The dean’s Christmas message 2018

Johnny Laursen looks back at 2018 and hopes that all students and staff at the Faculty of Arts have a Happy Christmas.

2018.12.18 | Johnny Laursen

Dear colleagues,
Dear students,

This year I am writing my holiday message in English and will have it translated into Danish, instead of vice versa. I have decided on this small gesture as a token of respect for our many colleagues with an international background. I am well aware that during the autumn semester many of you have been concerned about the impact that recent government measures will have on our degree programmes that are taught in English.

At a very early stage of this process, the faculty management asked our heads of department to reassure you of how highly we value the work done by our international staff. But even so, a degree of uncertainty has lingered on. So I just wanted you to hear the following message from me in English: the faculty needs you and has no plans to reduce its endeavours to strengthen its international profile.

It is true that a number of degree programmes and special profile courses will be taught in Danish in future, instead of being taught in English, and I cannot pretend that this will not be damaging. It undoubtedly constitutes a setback for the university, but we have not yet given up hope of alleviating the consequences in the not-too-distant future.

Like 2017, 2018 seems to have flown past in the wink of an eye. There is no rest for the wicked, they say, and this is certainly true of the arts and humanities in Denmark. We have definitely not been bored during the past year. But it is also worth remembering that the faculty has been coping gradually and systematically with the financial challenges posed by the government’s cutbacks on education and by the cap on enrolments imposed upon us in 2014.

In one or two years we will have absorbed this cap on enrolments; and the expected loss of revenue for the four-year budget period has been allowed for in our budgets. Improvements in education performance, rising external research funding, savings on administrative costs and other costs, and last but not least collaboration have all helped us to weather the formidable challenge with which we were presented back in 2014. This task has demanded a great deal of hard work, but it is still worth keeping in mind that the stability and continuity made possible by this endeavour allows us all to keep the focus on our key missions as a university.

End-of-year newsletters often tend to recall certain major performances or feats during the past year. This year I will not focus on the stellar performance of our faculty in terms of research, doctoral education and research communication. Instead, let me remind you of some of the less conspicuous achievements of our administrative and academic staff in our everyday working lives.

First, I would like to praise the grand efforts contributed in all areas in connection with quality assurance and innovation in our educational activities. Aarhus University has only recently received full accreditation, but our effective quality assurance system has been in place for quite a long time across the faculty. The same holds true for the work on employability and the pilot initiatives on technology-supported education. Reports are coming back to me from routine evaluations of our degree programmes containing tales of great dedication and an unyielding focus on quality. This is truly admirable.

Second, in 2018 the senior management team launched our efforts to improve the university’s collaboration with industry (in the broadest meaning of the word) as well as our outreach capability. Originally, I was mildly sceptical about the degree to which this was relevant for the Faculty of Arts, but I have been proven shamefully wrong. Not only did it come to light that the faculty already had many more activities in this field than I or any of my colleagues in senior management had expected.

It was also evident that our organisation was able to table new ideas and activities in this field within a surprisingly short span of time. One of these activities was a highly successful case competition in Silkeborg Municipality. And not long ago I received the news that the proportion of our graduates in what could be called the classical humanities who had found a job in the private sector had risen to 35.5 per cent.

While we will continue to be a faculty encompassing the humanities in the broadest sense, as well as theology and education, our ability to consolidate our core activities and find employment for all our graduates will depend on the extent to which we succeed in reaching out to all walks of Danish society.

Some things will undoubtedly change in the year ahead, while others will remain stable or continue their gradual development. The university will initiate discussions on the new strategy to cover the years after 2020. We will work together to introduce new digital tools in research, education and administration, and we will continue the planning of campus 2.0 and the new university city.

2019 will also be the year when Aarhus University explores the potential for collaboration with other universities in London, Berlin, Paris, Oslo and Louvain-la-Neuve. Great opportunities await, but new challenges probably lie ahead too.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of doom and crisis sometimes, especially when you are exposed to a wide variety of rapid changes. As university people, we must be concerned with the perpetuation and improvement of the disciplinary and cross-disciplinary knowledge created by generations of scholars. Consequently, we are obliged to keep an eye on the ball.

Serious challenges remain in front of us, but we are in a position to face them. Other even greater challenges have been defeated. Some time ago, I had what I can only describe as a sense of the impending downfall of civilisation. I was walking through Frankfurt International Airport when I suddenly realised that the bookstore at the centre of the terminal building – just opposite the café selling draught Warsteiner – had been transformed into a beauty shop. Allow me to reassure you all that a similar transformation is not going to happen at the Faculty of Arts!

I hope you all have a very happy holiday, and I look forward to working with you in what will surely be a great 2019.

Johnny Laursen