Social and Behavioural Sciences
Utrecht University’s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences stands for leading teaching and research in the fields of social and behavioural sciences. Our faculty is dedicated to promoting the development of young talent through a wide range of degree programmes and to facilitating an understanding of current issues in connection with behaviour and society. We are a faculty at the heart of society and one which cooperates closely with others.
The major societal challenges of our era encompass the full breadth of our professional field and demonstrate the essential nature of the social and behavioural sciences. These challenges are comprised of issues ranging from individual and group behaviour to large-scale social problems. Current events similarly call for ongoing research and interpretation. Take, for instance, the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic has affected us as individuals and as a society: a development that, prior to 2020, we never could have expected would dominate our lives so completely. Many of the questions those in the social and behavioural sciences are seeking to answer have been incorporated into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. SDGs such as Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education and Reduced Inequality are key priorities in much of our teaching and research. As a faculty, we want to use our teaching and research to respond to social challenges from both a fundamental and a more applied approach. We are making our societal impact tangible by sharing our knowledge and insights with those in professional practice and with the media.
The major social challenges of our era encompass the full breadth of our professional field and demonstrate the essential nature of the social and behavioural sciences.
At the same time, we see that society continues to evolve into a technology-driven society in which data, digitisation and automation are dominant elements. These technological developments have all kinds of consequences for humans and society. The social and behavioural sciences are vital to both studying and interpreting these effects – and therefore to the sustainable integration of technology into our society. The fact that the very power of the technological developments threatens to eclipse these behavioural and social consequences serves to emphasise the crucial role the social and behavioural sciences play in understanding that process and adjusting it where necessary.
We embrace the university-wide ambitions set out in this Strategic Plan, i.e. that students and staff will contribute to a better world and be given the scope to develop their talents. Our mission is to use our teaching and research to contribute to a better world by tackling academic challenges in those areas where human behaviour and social dynamics play an important role. Developments in those areas prompt us to conduct socially relevant research that is of a high academic quality. We link our teaching to this research. In this way, we are preparing new generations for the role they can play in addressing these societal issues.
To reinforce the relevance of our teaching and research, our faculty is aligning itself with Utrecht University’s thematic and multidisciplinary approach. In doing so, we are utilising the experience with multidisciplinarity that is already present within the faculty. We feel that this approach, which includes a central role for the strategic themes and research focus areas, is the best way to study complex societal issues and facilitate interaction with society. Our faculty is primarily concerned with the strategic themes of Dynamics of Youth and Institutions for Open Societies. While teaching at our university is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary in nature, strong disciplinary teaching continues to serve as the basis.
Together, we comprise a solid yet innovative organisation.
Our cooperation with regard to our teaching, research and support activities is based on equality, diversity, inclusion, openness, accessibility and mutual respect. Together, we comprise a solid yet innovative organisation: as a faculty, within our departments and divisions and in our cooperation with other organisational units of the university.
Our teaching and research are internationally oriented, based on the belief that diversity contributes to quality. We want to be a faculty where international students and staff feel at home. At the same time, we are part of a regional ecosystem and wish to ensure that our focus on global social issues is also reflected in our impact close to home: we think globally, but also act locally. We cooperate with partners in the city and region of Utrecht on numerous education and research projects, such as in academic collaborative centres and within the Health Hub Utrecht.
We endorse the principles of Open Science in our teaching and research. This means that our research is based on the standards of research integrity and that all output – including publications, data and software – is made freely available whenever possible. It also means that we embrace the social role of science and that we recognise and reward our researchers based on multiple aspects of their tasks. We also ensure that the principles of Open Science are reflected in our teaching, both by teaching our students these principles and by applying the principles in components such as the thesis research projects.
This Strategic Plan sets out a course for the coming years and establishes a direction for future decision-making. The Plan expands on previous decisions taken in connection with the strategic themes, multidisciplinary cooperation and internationalisation. Additionally, we intend to strengthen our efforts in the coming years on behalf of diversity and inclusion, sustainability, education for professionals and reduced workloads. We also intend to take steps in relation to the theme of Open Science, particularly where new forms of recognition and reward are concerned.
The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences strives to become a more diverse and inclusive community. This is not only because we feel that taking different perspectives into account adds value to teaching and research, but also because we find equal opportunities important. This means equal opportunities for individuals of different nationalities, ethnicities, genders, socio-economic backgrounds and ages. We intend to continue our Diversity & Inclusion programme. In recent years, our focus on equal opportunities for people with a disadvantage on the labour market has led to a growing number of new colleagues, and we plan to continue our efforts in this area.
