He believes in a change of model and tries to avoid the current policy of the chairman of the board.
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The long-term funding of the University of Debrecen (DE) has already been met, but there is already another goal:
they begin the achievements of the long-established Charles University in Prague or Jagiellonian degree in Krakow.
Internationally strong diplomas, performance-based remuneration of employees, keeping daily politics at bay: we also asked György Kossa, chairman of the board of the Count István Tisza Foundation for the University of Debrecen, which maintains the University of Debrecen.
He has been the chairman of the board of the foundation that has maintained the University of Debrecen since the summer. The two most important players in the life of the institution in recent years are the rector and the chancellor, and now an outside person – you – has taken over them. Who offered the position? How much did you think about the answer?
At the beginning of the year, I was approached several times, from several places, that I would be happy to take over the position of chairman of the board of the Count István Tisza Foundation for the University of Debrecen. Who are they? This is confidential information that I do not want to go into.
I had a hard time giving in to my waist, fighting for three months.
The invitation is incredibly honorable, while the commitment requires a great deal of responsibility and professionalism. It is also a rare big challenge, especially if you have a job next to it. Debrecen played a major role in saying yes, since ITK was here. I undertook, because if I can help local and domestic higher education, why not? My group and I represent this attitude. I consider it a mission to agree with the Prime Minister that our only capital in resource-poor Hungary is what is on our minds. Our future must be built on this.
The special knowledge center of the University of Debrecen – its fourteen faculties cover almost all fields of science, and cooperation and common thinking between different disciplines is possible.
Under what conditions did you say yes?
I asked that the members of the board of trustees be selected on a professional basis and try to stay away from everyday politics. This was fulfilled, none of the curators were politicians. Each of my peers is an authentic personality, an excellence in their field.
I do not consider the absence of politicians to be important because they were not suitable for this task.
It is the sole responsibility of the board of trustees to implement university asset management, new organizational governance to maintain the university, to create strategies, and to be luckier if daily political noises do not infiltrate this process.
As an outsider, how smooth was the occupation of the presidency?
In May, I went to the Professors’ Club of the University of Debrecen, where I responded to the suggestions for three hours. I have said that I believe in a change of model, and I am also sure that the institutions that are left out are not doing well in their decision. The latter will have to fight for state budget support every year, while the foundation universities have just reached a long-term agreement with the government on their independence. From the employees’ point of view, the advantage of the model change is that an employment relationship can be established, so the salary scale of a civil servant does not set an upper limit for determining the salary.
In other words, individual performance can be evaluated and recognized, which has an incentive effect on employees.
As both its founding and ownership rights were transferred to the foundation, the current state no longer has an influence on the operation of the university: real autonomy has been established. In my reading, the government was not just making a profit, but making a long strategic decision that is grateful for its commitment. Hungarian higher education – as far as I read the topic – has never received such a resource in Hungarian history. I urge everyone not to question good intentions on this issue. Incidentally, what many do not know, board members are fully responsible for the management of the foundation with all their assets.
And what about the fact that a significant portion of the current opposition would reverse the change of government in the event of a change of government?
– I don’t deal with politics in the first place, that’s what I talked about at the opening of the year. Current politics must be kept out of the daily life of the university, otherwise it will poison it. Our employees do not work driven by their political identity, but by their professionalism and therefore receive their pay. He answers the question: it would be a great fool on the part of the politician to touch the regulatory environment, which provides autonomy.
Then they’re just scaring, but you don’t think they’d poke at the tiller anymore?
I keep an eye on public life, but I don’t want to and can’t think politically. That’s not what my mandate is for. But what I know for sure:
a board of trustees should always stand up for professional affairs, represent the institution, but it would be terribly bad if it had to fight with political actors.
The operation of a system of this size cannot be rewritten every four years, the world is full of reformers anyway. What the policy rightly sets out for expectations should be the performance expected in return for funding, that is, the degree of the given institution should be a strong, strong paper in the international labor market.
How are they progressing in implementing the development strategy?
We are the only model-changing university, it has been stated in the founding document of the foundation that the president can rely on two advisory boards, one on strategies and one on science. We have already reported on the establishment of the former, headed by László Palkovics, Minister of Innovation and Technology. To prevent any critical remarks, it is in the interest of the university and the board of trustees that this body should include the current leader in charge of policies, the current members of parliament and the mayor of the city. This is not some kind of party political resolution, but the open intention of these actors to help implement the university’s current strategy. The Scientific Advisory Board will be over thirty in size and will be introduced shortly. Our request was accepted by both domestic and foreign authorities. Emphasis:
the boards do not act as a lobby, the members only make proposals to the head of the board of trustees, which the chairman either accepts or does not.
The long-term agreement with the state is a strategic plan defined by the university community for infrastructure, research and education development. We will be doing very serious work in four main areas of research, life sciences, mobility, agricultural and food sciences, and the humanities.
By 2022, will university citizens already sense anything from the change of model?
Obviously. Based on our financial situation, we are looking at what income growth we will be able to generate. Many of our workers earn unworthily little, this needs to be fixed. Changes need to be based on two main things:
on the one hand, the high-level training of students, on the other hand, the measurement of performance and the corresponding remuneration of researchers-lecturers
(the board of trustees and the university management have since made a concrete decision on all previous wage developments and the creation of a new incentive scheme – ed.).
We have stabilized the institutional support with long-term contracts, so we can look forward to starting the results achieved at the level of Charles University in Prague or the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, which has a long history of incorporating market principles into their operations. As for the different university rankings, I think that overemphasizing them is misleading, as no two universities are the same. Therefore, it is worthwhile for institutions to focus on how much they can improve over time.
I would like to state again that the management of the University of Debrecen is not interested in the gender, ethnic, religious or political affiliation of its citizens – we want to pass on knowledge, that is our mission.
Do you feel a conflict of interest between the ITK CEO and the position of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation?
No, because we are still giving, not losing. If there is any issue that concerns me, I will obviously not vote in it. At the same time, let me ask you back: who should be asked to run such a trust, if not a professional who has already run a serious company? That is why we see that well-known corporate leaders sit on the established board of trustees.
It is in our fundamental interest for the university to have contacts with as many major companies and social organizations as possible, and I am working on this myself.
Higher education institutions need to grow to the point where they can make a meaningful contribution to a corporate strategy, for example by forecasting sectoral visions. The two spheres need to move closer together for mutual benefits; it is important for companies to be able to see universities as a partner where it is worth funding, among other things, research sites with which it pays to make joint developments.