Candidates` answers for the written questions. Tõnis Karki, Sulev Kõks, Margus Lember
Dean candidates in the Faculty of Medicine Tõnis Kark, Sulev Kõks and Margus Lember answer questions by the university family
Should the university have areas of priority or priorities in all areas, i.e. how would you associate the universitas principle with targeting the university’s development?
Tõnis Karki: The university needs areas of priority and focal points. Let’s look at medicina. Whether we like it or not, there are three major employers in Tartu: the university, the town of Tartu and the hospital. Medicina together with the university hospital is the crown jewel of the university and Tartu. What else to develop but our strength which sets us apart from other higher education institutes and regions, which makes us unique.
Traditionally, people see the universitas principle as specialisation and faculty centred thinking—everything must be dealt with, everyone must be (equally) prioritised etc. But we cannot engage in everything, there are not enough resources for everything. With limited resources we need to target goals and activities—on the university and faculty level. But let’s be honest, we need to acknowledge that we might not need all the existing resources to achieve our goals even though we have the resources…
Sulev Kõks: Yes, all areas should have priorities. By targeting the university’s development we are integrating the strengths of different areas and this promotes cooperation between faculties. I believe this approach goes well with the universitas principle.
Margus Lember: Activities need to be targeted but this does not mean that someone is excluded. Focal points are necessary to encompass many people. Therefore, a focal point cannot be defined by a specific specialisation. We are strong in the university because of the universitas principle. From the global perspective we are small and considering this, we do not have enough human or financial resources to reach the top in all specialisations. This is why interdisciplinary activities, work on the borderland of specialisations where a great number of people can contribute, might provide the best opportunities for everyone.
Whether and how do you intend to increase the importance of teaching quality in the process of re-electing teaching staff (assistants, lecturers, associate professors and professors)? Currently, research activity is considerably more important for the candidates and of course research is important but we cannot deny the fact that students have come to the university first and foremost to acquire knowledge and, therefore, I believe that it would be appropriate to value teaching more. It is difficult if not impossible to move up the career ladder with good teaching skills, research activity is still a prerequisite for moving up.
Tõnis Karki: I agree that quality teaching must play an important part in moving up the career ladder. But career advances cannot be reduced to only the volume of teaching, there must be something more to this teaching – something brilliant, unique, impelling… To what extent should teaching be considered, this is not for the dean to decide—it is a university level consensual decision. I know that work on this matter is in process. But I am certain that research will remain a component, there will probably be a reasonable balance between the two aspects.
Sulev Kõks: In addition to research work, the current evaluation of academic staff also considers the quality of teaching to a great extent. Also, in recent years the university has worked remarkably on developing the teaching skills of lecturers through in-service training. Although it is possible to work at the university without directly engaging in any research work, good quality research work is fundamental to the development of the specialisations. It is clear that a good researcher can comprehensively introduce their research through teaching.
Margus Lember: Research work is important, without research we would not have the modern university. But people are different, academic positions require diversity: teaching, research, development work, administration, successful grant applications, clinical work etc. Understandably not all people are equally good at all things. I do agree that teaching and teaching methods should be taken into account to a greater extent and I would like this to be clearly stated in the attestation requirements.
Should something be changed in the university’s internal financing of faculties and institutes and if yes, what should change?
Tõnis Karki: Yes, there should be changes. The current financial model’s K*Baas part should be reviewed and in addition to ECTs and the number of students, it should take into account the actual volume of work—number of contact-based lessons per ECT and the percentage of group studies in contact lessons. There is a great difference in labour and room expenses depending on whether 1 ECT is carried out as 26 hours of lectures for 100 students or 26 hours of group work for 10 groups of tens. The expenses vary 10 times but the amount of allocated money is the same. Medicina curricula are among those specialisations where studies need to be carried out as group work and in the required scope in order to meet the criteria of the sectorial directives.
