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The Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Social Sciences at AAU merge as of 1 January 2022 in a new Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). Photo: Lars Horn

Faculty merger of Humanities and Social Sciences to future-proof AAU

On the recommendation of the Executive Management, the University Board has decided to unite the strengths of the humanities and social sciences in one new, more effective main area with the name: Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). The merger aims to give Humanities and Social Sciences greater clout and better opportunities to develop future research areas and education – thus providing agenda-setting insights and solutions to the major global challenges. At the same time, a new PBL unit will take the AAU pedagogical model to new heights.

By Lea Laursen Pasgaard, AAU Communication. Translated by LeeAnn Iovanni, AAU Communication. Photo: Lars Horn

If AAU is to meet the demands of the wider world in the future and maintain a unique profile with high quality in all activities, it will require a radical overhaul of parts of AAU's organisation. This is the opinion of the University Board that, on the recommendation of a unanimous Executive Management, adopted the merger of the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Social Sciences.

On 1 January 2022, the two faculties become one, new, strong: Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH). The organisational change also includes a cross-cutting research and teaching unit for PBL that will develop the university's unique PBL model with a focus on digitalisation and complex problems. The aim is that the university's study programmes and research continue to be anchored in AAU's strong PBL traditions.

A stronger foundation

- The major challenges facing the world are man-made, and as such also require a focus on human actions and behaviour if we are to achieve the green transition. We cannot save the world with engineering, technical and natural science alone. On the contrary, it is essential that humanities and social sciences are a strong and equal element in the solutions to the global challenges, says Lene Espersen, Chair of the University Board, who adds:

- With the new faculty and the other changes, it is the board's ambition to create the best possible foundation for a university that acknowledges its societal responsibility and contributes to finding the most innovative solutions for the future. Now the framework is set for us to create future-proof content at Aalborg University in the next strategy period.

The merger of Humanities and Social Sciences will ensure AAU’s future as a strong, significant player in the humanities and social sciences. A unified SSH faculty will be stronger and can match the STEM faculties – in terms of both research and finances.

- If Humanities and Social Sciences at AAU are to deliver world-class solutions, they require a more solid organisational foundation than what they have today, says Rector Per Michael Johansen.

The new faculty will be given the same financial weight that Humanities and Social Sciences together have today, and in the long term the aim is also for the faculty to be able to generate new external research funding. The establishment of the SSH faculty does not, as a rule, involve a redistribution of funds from the other three faculties (Engineering and Science, IT and Design, and Medicine) to the new faculty.

- The university has no prospect of more resources in the coming years, so any strengthening of the two main areas can only be made by pooling the strengths we already have at the two faculties into a single, strong organisational unit. The strengthening of Humanities and Social Sciences must not be at the expense of other research areas. Therefore, this is about making the best use of the resources we already have, explains Rector Per Michael Johansen.

Increased focus on interdisciplinarity

The University Board and the Executive Management agree that the focus on interdisciplinary research is necessary if the university is to play an active role going forward. Therefore, the creation of the new SSH faculty must also ensure that Humanities and Social Sciences are a more obvious partner both internally and externally.

The University Board has also agreed that AAU must strive to better integrate humanities and social sciences (SSH) into the engineering, science and health science programmes. Furthermore, STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics including IT) must also be more closely integrated into the SSH programmes. The aim is to strengthen the ability of AAU students to take a holistic view of their disciplines and give them the skills to solve society's increasingly complex challenges through interdisciplinary collaboration.

Clear profile for education and research activities

The expectation of the management is that the majority of the current education and research activities at Humanities and Social Sciences will be transferred to the new SSH faculty.

- But it is important that the new SSH faculty has an academic profile that matches the challenges of the future. Therefore, an essential part of the merger process will be to clarify the future academic profile of the faculty. There may also be activities in our three other faculties that more naturally belong with the new SSH faculty, says Rector Per Michael Johansen.

The assessment of the different disciplines will be done by internal working groups consisting of both managers and staff. The working groups' analysis will subsequently be discussed in a steering committee which has overall responsibility for the merger of Humanities and Social Sciences. The discussion may lead to conclusions that some areas need to be further developed or be given a different weight.

It cannot be denied that the analysis will also lead to the closure of research areas or study programmes. The plan is that this will be clarified towards the summer, says Rector Per Michael Johansen, who points out that AAU's programme portfolio is continuously evaluated and adjusted.

