Press release on the Ohrid-workshop: HR-Strategies to value the importance of people - even under poor conditions

Categories: HRS4R News


Academic institutions from the Balkan countries are ready to start with Career Development. Their goal: Keeping young talent – Results of the OHRID workshop 25 April

They drove from the cities of Skopje, Tetovo and Bitola, they travelled from the countries of Montenegro, Albania and Croatia - to share one goal: To be informed first hand by experts on the opportunities of the European Commission`s Human Resources Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R). Having been briefed by experts and HR – practitioners from across Europe, the Research Managers understood better how to tailor the tools of Career Development and HR-Management at their academic institutions to the specific needs at home.


So, the workshop for the academic managers from the Balkan countries which was held on 25 April 2017 in the Congress Centre of St. Cyril and Methodius University close to the Lake-town Ohrid in North Macedonia, proved to be a success: “ We already started planning activities on the 'HR excellence in research' award for our faculty”, reported Prof. Marina Stefova, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the St. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, immediately after the event.

The one-day-meeting offered an introduction to the HRS4R- methodology through contributions of the European Commission and by best-practice examples (“ Tips & Tricks”) from research managers of the Belgian University of Liège and the Juray Dobrila University of Pula in Croatia, both holders of the 'HR Excellence in Research' award, the quality label for excellent research institutions. “Here in the Balkans,we have the same mindset and the same working culture. Awareness raising on the principles of the HR-Strategy will be the crucial success factor to us”, summarized Barbara Unkovic from Croatia the results of the event, “This will bring us forward in the European Research Area and in Europe”. The International Manager and economist from the Pula University was nominated HR-'Ambassador' with a task to accompany and to care of any questions that may arise among her peers from the research institutions in the Balkans.


Academia in these countries is severely hit by the financial crisis and a drastic lack of funding, by missing infrastructures and lost grants. To stop the brain drain of young talents, responsible University Board members see a solution in upgrading their institutions while motivating scientists by inviting them to career development measures and to implement transparent recruitment schemes. “With this initiative, we will set the principles for all actors and we are looking forward to the improvements we can implement”, said Professor Vladimir Petrushevski, Vice-Rector for Science from the St. Cyril and Methodius University during the Ohrid workshop.

Detailing on the challenges which the Skopje University with its 30 000 students is facing, the Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Valentin Mirceski, gave an outlook on what his institution may expect from the implementation of the HR-Strategy pointing to the “importance of people to achieve perfect results by personal engagement, even under the worst conditions. The HR-Strategy values this importance of people.”

“How to keep these engaged persons motivated? How to accompany their career and how to appreciate the freedom to enable them to progress and to promote the right people? “, those questions were raised by Mirceski, an alumni and former PHD-scholar at the German Alexander Humboldt Foundation. He also highlighted concerns about the current lack of public funding for Doctoral Students in his country and the sensitive recruitment of the Managing Bodies to run the institutions adequately. “That`s of crucial importance to us”, stressed the Vice-Dean and Professor of Chemistry facing political shake-ups and insecurity in his country.


Participants from more than 20 different research institutions were gathered at the Ohrid-workshop. Some of them have already endorsed to the HRS4R –process informing the European Commission, but still need to do next steps such as the initial gap analysis or the submission of the locally drafted action plan to be evaluated by independent peers. Once the draft is validated with a formal “Go”, the institutions in the country receive the most appreciated 'HR-Award', consisting of a trophy and a visual HR-icon in all promotional documents.

Albulena Halili, Research Officer at the South East European University in Tetovo and Skopje, explained to the other participants the motivation of the faculties and institutes of the self-financed university to walk down the strategy process with a duration of several years: “For us, it was primarily the gain of visibility and validation for more EU-partnerships in projects and to become eligible for the funding programme HORIZON 2020”. Moreover, the recently established Doctoral Schools at her institution will soon benefit of the measures through the introduction of coherent mentoring and interdisciplinary trainings alongside the faculty-specific instruction. A few weeks ago, a “research ethics committee” was established to draft code-of-conduct guidelines. When the South East European University started to write the action plan, its managers “simply read different action plans of peers before we began the drafting”, she explained to the audience at the workshop in Ohrid.


Language concerns have been raised during the workshop from the audience coming from Albania, others presumed lack of engagement of the hierarchy which is regarded as a prerequisite for the launch of any successful procedure. Representing the European Commission, Irmela Brach, Senior Policy Officer in the Directorate for Research and Innovation, explained to the participants the general approach of setting 40 principles from the “Charter & Code “ - the EU`s basic document for the HRS4R- process - into practice at local level. 

Once the implementation of the “Charter & Code” has started as a process of sound management changes on the ground, the works will span over duration of 24, then 36 months while entering different stages from the initial phase of analysing to the award renewal phases. As explained by Irmela Brach, the European Commission does not expect one-size-fits-all action plans to receive the HR award. In contrary, the institutions are encouraged to select tailored measures appropriate to their individual purposes, to their local working methods and their routines leading to an overall increase in quality management in general and HR development specifically.. “Rectors at the end can show the Award Trophy and the HR-Award icon to every visitor and can be proud of the achievement process.”



