Ghent University is changing course with a new career model for professorial staff

(07-12-2018) Ghent University dares to think. Ghent University also dares to push its own boundaries.

On December 7 the Board of Governors has approved a new career and evaluation model for professorial staff (ZAP) as well as the accompanying regulations.

Rik Van de Walle, Rector: "This is a very important decision for Ghent University and its staff. With the new career and evaluation model, our aim is to restore the confidence of our professorial staff instead of excessively measuring and controlling their activities. The starting point is that those who perform well will be promoted - with a minimum of formal procedures for accountability and administrative inconvenience."

"A predominantly quantitative and output-driven academic evaluation process makes way for talent development and growth, prioritizing vision development and strategy – at the personal as well as the group level. Quality prevails over quantity. Needless to say, we are confident that the intrinsic motivation of each ZAP member ensures that no one needs a priori objectives in order to perform well in the core tasks of our university: education, research and institutional or social engagement."

"With this new model, Ghent University intends to create a positive, stimulating work environment. We want to create a culture of feedback which is not patronizing but rather benefits the Ghent University staff. Thus, we are taking specific and important steps towards being a caring employer, offering talent-oriented people management and providing an answer to the signs of increasing pressure on the current professorial role(s)."

"I dare to say that the new model makes us a pioneer among the Flemish universities."

Key elements

These are some key elements of the new model:

  • The current evaluation model, with personalized objectives (and a predominant focus on purely quantitative indicators) based on faculty reference frameworks, is discontinued. This means doing away with personalized objectives, annual task descriptions, the high number of activity reports, evaluation files and faculty evaluation committees for professorial staff. It goes without saying that all of this fits in very well with the objectives of the project 'UGent Verlicht: administrative simplification'.
  • The new evaluation model is based on collaboration, collegiality and teamwork: ZAP members make commitments about their integration into and contributions to the objectives of the larger whole in the department/research group/study programme/faculty/university (using a concise integration document at the start of each evaluation cycle).
  • Embedding in the larger entity goes hand in hand with differentiation according to everyone's talents: it is not a competitive model, but rather based on the complementary use of the strengths and qualities of ZAP members in the field of research, education and other institutional or social engagement. Recognition of differentiated ZAP profiles ensures that not only the ZAP members themselves but also the institution as a whole can fulfil its core tasks in a qualitative and more efficient way.
  • From now on, evaluation will take place every five years (which is the minimum as stipulated by decree) instead of every two or four years. This creates an ‘evaluation break’.
  • The evaluation cycle will be simplified and from now on consist of (1) a staff integration session (at the beginning of each cycle – cf. see the point on ‘integration’ above); (2) an interim feedback session (at least one after the first two years, multiple sessions optional); and (3) a performance review (at the end of a cycle, after five years). The performance review is initiated by a reflective report from the ZAP member, which looks back on the results achieved and the own performance concerning the core tasks of the university and includes a look ahead towards/a vision for the next cycle. Maximum freedom combined with responsibility is the leitmotif here.
  • More than ever before, we will focus on talent-oriented career support and coaching of the professorial staff in the different phases of their career. For each ZAP member, a personalized HR committee will be set up. This committee consists of the department chair of the ZAP member involved, a ZAP member from the Educational Quality Control Unit, a member of the faculty office, a peer ZAP member (at the level of full professor or senior full professor) and an HR expert. The HR committee keeps the balance between the ‘helicopter view’ within a faculty and sufficient contact with the specific work of the ZAP member.
  • In addition, the new evaluation model deliberately assesses interpersonal and leadership skills. In this way, the new career model for professorial staff also benefits the large group of young researchers and other staff categories.
  • The basic principles of the new evaluation policy apply to all categories of professorial staff: the evaluation of assistant professors in tenure-track positions will follow the same principles as that of assistant and associate professors in the functional career path. In other words, personalized objectives will also cease to exist for the assistant professors in tenure-track. For (senior) full professors, the feedback sessions will not be mandatory but rather optional.
  • For the current professorial staff, a number of transitional measures have been developed.

In the coming weeks, further elaboration will follow on what exactly will change. All ZAP members will be invited to an information session.

Rik Van de Walle: "I am convinced that with this new policy we can achieve a fundamental cultural shift at Ghent University. Career and evaluation models should serve the staff at Ghent University, and not vice versa. Together with our Vice-Rector Mieke Van Herreweghe, I want to give the university back to all Ghent University staff - in mutual trust."

"Finally, I wish to emphasize that the development of the new career and evaluation model is the result of the work of many people. To everyone who has contributed: a sincere thank you!"