Our Rectorate – Looking back, moving forward!
The Rector’s Column | 22.12.2021
Just over two years ago, the Rectorate team, including myself, took office, meaning that we have now surpassed the halfway point of our term in office. I would like to take this opportunity – as we approach New Year’s Eve, which is always a time for reflection – to look back at my time in office since October 2019.
A complete change in the Rectorate team means – especially after many years of continuity – a big change for a university. We were and are very aware of this. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who have been and continue to be positive about the changes and about us as a new leadership team.
Immediately after taking office, we actively started to reorganise the structures at the PLUS, first in the administrative area and then in research and teaching. These science-led structural considerations were the starting point for the subsequent development planning and the subsequent Development Plan (Entwicklungsplan) itself. In order to promote and implement the clearly formulated claim of transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary cooperation, the PLUS has formulated the four guiding principles of Art in Context, Development & Sustainability, Digital Life and Health & Mind. They serve to develop new and cross-sectional teaching and research concepts and strengthen the identification of university members with their PLUS.
At the same time, this structural reform initiated a broad-based, participatory and externally supported communication and change management process intended to have a lasting effect and establish a participatory culture at our university. In this context, it is particularly important for me to emphasise that the Rectorate, as well as all employees, are part of the process. I am deeply impressed by the commitment that you, as members of the PLUS, have shown to your university. It is clear that the PLUS is not just an employer or a university, but a place to connect to and to identify with.
I am aware that the structural reform and the associated changes – also because they had happen under great time pressure – caused uncertainty and even fear among many members of the university. However, the quick procedure was without any real alternative, especially because this formed the foundation for the PLUS development plan as well as the performance agreement (Leistungsvereinbarung) based upon it. The performance agreement was successfully finalised with the BMBWF in autumn 2021 with a very satisfactory result. This, together with the successful consolidation of the financial situation under the leadership of Vice-Rector Barbara Romauer, put the PLUS on a stable financial basis and secured its ongoing operations in the long term.
We have made great progress with several working groups on essential topics of human resources development; we are committed to creating an optimal and non-discriminatory working environment, to providing transparent opportunities for promotion according to consensual performance criteria for general and academic staff, and to positioning the PLUS as a responsible and socially committed employer. For us, staff welfare and strategic staff development are the cornerstones of our university – together with all PLUS committees and members, we will be particularly committed to this in the coming years.
An important and externally visible project from the beginning was the re-design of the complete PLUS brand identity: this included the development of a new logo, a new corporate design and a completely new website. At the same time, a central contact point was created for all kinds of communicative enquiries, which presents information and successes at the PLUS on the appropriate channels. The PLUS Desk plays an important role in the cross-media communication strategy of our university. At the same time, additional internal communication measures were developed, such as the PLUS Talk and the Rector’s Column. These are of great importance to us – not only because of the difficult Corona conditions – in order to be able to engage directly with university members.
Teaching and research in times of Corona
Corona has presented us with unprecedented challenges in all areas of work almost from the beginning of our tenure.
The biggest challenge in teaching was an unplanned one, namely the most extensive and immediate changeover to online teaching. Together with all faculties, departments and the academic support staff, this change was managed very successfully (and several times over since then). It was also possible to improve the hardware and software equipment within a short period, and to support teaching staff and students accordingly. For the long-term and sustainable further development of teaching, Vice-Rector Martin Weichbold launched the open innovation competition Studium PLUS Zukunft: The task now is to select and implement the best of more than 50 concrete proposals. We also reached important milestones in the teacher-training programme, both internally through the restructuring of the School of Education and in the network through a significant improvement in cooperation. The unanimous start of a huge project, namely the revision of the curricula for all teaching subjects, is an emphatic sign of this new spirit.
Research was also strongly affected by the Corona pandemic – some facilities such as libraries, archives and laboratories were not accessible. Cooperation partners could not be visited and the communicative interaction that research largely depends on was impaired. Nevertheless, 2020 and 2021 were very positive years for the acquisition of third-party funding: ERC grants and doctoral programmes were acquired from the FWF and two Cluster of Excellence applications to lead two Cluster of Excellence projects were submitted in the Excellent = Austria Initiative. We will continue along this successful path in 2022 with future-oriented interdisciplinary projects launched in 2021, such as Digital Humanities or Interdisciplinary Digital Sciences, under the supervision of Vice Rector Nicola Hüsing.
Although a lot of work and effort has already gone into structural measures in the past two years, the PLUS must be dynamic and forward-thinking as it moves into the future.
What I consider to be a ground-breaking internationalisation project – namely our participation in the European University consortium CIVIS – was realised in the late summer of 2021. The PLUS is now a full partner in this top-class network and is actively involved in the application process for the next funding period of 2022-2026. The strong structural roots of inter-university cooperation within the framework of CIVIS will enable an uncomplicated exchange of students, researchers and administrative staff between the participating institutions.
It is not only in connection with CIVIS that there will be new degree programmes. At the PLUS, too, the degree programmes on offer are dynamic. I am pleased to announce the Bachelor’s programmes Nutrition – Exercise – Health, Artificial Intelligence and Christian Culture, Transformation and Communication as well as the Master’s programme Language – Business – Culture for the coming year. The study programmes Global Health and Performance Studies (together with the Mozarteum) are also in the planning stages.
To ensure that students not only receive outstanding teaching, but also feel comfortable in Salzburg, the working group (AG) Studierendenstadt was set up with representatives from all universities in Salzburg as well as the city of Salzburg. The aim is to increase the visibility of students and to strengthen student networking (also between educational institutions).
One major goal is the strategic development of the PLUS facilities; we are developing a future-oriented concept that will include, among other things, a research building for experimental life science research as well as a central, modern administration building that will be more accessible and better adapted to staff needs. Childcare is another important goal. The long-term plan is, of course, to be and remain an historical city university, but to create an environment for cohesive working groups at specific locations.
Next year will be one highlight after the next: the PLUS will celebrate the 400th anniversary of its founding. We hope to have put together a very attractive programme for this occasion, which can be viewed here. The anniversary year will begin on 26.01.2022 with the official opening of the exhibition “PLUSpunkte. 400 Years of the University of Salzburg” will start in the DomQuartier, and I look forward to toasting to our university with you already on this occasion. Let’s hope that the Covid situation will allow for attendance at all events.
We have achieved a lot – despite all the adversities and challenges, especially due to Corona – and we still have a lot to accomplish together in the coming years. I am proud to be part of this university and would like to thank you today for your tireless efforts for the benefit of all of us and for the further development of PLUS.
With the coming Christmas holidays, the year is drawing to a close. I wish you a peaceful and contemplative time with your loved ones and a happy new year for 2022 with lots of health and joyfulness.
With very warm Christmas greetings,