There is no such thing as standing still for a university that wants to help understand the world of today and shape the world of tomorrow. The ideas, initiatives and projects that emerge from UZH to drive research and teaching are as diverse as the university itself.
In its seven faculties and more than 100 departments, UZH brings together over 26,000 students from all over the world and some 9,000 employees in a variety of roles and disciplines. “If such a large and complex university wants to coherently shape its own future development within the framework of its legal mandate, it needs to agree on common principles,” says Deputy President Gabriele Siegert. Since 2012, UZH has had a mission statement setting out the university’s core values and how it understands its role. In the same year, UZH also defined its Strategic Goals 2020.
While the mission statement of UZH remains in force, the Strategic Goals 2020 will now expire. Many of the aims have been achieved, for example expanding at the doctoral level, establishing the Graduate Campus, and implementing a continuing education strategy. Other goals, however, were abandoned because they no longer seemed useful, such as increasing the proportion of assistant professorships to 25 percent of all professorships.
Setting the direction
Ten new Strategic Principles will now replace the expiring Strategic Goals 2020. What’s new, however, is that no concrete measures have been assigned to these principles, as was the case with the Strategic Goals 2020. “The dual function of serving as principles and planning tool didn’t really work out,” says Gabriele Siegert. Over the years, the measures needed constant adjusting to take into account recent developments. This led to the document becoming more and more unwieldy, explains Siegert. Based on this experience, the part concerned with developing measures has now been carved out into a separate Priority Program of the Executive Board of the University, with a time frame of four years. This has made it possible to keep the Strategic Principles as streamlined as possible. They are supposed to serve as a kind of “compass” setting the direction when it comes to matters of principle.
Ambitious, but viable
Roger Stephan, Dean of the Vetsuisse Faculty, describes the new principles as “ambitious, but definitely viable.” He adds that it is now important to add life to them – at all levels of the university. Stephan was a member of the working group set up by the Extended Executive Board of the University in the spring of 2018 to develop the Strategic Principles in a multistep process involving a broad range of stakeholders.
The group included representatives from all of the faculties and representative bodies of UZH as well as members of the Gender Equality Commission and General Secretariat. Deputy President Gabriele Siegert chaired the working group, and Stefan Schnyder, Vice President Finances and Human Resources, was involved as a second member of the Executive Board of the University.
A first version of the Strategic Principles was put to university-wide consultation in the summer of 2018 and then revised taking into account the feedback. Finally, the Board of the University added its ideas and suggestions, and approved the document on 30 September 2019.
Concise and concrete
Roger Stephan highlights the commitment of the people involved. “The members of the working group weren’t focused on the specific needs of their faculty or representative body, but took the point of view of the university as a whole,” he says.
Sibylle Dorn, Co-President of the Association of Infrastructure Staff (VIP), describes the collaboration as “stimulating, educational and swift.” She represented the administrative and technical staff in the working group. “The challenge was coming up with concise and concrete phrasing, while staying as close as possible to the daily work of employees.” This was an important aspect, since the Strategic Principles are not intended to be an exclusive tool of the Executive Board of the University, but should act as a cohesive framework for all employees and all faculties, departments, institutes, offices and representative bodies of UZH.
Focusing on diversity
The Strategic Principles sum up the central ideas with which UZH identifies as it moves forward. The first principle, for example, highlights the diverse research cultures at UZH. The university supports and values broad-minded long-term thinking just as much as innovation that is focused on application. Refining existing research fields is just as much a part of UZH as opening up new research approaches.
“Nowadays, such a clear commitment to embracing diverse and equal research cultures is no longer a small thing for universities, and we can be proud of this commitment,” says Matthias Mahlmann, who as professor of law was the Faculty of Law’s representative in the working group.
Diversity is also addressed in the seventh principle, here in the context of the One Health approach, which adopts a holistic view of the health of humans, animals and ecosystems. “With regard to One Health, UZH’s specific strengths as a comprehensive university come to full fruition,” says Roger Stephan. To cite the relevant section of Strategic Principles: “All faculties contribute to this approach, since the notion of health covers not only physical but also psychological, social and other aspects, and requires the involvement of all areas of society.”
Equal opportunities and sustainability
The Strategic Principles also set the tone when it comes to supporting junior academics, international networks and research cooperation with third parties. Equal opportunities, diversity and sustainability are recognized as core values of university life. In the principle on teaching and learning, UZH commits to high standards of didactic quality, but also calls for students to demonstrate a high degree of initiative and commitment.
Taking on responsibility in society
The eighth principle reflects UZH’s responsibility in society – a topic that is particularly dear to Matthias Mahlmann. “The university’s significance for society extends well beyond providing professional qualification; it’s just as important when it comes to priming and developing critical thinking skills and civic awareness,” says Mahlmann. “Democracy, rule of law and human rights are based on a complex foundation. It is the university’s cross-disciplinary duty to uphold these values.”
Moreover, the professor of law points out that UZH acts as a role model for society. “To live up to this role, we must safeguard the culture of respect and reason at our university and play our part in preserving this vulnerable culture in society.”
Leadership and participation
This brings us to the participatory culture at UZH – to which an entire section of the text is devoted. Here, UZH commits to embracing a culture of mutual appreciation. In addition, the fifth principle states that UZH strikes a balance between leadership and participation.
Gabriele Siegert expects the Strategic Principles to have a positive influence on the quality of leadership as well as the possibilities for participation at UZH. For one, they give leaders and managers across all organizational units basis for taking strategically sound decisions. But they also make it easier for interested members of UZH to get involved in the workplace in a constructive way: “The Strategic Principles provide all students and staff who want to contribute to UZH’s development – be it at the level of department, office, faculty, representative body or the university as a whole – with topic-related starting points and supporting arguments,” says Gabriele Siegert.
Sibylle Dorn is hopeful that UZH members will take full advantage of this culture of participation. “By referring to the Strategic Principles when we express our concerns, we can help to make sure that the words translate into reality,” she says.
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