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Researchers must also teach

The Minister for Higher Education and Science Sofie Carsten Nielsen's speech at the the annual meeting in the research political committee of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters 25 March 2014 in Copenhagen.

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Researchers must also teach

Dear friends of science. I would like to thank the Academy for inviting me to this exciting annual meeting.

Allow me just a short detour - before I start talking about academic career paths and attracting and retaining talent at Danish universities.

I have just arrived from a conference at the University of Copenhagen. A number of student organisations hosted a conference about quality in education. There was a lively discussion.

One of their main messages was that they would like to spend more time with people like you: professors, researchers and teachers.

They want you to be more accessible. They want you to be more present in their education.

It is an important signal.

We need to make sure that all excellent researchers teach. We need to focus on this important job for researchers.

The fact that many researchers do not teach courses - or only teach very little - may mean that students do not receive an adequately research-based education.

I said this was a detour. But in fact it also concerns to-day’s focus on researcher career paths. Because in my opinion we need a change of culture.

There is a need for universities to view teaching as an activity on an equal footing with research.

Shortly after I started as Minister, I was in the U.S. on an intensive study tour. Among other things we visited Harvard, Stanford and MIT. And the message was the same at all universities: Researchers must teach.

At MIT we met with a Danish professor who said; that if a researcher do not like to teach, he should work somewhere else.

It was also interesting to see that scientists at the American universities allocate time to meet with students. They meet and discuss course’s subject matter, paper re-quirements and so on.

The researchers clearly have a strong commitment to the students and take part in their daily life at campus.

I hope this approach will become more common at Danish universities.

Tenure tracks at Danish universities

It is human resources that create the world's best universities. Outstanding scientists are the cornerstone of universities to provide excellent research for the benefit of society. And an outstanding scientist is a prerequisite to provide research-based education at the highest level.

But the best researchers are in high demand. Danish universities are experiencing a strong increase in competition when they want to attract and retain research talents.

We must be well prepared for the competition. The career perspectives at the universities must be attractive and transparent.

And the universities must support career development for its employees. For instance, The Council for Independent Research’s ‘Sapere Aude’ programme is precisely aimed at creating clear career paths for researchers.

This is a great initiative, but a funding programme cannot do the work alone. The most important efforts must lie at the universities.

It has been a wish from Danish universities to offer the possibility of tenure track positions based on the American model.

With the recent revision of the employment structure it is now possible to offer a six-year tenure track associate professor position.

So it is very relevant that you are now trying to examine the best way to put a model together. And please let me know if there are other barriers that prevent universities from creating structures that will help to attract talented researchers.

I'm glad that the White Paper emphasises that the new three-year budget framework has had a positive impact on introducing a tenure track.

It is crucial that we strengthen the competitiveness of Danish universities in terms of being attractive to young and older talented researchers. And I will be excited to hear about your experiences with tenure track positions.

Now I would like focus on three other factors that can help to strengthen the Danish universities’ ability to retain and attract talented researchers and improve career paths.

It is about how we attract more women to top-level research. It is about how we strengthen the food chain and nurse our own talents. And it is about how to attract international talents.

We need more women in top-level research

On the one hand there are many women with a PhD in Denmark. On the other hand there are too few women who become professors.

That is a challenge. It means that we do not utilise the en-tire talent pool. It is like – as we would say in Danish – fishing in only one half of the pond.

I know there already different initiatives at Danish universities that aim to achieve a more equal proportion of male and female top-level scientists.

The challenge has been taken up. And we have also reacted. The Danish Council for Independent Research has launched the initiative Younger women Devoted to a University career, YDUN. 

YDUN’s aim is to strengthen the utilization of talent in Danish research by promoting a more balanced gender composition of the research environments.

DKK 110 million is allocated to encourage talented female researchers to pursue a top-level research career.

Encouraging more women to climb up the research ladder is not a matter of compromising on quality. On the contrary, it's about bringing more talents forward. And that can only benefit Danish research.

We are behind the rest of Europe. The proportion of female professors, associate professors and heads of departments in Denmark is below the EU average.

Looking at the proportion of female professors we are down to a 23rd place out of the EU's 28 member states. This has to be improved.

Development of talent

We also need to look at how we generally can get better at developing talent.

Universities now have the opportunity to recruit talented students to PhD programmes early in the master's programme after the 3 +5 and 4 +4 models.

These models help recruiting the best talent for PhD programmes.

The flexible models provide students with an opportunity to follow a research career at an early stage in their edu-cation.

And the models support that doctoral students complete a PhD programme while they are still relatively young.

We must be even better at challenging the especially talented and give them opportunities to develop their talents.

We have just had a bill in consultation to give universities a better framework to strengthen their efforts to support and develop talents.

There are four initiatives:

Firstly, the universities will be able to award the most talented students, who have made an extraordinary effort in their studies, with a special diploma.

Secondly, the universities will get the opportunity to recognise extra-curricular activities directly on the diploma.

Thirdly, the very talented students can undertake an extraordinary workload, triggering additional ECTS credits.

And finally, talented high school students will get the opportunity to take courses at universities. And thereby get a head start with their university education.

International talent

But Danish talent alone is not enough. Obviously we must look beyond national borders. We are already doing that.

Of the around 4,000 scientists who have been offered a professor, associate professor or assistant professor position at Danish universities in 2010-2012, 20 percent were recruited from posts abroad.

The Government is very ambitious in the international field. Denmark must become even better at attracting and retaining international talents.

The Government has launched the first part of a two-part action plan for enhanced internationalisation of higher education in Denmark.

The first part dealt primarily with efforts to strengthen international skills among Danish students.

The second part - that is coming very soon - will be about how we can develop our ability to attract and retain the most talented international students - including PhD students.

And it's important that we ensure that our recruitment initiatives target the most talented international students. Denmark's ability to be an attractive study destination for the most talented young people from all over the world is a measure of the quality of our educations.  

Looking forward to your experiences with tenure track

For society, it is essential that universities are able to recruit and retain the right talent.

Career paths, recruitment and talent management are key elements in Danish research policy. And I am glad that we have made it possible to introduce a tenure track at Danish universities

I look forward to hearing about your experience. And I also look forward to seeing how we can become even better at recruiting female researchers and international talents. And I hope to see that teaching is prioritised as an integral and essential part of the work of researchers.

And I look forward to a more equal balance between research and teaching in researchers’ workload.

Thank you for listening.

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last modified February 07, 2024