I hear that the council is planning to change the principles of financing. It would be reasonable to review the part of the financial scheme which compensated the elimination of student-funded studies. On the one hand is the claim about “an estimated loss of income” and on the other hand we can see from the admission statistics that in many specialisations there would be no students willing to provide this income.
Sulev Kõks: In my opinion the financing of the faculties is currently rather optimal and no major changes are required.
Margus Lember: In studies it is inevitable that the volume of resource in teaching, the specific number of hours for lecturers and material costs for practical activities are taken into account. Quality measures are important but infallible indicators are the topic of never-ending debates. The number of study places must correspond to the needs of the labour market. The tricks to compensate unfinished work must stop.
There is room for improvement regarding the scope of the university’s entrepreneurial agreements. As dean, would you feel the need and responsibility and if yes, what would you do and how would you motivate your employees to increase cooperation with enterprises?
Tõnis Karki: If we are talking about need and responsibility, then the answer is yes. Implementing this is considerably more difficult. Objectively we have good material prerequisites in the form of the buildings which house the medicina structures – translational medicine, Biomedicum, Chemicum, Institute of Technology. We have modern equipment. We have researchers who are successful in entrepreneurship.
Therefore, the dean’s primary task is to form and change the attitudes of employees about entrepreneurship. This includes increasing awareness, capacity and readiness for entrepreneurship. Knowing the best practices that exist in the faculty is definitely essential. Another measure is the development fund which the dean controls and it can be used to commercialise research achievements and hedge risks.
Sulev Kõks: The dean’s task is to popularise the faculty and introduce the opportunities of multilateral cooperation. As dean I am prepared to help establish entrepreneurial contacts. A bonus system should be introduced to motivate employees which would provide remuneration for the staff’s cooperation with entrepreneurs.
Margus Lember: This is an important topic for the university. Usually, real entrepreneurial money is international, the capacity to achieve and receive it is not particularly great. Contacts with enterprises are established through specific networks of researchers and lecturers and the ability to offer something of interest to entrepreneurs. Those who are able to do it should be recognised and motivated.
One of the biggest things expected of the dean is that in addition to distributing the current budget they should be able to bring in more money to the faculty. Both, by increasing financing with actions directed upwards and with activity directed downwards to motivate people to bring in more money. Do the candidates have any thoughts on how to fulfil the electorate’s expectations in this regard? I would appreciate if you could avoid general answers and provide examples of specific activities.
Tõnis Karki: The question holds a good answer—“actions” directed up and “activity” directed down. The dean is not a supplier who exclusively provides the faculty with financial resources. I do not believe that fierce disputes with the university or proposals to recalculate the budget would bring a quick result. However, improving the reputation of the new faculty, stressing its importance—which is a task for the dean—might affect the administration and decision-making bodies so that they want to provide money.
The key to many (but not all) financial sources is on the institute level. The dean needs to create an environment which motivates and directs people and structural units to acquire additional finances. And give orders if necessary.
According to the messages that have reached the public we are at a breaking point where the current extent of financing for higher education and research and development activity in Estonia will not increase. The Estonian tax payer’s money has hit the limit in study and research money. So where should the dean and the institutes direct their actions and activity?
- Fight for the operating grants to be redistributed within the university. Convince and influence the decision-makers. The financial outcome of the action is not very big. I would like to draw attention to the fact that the 2016 operating grant distribution takes into account the quality of teaching. The better the quality indicators, the bigger the financial allotment.
- Together with the institutes, support and motivate the talented youth in the faculty to create new work groups and participate in the institutional research funding and personal research funding application rounds. True, this is also a redistribution of the Estonian Research Council funding. But the Estonian Research Council’s funding has one great advantage—this money can be used as a leverage to apply for financing from structural funds.
- Targeted financing from Estonian governmental institutions for applied and scientific research. We have long discussed the contribution of the Ministry of Social Affairs to Estonian clinical science. Such finances are held by the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Rural Affairs and others.
