And in light of the faculty’s significant initiatives to expand research and teaching activities in engineering and digitalisation, this proportion is likely to increase. There is a need to create more space for leadership, connectivity and academic focus. While at the same time creating balance in the overall structure of the faculties at Aarhus University. 

For all these reasons, Rector Bech Nielsen is initiating a process aimed at splitting the faculty in two.  

“Science and Technology is a strong faculty, but it’s also a very large and very academically diverse faculty. There are twice as many employees as at each of three other faculties, and the faculty spans a wide range of locations and different activities.”

What’s more, the faculty’s growth, coupled with the two major strategic initiatives, has led to an increasing imbalance in relation to the other faculties. For this reason, the rector is now proposing a more equal faculty structure in which each faculty’s voice will carry the same weight:

“For quite some time now, I’ve been considering how we best might create greater equality between the faculties, while at the same time creating the best possibilities for the development of academic excellence and the exercise of leadership at Science and Technology. I’ve decided to initiate this process now because the university will be working on an overall strategy process at the same time. For this reason, it makes sense to include the proposal to split up the faculty in the draft of a new university strategic plan, which will be submitted to and approved by the board.”

The strategy process is expected to conclude in December 2019. 

Boundaries up for discussion

Rector Bech Nielsen emphasises that he does not have a finished plan for where and how the boundaries between disciplines are to be drawn in the event that the faculty is split up, but that this will now be discussed by both employees and management. However, he does have some thoughts about the general outlines:

“If we and society are to reap the benefits of our big engineering initiative, I believe that it’s time to grant this field a more independent profile. At the same time, the engineers have developed some strong interdisciplinary partnerships with many of our other activities, including agriculture, food and environment – research which is also strongly oriented towards practical applications. I believe that it will make sense to look in that direction. But now we’re going to have dialogue and discussions with the research and teaching programmes before we settle on a proposal that can be submitted to the board,” the rector says, while also stressing that the university’s interdisciplinary ambitions stand firm.

“If we as a university are going to contribute to solving the big global challenges, we have to keep on practicing at working across disciplinary boundaries all over the university. This won’t change, regardless of whether we have four or five faculties. And that’s why we have to continue to develop the ties that have already been established, including within the current Faculty of Science and Technology,” the rector says. 

The dean is stepping down

But the coming process will take place without the current dean, Niels Christian Nielsen. He has decided to resign from his position as dean, leaving the process and the role of dean to others:

“Naturally, I have discussed the matter at length with the rector, and I respect the proposal to split up the faculty. It’s an extremely complex process, but also a break with the structure I’ve stood at the head of. That means I’m not the right person to move the process forward, and so I have decided to step down effective on 15 February 2019, and leave the management to others,” says Dean Nielsen, who became dean in 2013.  

“I’m incredibly proud that I’ve headed Science and Technology for almost six years now. Together, we have developed an extremely strong faculty and created good conditions for research, teaching and science advice to government. At the same time, on the basis of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and growth technologies, we have built the big engineering and digitalisation initiatives and a wide range of new interdisciplinary research centres that will give us the answers to the major scientific challenges we are facing,” says Dean Nielsen.

Back to full-time research

Dean Nielsen will now return to his professorship at the Department of Chemistry and iNANO, where he will continue research and development within NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance).

“Although I have been very dedicated to my job as dean, I’ve never completely given up my research – and I’m looking forward to resuming my scientific activities full-time,” says Dean Nielsen.

Rector Bech Nielsen expresses complete understanding for the dean’s decision.

“Niels Christian has headed the enormous task of unifying a Science and Technology that has constantly developed and expanded. He has had to handle an incredible number of tasks and stakeholders, and he done it with an incredible work performance and a visionary perspective. The university owes Niels Christian a big thank you, but I understand and respect his decision to step down now, before we get started on the process of defining the future faculty structure at Science and Technology,” says the rector, who will appoint an acting dean as quickly as possible to manage the faculty and the process until a decision has been taken on whether to split up Science and Technology.

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