How to best start concrete actions on the ground was first hand explained by the International Research Office Director at the University of Liège, Isabelle Halleux. To her mind, the biggest benefit of the strategy for researchers is the recognition of their work, the improved personal efficiency through trainings and the access to career networks, which can open academia to markets and match their competences to the non-academic world. Though her university being an Award Holder since over 6 years, the Research Manager from Liège did not hide that it takes a strong and a joint effort to lead to success, while the journey often is directed by group dynamics of university staff teams. The various stages of the staff effort were visualized by her with a well appreciated presentation in 20 steps along a puzzle with elements of an artistic painting, the “Tree of Life” of the Austrian Art-Nouveau artist, Gustav Klimt (see interview below with Director Halleux).


In order to avoid delays and mismatch, the tutors at the HRS4R-workshop in Ohrid strongly recommended starting with smaller core groups and then widening the process. This principle will be adopted by the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the St. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje when going ahead on faculty level first. The Head of the Department of Chemistry, Marina Stefova, is familiar with this approach since she has started with 2 EU Project under the FP7 “Regional Potential – RegPot”-scheme eight years ago.

The funding allowed the then assistant Professor to acquire basic equipment to her institute, enabling to tackle new research challenges and, as a result, to start publishing in international journals. Now, nominated a full Professor of Chemistry and Head of Department, she will recommend applying the HRS4R-tools in her institute with similar principles: Acting as an early adopter, followed by others. “ Alike the EU project funding, we also will demonstrate on the field of Human Resources that we can motivate young professionals and that it pays off to collaborate with the EU institutions, “ says Marina Stefova convincingly to followers from her own institution and from other universities in the Balkan countries.



“The HR-strategy is like cleaning up your wardrobe”

Flash-Interview with the HR-Ambassador Barbara Unkovic, University of Pula, Croatia

What will be the biggest hurdles to implement the Strategy in Balkan institutions?

Barbara: “I assume that it will be more difficult to convince the hierarchies on sponsoring the process internally and to offer support to the management teams. Excellent communication skills will be the key here.”

How will you support as HR-Ambassador the peers from the neighbour countries?

Barbara: We already have held a workshop and we saw the huge interest. Further, we will exchange mails and explain the answers of the EU in a language my peers will understand.

Could you describe the HR-Strategy in a nutshell, please?



Could you describe the HR-Strategy in a nutshell, please?

Barbara: “ It`s a good occasion to streamline efforts at your institution. Like cleaning-up a wardrobe – the good pieces you keep, others you throw away and refresh by new things.“


Why Gustav Klimt`s “Tree of Life” can explain the strategy

Interview with the Research Manager Isabelle Halleux, Liège University

What has the puzzle of “Tree of Life” painting from Klimt to do with EU`s HR-Strategy?

Isabelle Halleux: I took the image as a metaphor for the journey you have to undergo when entering and driving the strategy process with your institution and the staff team. Klimt`s painting can be sequenced down to puzzle pieces. The puzzle is completed step-by step, depicting the initial unclear picture at the start, the filling- in- pathways and a marvelous image at the end.

Why did you choose the tree - example to explain the process at the Ohrid workshop?


Isabelle Halleux: I like things close to the people. Klimt`s tree shows a tall woman, a couple, roots, a trunk and a tree that tries to reach the heaven, and golden fruits. That is exactly what is happening during an HR management change process: There is uncertainty first, but you can resolve it with a vision and a view. The long term engagement counts.


What do the elements in the painting stand for?

Isabelle Halleux: The woman with a dress of triangle patches is the analogy of expectations; the couple is its fulfillment. The tree with a strong trunk and branches is symbolic for the structure of a university. The flowers and the fruits can be harvested as a result. And the bird can be seen as the observer to watch the whole procedure, similar to the European Commission.


Tell us the reason to select Gustav Klimt, please.

Isabelle Halleux: He was an artist at the beginning of the 20 century, belonging to the group of the “Wiener Secession”. These painters and designers wanted to break-up with the dusty and old conservative traditions in the arts with an aim of societal change, as we aspire to today again at the brink of the 21 century.


Does the implementation of HR-principles at Liège University reach out to societal concerns?

Isabelle Halleux: I think so. Many students nowadays need training in soft skills since they often do not come from favoured families where these skills are taught at home – to network, to speak up or to present yourself for example. We started to show PhD students what is expected from them for successful applications to diverse posts. And, we also give feedback on what they were not so good in. This culture of feedback is really helpful to raise quality.


Could you provide an example on how you put this in place, please?

Isabelle Halleux: It consists basically of a set of recommendations we are offering to the supervisors and to their students: How to shape a profile, how to write a CV, how to act in different professional environments and, yes, how to evaluate the weaknesses.


Can you already see tangible success rates?

Isabelle Halleux: Our university has evolved step by step. We really can state more HR competence in the entire administration nowadays; we polished our communication and our website. Our hierarchy has prioritized the career development policy of research staff and, as a result of this, the HR Department is now organized in visible packages: Gender, ethics, training and recruitment. In these four sections we are constantly active.




What is the next big thing?

Isabelle Halleux: Move the wrong elements and let`s make our achievements sustainable.


Thank you very much for taking the time to respond!

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