- European structural funds money. Centres of excellence, doctoral schools, ASTRA projects are in the process and new projects will be added. All of these require coordination and definitely own contribution.
- Also, bringing foreign funding to research activity—whether it is the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020, NIH grants etc. There is a lot of room for development in using foreign funding. But it is of key importance—Estonian finances are simply not enough.
Moreover, bringing in additional money is one thing. We must also look at what money is spent on. Perhaps there are some reserves here as well?
Sulev Kõks: Sufficient financing guarantees the development of the faculty, finding additional financing is one of the most important tasks for the new dean. The main challenge is finding long-term and sustainable solutions in a situation where the budget has not increased considerably for years.
As upward actions I can see creating a position in the faculty which deals with gathering information about various potential funding opportunities, processing this information and communicating it to the target group. It should also provide professional assistance in preparing applications. The aim is to make applying for financing as efficient as possible.
Downward actions could be the creation of a bonus scheme. All main participants of a project who bring in significant additional money must be given a salary raise from the project funds and it should be significantly bigger than the current performance pay to motivate employees to apply for various research grants.
Margus Lember: Bringing in money from outside is everyone’s mutual concern. Many of our faculty’s employees participate in various decision-making bodies. It is important to agree on the activities and communicate the same message in a coordinated way. Financing universities through operating grants brings the discussions about money allocation into the university. But redistributing money does not bring additional resources to the university. Distributing money for education must take into account the scope of resource and actual work hours required for teaching, not only ECTs. One option to increase state research funding is an additional source planned by the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Estonian Academy of Sciences has led the extensive work on this strategy document. Due to the new ministers and other acute problems, the topic of research funding has shifted from the required focus. Direct communication with the ministry and new minister are necessary. Foreign grant applications should be supported with a reasonable overhead policy and solving own contributions.
What is your strategic vision regarding the development of studies in English in your sphere of responsibility?
Tõnis Karki: Cautious. We have a long tradition of medical studies in English which we are trying to maintain and develop. First and foremost, with external reference to the quality of our own study process and being a “normal” European university. From outside it seems that there is a demand for medical studies and we could easily increase the scope of studies. But we must take into consideration that study work does not take place only in the university, we also use the infrastructure and employees of the UT hospital and money from the Health Insurance Fund. This sets a limit.
I think opening English curricula is discussed too lightly. Is not one of the motives that if there are not enough Estonian students then we will start teaching in English? I am asking myself—what would motivate someone to come to Estonia, to Europe’s border, pay money and study in English? In the coming 2-3-4 years I do not see the need to increase the scope of the faculty’s studies in English. The only exception here might be dentistry but here we must also carefully deliberate the advantages and disadvantages and our ability to carry through.
Sulev Kõks: The scope of English studies should be increased. This is the only way to become a more international university and offer people from other countries the chance to study here. English studies is a great way to find a wider application to online studies because distance learning would become more important. It would not be a threat to education in Estonian. Advancing English education must not be done on the account of the quality of education in Estonian.
Margus Lember: English studies enable us to be more open. Financial impact might not be significant, this has been shown by medical studies in English. But these students enrich our academic family and give an additional stimulus to our lecturers. Replacing Estonian studies with English is not appropriate. However, especially doctoral studies should include much more subjects in English as it would enable to bring in more international lecturers and international doctoral students. Nowadays students have such good English skills that an international lecturer’s lecture in English is not a problem for anyone. Here it is suitable to stress that maintaining good and correct Estonian language also requires much attention.
What do you think are the most important needs of the former faculties that have merged that you would head if elected, but are not currently a member of? How would you address these needs?
Tõnis Karki: To create an attractive, inspirational and rewarding work environment in the Faculty of Medicine. A rewarding work environment in the broadest sense—a functioning infrastructure for research and studying, sufficient funding and motivating salary. These components are all essential and related to each other - if we forget one, others will be affected by it.
