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University of Silesia in Katowice

Interdisciplinary Centre for Staff Development

‘University Employees Must Be United by Trust and Professionalism’. Interview with Dr. Agnieszka Skołucka, Chancellor of the University of Silesia

24.04.2020 - 12:39 update 17.06.2020 - 17:11
Editors: MK

Zdjęcie portretowe dr Agnieszki Skołuckiej
Dr. Agnieszka Skołucka | Deputy Director of ICSD, Coordinator For Strategic Partnership | Chancellor of the University of Silesia | photo by Julia Agnieszka Szymala

Grafika: doskonałość   “We should take care of building mutual trust on professionalism. Excellence understood in this way requires us to develop our competencies, regardless of our role at the University”

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Staff Development (ICRK) was established with a particular group of employees in mind, namely the Polish university staff. The scientific research initiated within the unit has already shown how heterogeneous this group is and it’s worth getting to know it. The knowledge of differences will allow us to better design tools and offer solutions supporting the development of all university employees.

We have talked about the tasks of the Centre and the administrative support staff with Dr. Agnieszka Skołucka, Chancellor of the University of Silesia in Katowice, Deputy Director of ICSD.

The newly created Interdisciplinary Centre for Staff Development focuses mainly on the challenges which all university employees have to face. However, it is hard to imagine conducting scientific research in the unit without taking into account the diversity of groups which form – together with students and PhD students – the academic community. If we take a closer look at our university structure, we may notice how many such groups there are…

The name of the Centre suggests that we insist on building relations between all university employees and developing competencies in each of these groups. There are several groups, indeed. It would take us a long time to mention all of them. The most frequent (and slightly unfortunate) division is into academic and non-academic staff.

Due to the currently effective Higher Education Law, Polish universities have to adapt to the new legal reality. One of the actions taken was to prepare the key documents for the functioning of universities, such as the statute or the development strategy. There were already suggestions at that point to change the nomenclature with reference to groups of university employees.

What particularly raised our concerns was the term which contained a negation, i.e. ‘non-academic staff’. However, we were obliged by the legislator to use it, so it appears in the most important documents at all Polish universities. Perhaps the Centre created by us will not only become a space for research, but also a platform for discussing this and other important subjects. We want to base our actions on the exchange of experiences. The key thing will be cooperation with other scientific centres, thanks to which I believe that we may address many interesting issues concerning the employees of Polish universities.

As the Chancellor of the University of Silesia, you are the head of administrative support employees. This group, along with the library staff, research and technology staff, engineering and technology staff, University of Silesia Press and service staff, constitutes over 1/3 of all our university employees. Let me ask you a subversive question. What would the university reality be like without these employees?

I don’t know if my imagination can reach this far (laughs). I think that, first of all, we would not be able to enter the university buildings, we would have no room or laboratory equipment, the libraries would be closed, there would be no light, IT systems or security, no ceremonies in the academic calendar cycle, and we would neither get paid nor obtain funds for scientific research…

Science would have to move to houses and flats, together with our scholars.

Some of them would probably manage well, while others would have to change their jobs, and experimental sciences would disappear. However, let us go back to our university reality, with the full staff force. We hear that not everything always works like it does at the foreign universities. However, I think that a lot has changed.

Who are the people working at the university that form the support staff?

My impression is that the people working at universities think in a slightly different way than others. We were not attracted to come here by high salaries, but despite this, we are strongly involved in performing our duties. I will say even more – we like what we do. We identify with the university and we want to feel needed, even if…

… even if we are invisible on a daily basis.

This is our huge advantage. We are here to support research employees, research and teaching employees, and teaching employees. We follow different paths, but share the same goal: to increase the research potential of our university. This would not be possible without the great work of our scholars who conduct fascinating research and transfer their knowledge to students. Our task is to make this work easier and less demanding. We are a bit like shadows, of course in the positive meaning of this word.

This reality, however, is changing before our eyes.

The Science and Research Department at the University of Silesia, whose aim is to help obtain funds for financing scientific projects, has been heavily modernised. We want to be a partner for our scientists and teachers. The increasing number of teams are formed by employees representing each of the groups to better understand their needs and share their knowledge. Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE is an example of the excellent cross-unit cooperation. It is one of the initiatives which prove that you can also make friends at work. This attracts people, helps them to develop and makes them stay at the university. My dream is to make every person associated with the university feel that not a single day at work has been wasted.

What is the basis for establishing relations between all university employees?

I think that the most important thing is trust based on professionalism. The support employees trust that researchers and teachers carry out their work in a professional and reliable manner, whereas academic teachers believe that they will receive professional support. Reliability has to be our biggest strength. We should make sure that we don’t lose trust in one another due to a lack of professionalism. This is why it is so important to develop our competencies, regardless of whether we are researchers, teachers or support staff. We are planning to take up certain challenges in this respect under the newly established Centre.

Thank you for the interview.

|By Dr. Małgorzata Kłoskowicz|

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