Cut bu­reau­cracy to cre­ate time for third mis­sion, says EUA head

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - David.matthews@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Re­searchers need to strike a new grand bar­gain with gov­ern­ments to cut back aca­demic bu­reau­cracy in or­der to free up time for the so­cial and eco­nomic en­gage­ment in­creas­ingly de­manded of univer­si­ties by states, the pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Univer­sity As­so­ci­a­tion has ar­gued.

Rolf Tar­rach (pic­tured inset) was speak­ing at the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Zurich, which was dom­i­nated by some­times anx­ious de­bate about univer­si­ties’ role in so­ci­ety, the ero­sion of their pub­lic le­git­i­macy, and out­right threats to aca­demic free­dom from gov­ern­ments.

“If we want to do more things for so­ci­ety, we can’t do it by work­ing more than 60 or 70 hours a week – and there­fore we have to re­gain some of our free time,” Pro­fes­sor Tar­rach, the for­mer rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Lux­em­bourg, told del­e­gates at the Univer­sity of Zurich.

“And there’s only one place where log­i­cally we would like to get free time, and that is cut­ting down... bu­reau­cracy,” he ar­gued. “And for that we need to build up trust. And

once we build up trust, we can ask our gov­ern­ments and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. Trust us – give us more free time, con­trol us less, and then we prom­ise...that free time will then be given to our work with so­ci­ety.”

Pro­fes­sor Tar­rach is the lat­est se­nior Euro­pean fig­ure to ques­tion whether ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures in academia have gone well past an ef­fi­cient or rea­son­able level. In March, the pres­i­dent of Science Europe, Marc Schiltz, sug­gested fun­ders ex­per­i­ment with lot­tery or ba­sic in­come sys­tems for re­searchers to cut grant ap­pli­ca­tion bu­reau­cracy.

Del­e­gates were also warned that over-promis­ing about the im­pact of re­search had got out of hand. Ul­rike Felt, dean of the so­cial sciences fac­ulty at the Univer­sity of Vi­enna, said that overly con­fi­dent claims made by re­searchers to fun­ders or the pub­lic about the im­pact of their work should even be seen as a mat­ter of re­search ethics.

There was an “econ­omy of prom­ise”, which led aca­demics to “imag­ine and prom­ise all kinds of short-term gains” from re­search, she said.

“We know all too well from the war on can­cer, which we [have been] fight[ing] since [the] 1970s, and which is re-imag­ined ev­ery cou­ple of years,” she added. “I’ve been a re­viewer for the ERC [Euro­pean Re­search Coun­cil] for many years,” she said dur­ing a ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion. “You can’t imag­ine what peo­ple prom­ise.”

As a re­viewer, she said she had even con­tem­plated draw­ing up a black­list of the most un­re­al­is­tic prom­ises in grant ap­pli­ca­tions. Ap­pli­cants claim­ing they were “the most out­stand­ing re­searcher of my gen­er­a­tion” was not un­com­mon, she said – a boast not heard three to four decades ago. Com­pe­ti­tion be­tween aca­demics pushed them to make such overblown claims, she warned.

Drown­ing in red tape cut­ting bu­reau­cracy would be pos­si­ble if trust could be re­stored

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