I think that these issues are crucial for both faculties. In addition, the Faculty of Exercise and Sport Sciences needs the long discussed new faculty building on Ujula street.
The answers lie partly also in the questions. These issues must be a priority and continuously addressed alongside with the new leaders of the institutes. And it is certainly very important—we need to be ready to change ourselves, our behaviour and possibly also our beliefs…
Sulev Kõks: The most important needs of the former faculties are largely similar. In the Faculty of Medicine the new members have their specific expectations and needs. The answer would be too long to if I listed all specific needs but clearly a motivation policy for human resources is one of the major expectations. Also, the improvement of infrastructure is expected. I will consider these needs as much as possible and will make the new faculty the best place for personal fulfilment.
Margus Lember: Their identity seems to be the most important issue: both, for the colleagues inside the university and for outside partners. Another possible concern is their decision-making, their own budget decisions. I have repeatedly assured the merging Faculty of Exercise and Sport Sciences that their identity will be maintained in the new faculty, the former Faculty of Medicine has no ambitions regarding their curricula, research or resources. To advance mutual trust it is important to keep in mind the participation of their representatives in different positions in the dean`s office, several councils etc.
What are the three most important management principles that you follow in working with people?
Tõnis Karki: Communication is important. The majority of conflicts arise from something that was left untold or unheard, something not said at the right time, and something left unnoticed. Talk to people and listen to them!
Being open and inclusive in decision-making. The why, when and how of making important decisions needs to be transparent for people.
Motivating people with personal contribution—throwing around ideas, thoughts and orders is not enough because they might just linger in the air; in order to initiate important activities you must first write, if necessary, the initial draft and propose an initial solution, and then ideas will not die away on paper or in the committee.
Sulev Kõks: Do not demotivate people. Motivation is inside people, it needs to be supported and developed. Too much intervention and framing (over-management) might put out motivation and it is hard to bring back to life. The most demotivating thing is bothering people with formalities and technicalities.
Listen to people. Management is largely about listening, not just hearing. A leader is not the smartest person but a leader can form a team of intelligent people and make informed decisions by listening to them.
Dare to be wrong. Mistakes occur and they are for learning, mistakes accompany all sorts of activities. Only those who never do anything never make mistakes! Mistakes should not be punished. A team must be encouraged to act and make mistakes.
Margus Lember: Management in an academic environment differs significantly from that in the industry. Employees need to be given as much self-decision rights as possible regarding their own tasks. With management decisions it is important that people understand the reasons for one or the other choice. The leader needs to ensure the balance between activities, fairness of decisions. As the head of a multifaceted clinic I have always tried to follow the principle of big families: if one gets mittens, the other gets a scarf and the third one a skiing hat. My door is always open to all colleagues, students and doctoral students.
According to a poll by CV Keskus, the University of Tartu is one of the most reputable employers in Estonia. How do you as head of the faculty intend to contribute to the university’s reputation as an employer so that the university would still be highly valued?
Tõnis Karki: If we strip all the sophisticated communication tactics and strategies, for me it is primary to think through the approach to employee-related problems. In addition to a great infrastructure and equipment and innovative technology we should strive towards employing and including Estonia’s top specialists. This signals the others—the faculty is strong because Estonia’s best researchers, professors, lecturers, doctors and others work here and want to work here.
We need to attract the young, talented graduates. However, even though UT is generally a reputable employer, it is not the “first choice” for a number of graduates of the Faculty of Medicine. When the young are choosing a job, it is the content of the job, colleagues, career and development options and definitely salary which matter. With the latter we need a breakthrough. The university’s average salaries are not competitive for our graduates and do not improve the UT’s reputation.
In addition to the high quality of teaching and research we should also think about how these results are applied, communicated in Estonian society. Does the public in general know what the area of medicina does? Who work here? What they are capable of? This is what is meant by “serving society”. We need to create the brand “area of medicina” which is known not only in academic circles but more widely in Estonian society and internationally.
