Ghent University continues to face protests as it plans to reduce staff by 120 people

Ghent University wants to reduce its number of employees by 120 by 2027. These findings have been confirmed by an internal document that Belga had access to.

Protests have been taking place at the university for months in response to the staff cuts. Environmental activists opposed the reform of the Green Office on the campus, and unions predicted 200 to 300 layoffs. However, the final plans account for 120 full-time workers in the central administration to be made redundant, where approximately 800 people work.

Plans for redundancies

Rector Rik Van de Walle wants to avoid premature redundancies as much as possible, he stated on Friday. About 10,000 employees work at Ghent University.

“We will try to keep the number of redundancies, let alone forced redundancies, as low as possible in all circumstances. We are convinced that the bulk of the staff reduction can be achieved through 'natural movements', so to speak: Retirement and people leaving the organisation voluntarily. The number of people who will have to leave the university without wanting to do so will certainly be very low," Van de Walle says. The staff will be further informed about the restructuring in September.

Environmentalists denounced the reduction in employees at the Green Office, a service that aims to promote sustainability within the university. “The Green Office will not disappear,” says Van de Walle, who wants to integrate the service into the wider organisation. “So far, the advice of the Green Office has not been heard enough and has been incorporated into policymaking,” says the rector, who believes in the new organisational structure.

Future plans for campus

With the reorganisation, the university's organisational structure will also be redesigned. Instead of the nine current directorates, the university wants to evolve into three departments. The first department will focus on Education and Research, while a second department will manage the Campuses and buildings, in addition to ICT and student facilities. A final department will deal with personnel policy, financial management and administrative affairs.

The new approach should also lead to a more rational use of the buildings in an effort to reduce extra costs. For example, in a bid to decrease heating expenses in the winter, activities on campus in the evenings will be limited to fewer buildings closer together.

Department Chairs will also continue to exist at Ghent University, but the Etienne Vermeersch Chair will be discontinued. Alternative financing is being sought for the Chair of Amnesty International.

Lack of support from the Flemish government

Van de Walle has expressed disappointment in the Flemish government and their lack of compliance with former agreements concerning the university. "If the Flemish government were to do as the decree prescribes, the university would receive 80 million euros more yearly income than today. We would then not be talking about savings amounting to EUR 30-35 million. We could talk about investments amounting to EUR 45-50 million." The rector goes on to say, "You don't have to be a math genius to conclude that that is unacceptable. I will not remain silent about this until we are given our dues."

The University of Ghent needs to save 30 million euros annually to maintain its financial health. The plan now is to earn 10 million from extra income and 20 million from savings. Of the 20 million, 5 million would be designated for campus facilities and 15 million for central administration.

Next year Flanders Technology and Innovation will take place, a campaign with which the Flemish government wants to stimulate the Flemish knowledge society. “I applaud that," says Van de Walle, "But do what you claim to do. They claim to want to focus on everything related to knowledge creation, innovation and research. So focus on correct funding of the universities.”

The restructuring plans will be presented to the Board of Directors of Ghent University next week.



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