ECIU offers university employees a chance to work on pressing issues that their university faces in an international setting. The foundation of the Grants Office, a product of this programme, proves that this so-called Leadership Development Programme (LDP) is about more than talking and brainstorming.
Rolf Vermeij, head of the University of Twente’s Grants Office, participated in the Leadership Development Programme in 2007. Working on cases is an important aspect of this training programme. ‘These are real issues,’ Vermeij says. ‘Normally, universities keep their problems to themselves, but each participating ECIU university brings a pressing matter to the table: real problems that the organisation struggles with. That gives the whole process more impact. Board members of the participating universities often cannot believe the findings that the programme produces.’
When Rolf Vermeij participated in the programme, the European seventh framework programme for research and innovation had just been launched. Brussels was making more means available, such as the ERC Grants. ‘The UT was looking for new methods to make better use of the opportunities in Europe,’ Vermeij explains. ‘The acceptance rate of research proposals in Europe was too low.’
Vermeij thought this would be a suitable case to discuss during the Leadership Development Programme. ‘The session revealed that the UT did not yet have the right expertise to make optimal use of the opportunities in Europe. To achieve more success in Brussels, a more centralised approach was needed.’
Vermeij returned to the UT armed with these findings. ‘We now support researchers with the submission of their research proposals and we established the Grants Office in 2008.’ These measures paid off. ‘In 2010, thirty percent of the ERC proposals were accepted. The acceptance rate is still high today, at circa twenty-two percent. A lot of money is involved: an acceptance from the ERC ranges from 1.5 to 2.5 million euros.’
During the course, Vermeij was part of a mixed group of people. ‘I have a scientific background myself, so I was quite used to working on an international level. That is often not the case for supporting and administrative staff, who also participate in the course. This mingling of the various university departments and the international nature of the course are the programme’s main strengths. Of course, it can be a bit awkward at first. In the end, though, that is exactly the point: overcoming obstacles.’
The ECIU’s flagship
Harry de Boer and Jon File of the UT’s Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) are the instigators and head lecturers of the Leadership Development Programme.
‘It is like a travelling circus, in the positive sense of the word,’ they say. ‘Every host university selects a project that it wishes to discuss,’ De Boer explains. ‘A university is a complex organisation. Our goal is to bring people closer together. During the LDP, the head of finance will meet a professor of electronics, for example. What connects them all is their interest in leadership at the university. These are people with potential and curiosity.’
A simulation game is part of the course. ‘We act out role-playing scenarios in a fantasy world,’ Jon File says. ‘Say, you are the dean of a faculty and your organisation is losing money. What happens next? We act out that scenario here. This is highly interactive and takes place in a multicultural environment. Things that work here are far less effective in Germany, for example. We also bring in leaders from entirely different corporate cultures. The former director of Grolsch once attended a session. We asked him about the differences between managing a beer brewery and a university.’
The fact that the collaboration that takes place during the LDP is both intense and fruitful is evident from the reunions that are regularly held. ‘Two or three groups still meet up often,’ De Boer says. ‘Those people all became close friends. ECIU strives to build a community and bring universities into contact with each other. The Leadership Development Programme contributes to that goal, which makes it one of the ECIU’s showpieces.’
About the programme:
The ECIU member universities are facing similar challenges in terms of management, leadership and strategic development. Therefore, since 2004, ECIU offers a comprehensive leadership programme to potential academic and administrative leaders of its member universities. They value this programme highly. Working together in small but highly diverse international teams not only inspires the participants but also provides them with a clear reflection of their own performance in their organization.
Since its launch in 2004, nearly 300 employees participated in the Leadership Development Programme (LDP). Each university can send (at least) two participants to the programme: One from academia, one from support staff. The three seminars are held at two different partner universities and one in Brussels.