Also, current students are future doctors, lecturers, researchers, pharmacists, physiotherapists etc.–our future colleagues. What they see now, hear now, what our attitudes towards them are—they take it with them. This is where the reputation is formed and the image of UT and medicina is created.
Sulev Kõks: The university’s reputation as an employer can be maintained through a sustainable staff policy. This includes career prospects, development prospects and a humane working environment. In addition to staff policy, it is important to provide the opportunities for maximum personal fulfilment. The faculty as a representative of the university can provide people with better conditions for successful life’s work. I can assure that the University of Tartu is the best place in Estonia for personal fulfilment in research and higher education.
Margus Lember: It is crucial to uphold the university’s reputation, it is always easier to lose reputation than to build it. I have tried to follow the principle that good work pays off in praise but I realise that in today’s world people often try to get the praise before doing the work. I completely agree that disagreements within the family should remain in the family and that the messages sent from the university to society and enterprises should be clear, unambiguous and specific. Everything important that takes place in the university needs to be communicated more actively and it should be accompanied by a necessary explanation about how to use it for the benefit of society and enterprises.
One of the messages of the university’s work environment survey in the recent years is that the average work satisfaction index is high but many respondents think that there is room for improvement in the so called regular management activities, such as feedback, inclusion, recognition etc. Whether and how the management culture should change in this respect?
Tõnis Karki: The named and unnamed components of management culture are more important than most of us think. More often it is presumed that the manager only makes decisions dominantly, “moves the levers”, provides money etc. Far from it. There are “soft” activities which are often more productive for achieving the end result.
For example, with feedback we tend to forget what the purpose of feedback is. It is not to “come clean on everything” or “point out mistakes”. The aim is actually for the person to learn and develop, for their strengths to increase and weaknesses to diminish so that we can direct them in the right direction, so that their work is effective.
Sulev Kõks: My goal is to make the faculty’s management culture even more open. To increase openness we need to implement various activities to different extents. Of the three mentioned activities, inclusion is the most important because it is the basis of the “us” feeling—“our faculty”, “our university”. I would like to give these terms content and a real sense of “us”. Inclusion comes with recognition—those who work well expect praise. These two are linked by feedback. Feedback needs to be regular and sincerely objective. This way it is possible to observe the processes changing over time.
Margus Lember: There is definitely room for improvement on all levels of management. Praise is not common for Estonians. It is the rule of thumb that if there are no complaints, everything is great. Culture cannot be changed quickly but it can be done. Feedback, inclusion and recognition are an important part of my future work.
The international accreditation committee pointed out the need to implement a systematic annual university-wide employee performance assessment. How important is it for you that each employee is given the opportunity to have a performance interview with their supervisor at least once a year during which they can conclude the previous work, make new agreements, receive feedback, discuss development options etc.? What would you like to change in your faculty regarding performance management?
Tõnis Karki: Measuring results is necessary to ensure that institutes and their employees are working in the right direction and they know what is expected of them. The problem is choosing the right indicators—what to assess so that it is not a formality and that the development or performance interview is not considered a waste of time. It seems that on the current performance map we are too focused on numerical values and achieving these is cannot actually be affected. There should be less main indicators and more qualitative measures. Then it is clearly evident what has been done, what is being done.
Sulev Kõks: I support the idea of performance interviews, it is an opportunity for the supervisor to get an idea of the staff’s expectations and at the same time provide feedback in return. It is important that performance assessment is systematic. At the same time, the process should not be too time-consuming and stressful, it should also not be a simple formality which is done only to tick the box. The work environment should be stress-free so that colleagues can address each other on the topic of development more than once a year.
Margus Lember: A performance interview with an actual performance assessment and rewarding would be great. In reality it is rather difficult to define performance success in study and research work. However, it is important to carry out performance interviews where colleagues can discuss the future, the employee’s development and the goals of the collective. Simplifying performance management discredits its original purpose.
