Central or local support, that is the question

Published Feb 14, 2018

The balance between a central and local approach, work overloads and unclear assignments. These are some of the issues raised in a progress report about the review of administration and operational support.
“The workload on certain departments is very concerning,” says President Sigbritt Karlsson.

At the President’s request, an analysis of KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s administration and operational support was started in the autumn in order to increase efficiency and consistency within the organisation. Sigbritt Karlsson notes that the reorganisation into five major schools also provides a reason to review what new requirements have emerged.

A key issue in the review is what is best managed centrally, KTH-wide, and what is best managed locally by the schools. A progress report submitted on 5 February makes a distinction between where a person is employed and where that person is physically based.

The authors of the report note that a function that is managed by central collective operational support does not necessarily have to be carried out by staff based in a central administration building. Instead, the staff in question, at least part of the time, may be based near teachers, researchers and students at the schools. This may be of great significance in terms of how accessible the function is perceived to be, according to the authors of the report, noting “Some tasks are best resolved by people meeting face to face”.

Major expansion

The progress report focuses on the university administration (UA) and notes that KTH’s major expansion in the 2000s has had some undesirable effects. Since 2009, KTH’s turnover has increased by 46 percent. Both academic and technical/administrative staff have each increased by 26 percent.

But the increase is unevenly distributed, with certain departments having grown significantly while others not at all or at least not in line with the increase in the volume of work. This has led to some departments being unable to provide the operational support expected of them. This work overload is concerning, even though it is due to positive changes, notes Sigbritt Karlsson.

“It’s really pleasing that we’re attracting more paying students. And for the students, it’s good to be able to gain more qualifications, which many are doing. But both of these aspects are increasing the workload on the qualifications unit, to give just one example,” she says.

The work of the review has included interviews with all heads of department at the university administration. A recurring theme is that the heads of department would like to see a more clearly communicated remit from KTH’s management. It’s a point that Sigbritt Karlsson believes is important to focus on:

“I’ve thought a lot about what this relates to. Does the administration not feel involved when we produce a development plan? Or have we failed to convert the content of the development plan into comprehensible and clear assignments for the administration?”

A large organisation

A number of heads of department say coordination between the departments could work better and they see difficulties in getting interdisciplinary processes to work. They say specialist skills and the organisational structure tend to lead to the creation of ‘silos’.

“This could be because we’re now such a large organisation, but we’ve perhaps retained a slightly smaller mindset. But I also recognise the reference to the creation of silos from my previous experience at a much smaller institution,” says Sigbritt Karlsson.

The heads of department also mention difficulties in communicating what support the UA department may be expected to provide and in gaining an understanding of what other help the UA needs from the rest of the organisation, such as with fulfilling KTH’s public authority mandate. Sigbritt Karlsson notes that teachers and researchers are not always fully aware of what exercising this public authority role involves.

“The term core activity suggests that the other activities are less important. But that’s not the case, and that’s something I want to emphasise. For our core activity to work, we need good operational support and we have that at KTH.”

Text: Ursula Stigzelius

In brief: Review of KTH’s administration and operational support

  • A working group tasked with conducting an analysis of KTH’s administration and operational support was appointed in early autumn 2017.
  • The review aims to achieve a more cohesive KTH and greater efficiency. The working group’s remit includes taking particular account of changes in needs and possibilities that arise as a result of the change to the school organisation.
  • The working group comprises 14 people, including, in addition to all heads of schools, KTH’s head of HR, Dean of Faculty and union representatives.
  • The progress report presented on 5 February puts KTH’s operational support in a broader context, with a description of operational support’s different tasks and development, as well as the background in terms of legislation and previous analysis (AAE2014).
  • This initial report will focus on the university administration, but will not directly offer any proposed action. The next stage will focus on operational support at KTH’s five schools. The final review will be reported by 1 May 2018.
  • Read the full report here
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