We want to be a faculty where everyone works with pride and pleasure.
Reduced workloads, improved recognition and rewards
We want to be a faculty in which people feel at home, are able to be themselves and experience a sense of safety and respect. Moreover, we also want to be a faculty in which students and employees are able to make the most of their potential and continually develop their talents to the utmost degree. We want to be a faculty where everyone can experience pride and enjoyment in their work. To that end, we are committed to continuing efforts to reduce the workloads and increase the well-being of our students and staff. Recognising and rewarding the talents, knowledge and expertise of every individual is a precondition for achieving this goal.
Working together in teams
Within academic practice, there is growing attention for the fact that, in many cases, teaching, research and support activities are a team effort. Not everyone needs to excel in all areas and not every member of a team will be evaluated on every single aspect. This can create a calmer atmosphere in teams. While every contribution to a team’s performance is important, certain activities and individuals sometimes garner more attention, while others remain undervalued. We intend to devote greater attention to this, such as by taking the context in which performance occurs into consideration when discussing rewards, and by addressing the performance of a team as a whole in the Assessment and Development (A&D) interviews.
Staff and student representation
We will continue to invest in open and constructive cooperation with the representative advisory bodies for staff and students. While these forms of representation have a supervisory function, their greatest value is found in participatory critical thinking and observing and reporting on important areas for attention based on solid relationships with their respective constituencies.
We strive to achieve sustainability in a broad sense. We want to limit our negative impact on the environment wherever possible. We will take steps (in addition to university policy) such as installing signage in our buildings to increase awareness of various aspects of sustainable behaviour among both students and staff. Our expertise in the field of behaviour has proved useful in connection with efforts to promote ecologically responsible habits, sustainable employability and a healthy lifestyle; we frequently consult those of our academics who are knowledgeable in this area.
We strive to achieve sustainability in a broad sense.
We also strive toward a sustainable financial future. Our financial policy will continue to focus on maintaining a healthy position, now and in the long term. As planned, the faculty will continue decreasing its reserves through spending in the coming years.
Seizing technological opportunities
In the support services, we see that technology, automation and digitisation are primarily altering or even replacing the more routine tasks. To prepare for this development, the faculty launched the Future-proof support initiative in 2019. This initiative will be continued in the coming years. In essence, it is about enabling support and administrative staff colleagues to continue their personal development; ensuring we take advantage of the opportunities offered by technological development; and creating space for new tasks and positions, while maintaining a healthy balance in the ratio of academic to non-academic staff. At the same time, we are seeing new positions emerge within the support services that call for an academic background. We intend to experiment with possibilities for structuring such new positions.
Through its Education & Pedagogy, Social Sciences and Psychology departments, the faculty offers a large number of disciplinary Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes, now supplemented by several interdisciplinary programmes as well. We strive to provide our students with challenging, activating and personal teaching, which we align with socially relevant issues. We stress the link between our teaching and research, including opportunities for our students to take part in that research during their degree programmes. We are integrating Open Science into our teaching to show students how to practice integrity in their academic work. Where useful, we involve professionals from the field in our teaching because we wish to train academics to be academic professionals with the ability to bridge the gap between academia and real-world practice. Open Science is a central theme of our research training as well.
In order to provide this highquality teaching, and based on the fact that teaching and research are closely intertwined, we devote a great deal of attention to the quality and development of our teaching staff. We do so through learning pathways that are linked to educational and other forms of leadership, and through continuous appreciation for these qualities in our staff. Our Educational Development & Training division plays an important role in this professionalisation. Where our clinical programmes are concerned, we ensure there is a strong connection to clinical practice while also striving to further define the position of clinical experts within our teaching.
Multidisciplinary teaching centred on strategic themes
In addition to the faculty’s existing disciplinary and interdisciplinary degree programmes, there is a growing opportunity for university-wide multidisciplinary initiatives in the form of minors and the range of electives offered in the Master’s programmes. Due to the growing emphasis on strategic themes in our research, we want to develop teaching that is linked to these themes as well. As the faculty coordinates the Dynamics of Youth theme, it is only natural that we initiate programmes in this area based on that theme. Our plans for a new multidisciplinary Master’s are currently well advanced and we are considering offering a similar Bachelor’s at some point in the future. Obviously, the faculty will also remain closely involved with initiatives pertaining to other strategic themes and research focus areas, such as Institutions for Open Societies, Human-centered Artificial Intelligence and Applied Data Science.