How to use academic buildings more efficiently with the faculty or campus?
Tõnis Karki: With medicina I do not think that the merging of the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Exercise and Sports Science would noticeably increase the efficiency of using study rooms. Our rooms are physically too far apart for that (Maarjamõisa vs town centre vs Ujula street), mainly intended for a specific purpose (laboratories, training halls, sports facilities, rooms in hospital departments), with limited access (infection inspection at the hospital, security, patients’ interests etc.). The magic word “cross-use” will probably work to a certain extent with some general seminar rooms and bigger lecture halls. We are currently in a situation where the Faculty of Medicine has given up rooms at Nooruse and Puusepa 6 while the scope of medical studies is increasing which is why it is nearly impossible to find vacant rooms in the Biomedicum.
Sulev Kõks: The Faculty of Medicine has no problems with using the campus rooms efficiently. One of the outputs for underused study rooms is renting them out at vacant periods or if there are too much vacant periods, changing the purpose of the room. Meanwhile, some seminar rooms could be used less. Using rooms too intensively would also be a problem. I think the faculty’s room planning should be reviewed every now and then and adjusted according to the changing needs because just like life around us, the demand for rooms is changing.
Margus Lember: The short answer would be that the timetable has to be compiled accordingly. The special feature of clinics is that studies need to match the work routine of the clinics, there is no point in having practical trainings in clinics when only doctors on duty are at work. Efficient room use is important but we need to ensure rooms for elective courses, student events, and various work meetings. The training bases of the Faculty of Exercise and Sports Science are obligatory, renting out the bases for the periods when there is no study work is the university’s task.
Are you pleased with the organisation of studies in Pathological Anatomy and Pathophysiology? Both courses (8 ECTS) are read in the autumn semester of the third year. Is this period not insufficient for such important subjects?
Tõnis Karki: No, I am not. The current curricula was created according to the logic that the link between preclinical and clinical subjects is pathologies, this is followed by the clinical part (Fundamentals of Diagnostics).
Lack of time is not the problem—in this sense the question is misleading. If we take 5th year subjects which have a similar amount of ECTs (Psychiatry, Neurology, Paediatrics) then here the periods are for example four weeks. The problem is that extensive subjects are taught simultaneously—students are not able to focus on one subject at a time.
There are two solutions:
- Adjustments, so that both pathologies are taught in the autumn and spring semester. Then we would also have to change the Fundamentals of Diagnostics—it would begin already in the autumn semester because otherwise a big part of the studies would be during the spring semester. The courses being conducted during the same period remains a problem, there would also be four major exams in spring (two pathology subjects, Pharmacology, Fundamentals of Diagnostics).
- The other option would be to introduce periodic studies similarly to 4th and 5th year—this way students could focus on one subject at a time. I am in favour of this option. If we think about it for a second—why should the form of preclinical studies differ from clinical subjects? Generally, universities in the world use periodic studies for clinical and preclinical parts.
Sulev Kõks: Not pleased. I can answer regarding Pathophysiology since it is something I have been engaged in since I started work in the department. I have forwarded my opinion and proposals to the faculty’s vice dean, requesting that the subject be divided between the autumn and spring semesters of the 3rd year. It takes time to implement the changes in the curricula. In addition to students, the lecturers are also waiting for it to happen.
Margus Lember: Both are voluminous subjects, pressed into a short period of time. We need to review how the subjects are taught in 3rd year: in the spring semester the Fundamentals of Diagnostics are also taught during one semester, this strains the clinics that teach the subjects and it is difficult to find patients for the practical trainings. It would be reasonable to divide the subjects between two semesters, if we try enough we can ensure that the logical order of topics studied. With questions like this, the solution should not be an attempt to come up with another version of the timetable but instead we should deliberate the wider use of elements of problem-based studies, for example, teaching the mechanisms of pathological processes along with structural changes in tissues and organs.