Consequences for departments, programmes and staff

It may also be necessary to move staff members between faculties and departments. The extent depends on how the analysis phase unfolds. Any transfer of staff members will take place in a process that involves the staff member, union representative and relevant consultation forums.

- We are, of course, aware that an announcement like this can create insecurity among staff. The goal of the merger is not dismissals, but it is also not likely that everything will remain status quo. During the merger process, it may turn out that some academic areas have too many resources, while others have too few, just as new tasks may arise, while others may be discontinued, says Per Michael Johansen, who expects that any need for staff adjustments will be clarified in autumn 2021.

Staff adjustments in the dean’s offices of Humanities and Social Sciences

However, as a consequence of the faculty merger, it is already clear that staff adjustments may be needed in the current dean’s offices at Humanities and Social Sciences. Therefore, on 5 January 2021, the Main Joint Consultation Committee discussed a process for reassignments and staff adjustments. Also, as of 8 January, the management introduced a qualified hiring freeze for administrative positions at Humanities and Social Sciences – including at the departments. Whether the department secretariats will be affected by the merger depends on the future organisation of the new faculty, which is expected to be clarified in the summer of 2021. The staffing of the dean’s office of the new SSH faculty will be decided during the first quarter of 2021.

Rasmus Antoft, currently Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, will head the new SSH faculty. Henrik Halkier's term as Dean of the Faculty of Humanities expires in the autumn of 2021, and he then returns to his professorship. He will also be available to the Rector for specific tasks.

New unit to ensure AAU's leading position in PBL

Another important part of the upcoming organisational change is the establishment of a special research unit for PBL, with the working title: Institute of Advanced Studies in PBL. The unit will consist of academic and administrative staff working on research, dissemination and further development of the university's teaching model, PBL.

- At AAU, PBL is the pedagogical foundation for teaching and learning in all programmes. Internationally, we have long been a leading figure in PBL research and the development of PBL practices, and AAU is known for high quality in a learning model that is applied consistently and implemented in all main areas. We want to maintain that position, but it requires that we take our PBL model to new heights, says Rector Per Michael Johansen.

- Other universities are catching up with us. In recent years, they have discovered the benefits of PBL and have started to apply our learning model. In a November 2020 reputation analysis of AAU, several stakeholders mention that PBL no longer differentiates AAU from other universities. If we want to continue to be – and be known as – a spearhead within PBL, we need to strengthen our research on PBL and the further development of our learning model, the Rector adds.

The management expects a number of researchers and administrative staff to transfer to the new cross-cutting research and teaching unit for PBL. It is not expected that there will be dismissals in connection with the creation of the unit. However, it is expected that researchers associated with the Institute for Advanced Studies in PBL will still have teaching and supervision obligations at the departments. Clarification on staff members’ future location and level of affiliation is expected in autumn 2021.

- The idea in establishing a unified cross-cutting research and teaching unit for PBL is to bring competences together, enabling the unit to exploit synergies across the university-pedagogy landscape at AAU and ensure better support for new breakthroughs in PBL, such as mega-projects and digitalisation; the ongoing competence development of teaching staff will also be a focus, says Rector Per Michael Johansen.

Next steps and opportunities for influence

A steering committee has been set up to have overall responsibility for the establishment of the new SSH faculty. It also has responsibility for major work on the integration of SSH and STEM competences in AAU's programmes. The steering committee consists of Rector Per Michael Johansen, Pro-rector Inger Askehave, Dean Rasmus Antoft (Social Sciences), Dean Henrik Halkier (Humanities), Dean Mogens Rysholt Poulsen (Engineering) and University Director Søren Lind Christiansen.

The steering committee is setting up working groups with representatives from both management and staff to carry out detailed tasks. These will include analysing research activities in relation to the academic profile for the SSH faculty, mapping of programmes in relation to the academic profile, and determining the organisation, finances and the like for the new faculty. The working group may decide to delegate certain tasks or perspectives to ad hoc working groups. In addition, there will be discussions in the consultation committees, the department councils, the academic councils and similar forums.

Do you have any questions?

During the winter and spring of 2021, the merger process will be discussed with managers and staff. In this context, there will be an opportunity to ask questions.

On the website www.organisationsudvikling.aau.dk, you will also be able to read about and follow the process.

You can talk to your own manager if you are at all unsure of how to deal with your own tasks or your work situation.