Like our colleagues at UC Groningen, we at Erasmus University College Rotterdam (EUC) have engaged in a formal discussion on career perspectives for academic staff at Dutch university colleges in general, and at EUC in particular (Career trajectory, UCANN, 19 August 2019). In this blogpost, we are circulating some collective reflections about career development (held in late 2019) in the conviction that information exchange is necessary to provide the issue of career development for academic staff at all university colleges the urgency it deserves. So, we share the curiosity of our colleagues from Groningen about standards and procedures across UC’s. That is why we want to encourage an inventory of the current praxis in this regard at the various Dutch UC’s.

Drawing upon our own experiences, we are inclined to answer that career development procedures are currently organised along a classic model of factor-driven research defined in a narrow sense. However, because of its focus on citations, bibliometrics, hyper-specialization and accumulation of grant money, factor-driven research is not a good match for the specific climate that typifies Dutch UC’s who focus instead on intellectual mentorship rooted in inter- and transdisciplinarity, to foster students’ integration of scientific knowledge and societal citizenship. Dutch UC’s are uniquely well-placed to achieve this objective precisely because there are designed at boosting collaborative learning.

Given recent shifts in discourse on the importance of valorising teaching, we believe that this is a propitious moment to re-think the way UC’s implement career development opportunities for their staff. For example, over the past few years, we have seen encouraging statements by universities about doing more to valorise teaching. Some Dutch universities have added deeds to words, for example by creating teaching professorships. This dynamic is widely hailed as a healthy antidote to an environment often so obsessed with research output or grant money that it threatens the quality of teaching. The reasoning behind such progressive measures is that high-quality teaching and, more broadly, solid lecturing skills are essential academic competencies that deserve more recognition.

While the perception of a corrective movement acknowledging teaching excellence is unmistakable, the translation of this principle in updated HR policies for UC staff lags far behind. Unfortunately, few of the well-intended efforts succeed in going beyond eloquent lip-service. If the transfer of knowledge is the primary mission of the university and if the liberal arts colleges represent a model for the future, shouldn’t university colleges be leading the way too in terms of career development?

In short, we maintain that there are plenty initiatives and fresh scholarly insights to outline a strategy for career development more in tune with the idiosyncratic context of Dutch UC’s. The principal ingredient here is a shift from research output towards a more comprehensive understanding of scholarship. The bottom line is also an acknowledgement that work packages for university college teaching staff could be more accurately assessed through a holistic, portfolio approach recognising the many tasks and activities performed at a liberal arts college, beyond in-class or online teaching.

It is to this end that we are sharing here a modest attempt to contribute to a new framework for career development. In the conclusion of our internal deliberations at EUC, we set up a plea for the emergence of a ‘university college academic’ as a socially engaged intellectual. We would highly welcome contributions from staff at other UCs to this discussion and are curious to learn more about the -undoubtedly – many forms career paths are projected at the various UCs.

Christa van Wijnbergen, Ward Vloeberghs, Julien Kloeg.