In 2017 Ghent University’s Board of Governors decided to allocate 21 new professorships (“21ZAP”, in which ZAP is the abbreviation for Independent Academic Staff at Flemish universities). Instead of simply distributing these new positions across the 11 faculties, they were to be allocated based on an open call identifying strategic opportunities in a collaborative environment. In 2018, 21 vacancies were advertised in order to recruit these new professors.
Policy ambitions with the new professorships
Ghent University recognizes the value of interdisciplinary collaboration, in particular when addressing research questions designed to generate a strong impact. While monodisciplinary research also has its merits, opening up the barriers between disciplines and collaborating with other scientists, push the boundaries of research in different ways. These new insights can enforce academic breakthroughs which may have otherwise been impossible, can address challenges in society which require a combination of scientific expertise, and can foster innovation that has stood the test of multiple methods.
Despite such promising outcomes, interdisciplinary research faces many stumbling blocks in terms of funding opportunities, internal organization, dissemination of research and individual career opportunities. Ghent University wants to remove some of these obstacles by providing organizational support, earmarking specific research funding and rewarding researchers for their interdisciplinary activities in the internal career appraisal system.
The expected outcome is research with a more significant and more relevant impact, academic, social or economic.
Selection process for the “21ZAP” initiative
In 2017, existing consortia could apply for up to three extra professorships to be embedded in their consortium, depending on their respective needs and opportunities. 92 proposals were submitted, involving a very broad range of departments and faculties. An independent external panel was appointed in order to rank the proposals and make a recommendation.
10 proposals were selected based on the following criteria:
- the consortia must demonstrate earlier collaboration and a commitment to further intensify this, involving at least two faculties
- the core of the proposal can be research-oriented, education-oriented, service-oriented or a combination of these
- the research carried out by the consortium demonstrates high academic impact
- the ambition in terms of research and/or education demonstrates clear potential for
- the new professorships should enrich the existing interdisciplinary environment, resulting in a strong, effective and sustainable team
- the new professorships and corresponding new expertise to be developed should present an added value to Ghent University in general
In May 2018, the Board of Governors fully endorsed the panel’s proposal and approved the launch of these 21 professorships. From June 2018 onwards, the vacancies for these professorships are being advertised.