We will continue working on our internationalisation programme. In keeping with the direction set out in 2015, we have made more degree programmes accessible to non-Dutch speaking students, with specific attention paid to the creation of international classrooms in which a diverse range of perspectives on issues is a key priority. We have invested in efforts to attract greater numbers of international colleagues and students, to provide a warm welcome and to integrate them into the faculty. We intend to continue these efforts, thereby linking the internationalisation programme to the Diversity & Inclusion programme.
We will need to explore whether the COVID-19 pandemic will necessitate a reorientation towards internationalisation with reduced mobility. It is possible that the coronavirus crisis offers new opportunities as well: in theory, the fact that courses are being taught remotely (wholly or in part) makes it easier for our students to take courses at universities abroad, and for international students to take our courses.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, we have been obliged to accelerate this development toward blended learning.
In the recent period, the faculty has started developing more blended teaching methods, which offer educational advantages. Such methods involve the combination of online curricular components with teaching in the classroom, where there is space for more in-depth exploration and interaction. Due to the coronavirus crisis, we have been obliged to accelerate this development toward blended learning. We now have an opportunity to learn from our experiences during this crisis. At the same time, we are exploring the new possibilities remote teaching has to offer. Such possibilities might include cooperation with international students and greater flexibility for students and teaching staff.
Education for professionals
One relatively new territory for our faculty is providing education for professionals (lifelong learning). We intend to realise major strides in this area in the coming years. Working closely with the professional field, we will develop course offerings based on the principle of reciprocity: by giving professionals access to current academic insights, we increase our social impact, while input from professionals helps us to continually evaluate our teaching based on realworld practice. We are developing modular courses for flexible teaching options to better serve professionals and we are strengthening our contact with alumni.
The societal challenges that have emerged as a result of the coronavirus pandemic demonstrate yet again the vital nature of research in the social and behavioural sciences. As a result of the coronavirus crisis, the SDGs referred to earlier – Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education and Reduced Inequality – have come under pressure, both in the Netherlands and internationally. Our research yields both fundamental and more applied contributions with regard to these areas. In both cases, they emphatically serve the goal of addressing social challenges. In the coming period, we will continue to work on expanding our expertise and share it with our academic and social partners, as well as continue to make the added value of our research both visible and explicit.
The faculty endorses Utrecht University’s policy of distinguishing itself in connection with four clearly recognisable strategic research themes. While some overlap naturally exists between all four themes, the two most important of these where our faculty is concerned are Dynamics of Youth and Institutions for Open Societies, as each of our individual disciplines has long made central contributions in these areas. Through this thematic research, we attempt to find solutions to global issues based on a multidisciplinary approach and in cooperation with societal partners.
We strive to ensure our research investments are aligned with the strategic themes.
To the greatest extent possible, we strive to ensure our research investments are aligned with the strategic themes. When filling new vacancies, and particularly when appointing new professors, we express a clear standpoint with regard to the substance of the strategic themes. Research groups are encouraged to participate explicitly in the themes and to design their research accordingly. As a matter of course, we assume that increasing cooperation and exchange will take place between the strategic themes as they attempt to tackle major societal challenges, and we intend to encourage this. In this way, it will be possible for researchers from the faculty – through their contributions to Dynamics of Youth and Institutions for Open Societies – to play a role in advancing the other two themes as well.
Research focus areas
In addition to the strategic themes, Utrecht University has defined eleven research focus areas. These research focus areas are considered to be new, ‘bottom-up’ initiatives that allow us to respond quickly and adequately to relevant social and academic developments. Our faculty participates in multiple research focus areas, including Applied Data Science (ADS), Higher Education Research, Human-centered Artificial Intelligence and Migration and Societal Change. These research focus areas can deliver a valuable contribution to the strategic themes, whether supplementing, expanding or connecting them or defining a specific focus. Within ADS, for example, attention is being paid to the advanced data management of large research projects within Dynamics of Youth and Institutions for Open Societies.
Partnerships with other universities
From a similarly multidisciplinary perspective, in which expertises complement one another, we see exciting opportunities in terms of cooperation with national and international partners. Utrecht University’s alliance with Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University & Research and University Medical Center Utrecht, for instance, offers us opportunities in which our knowledge of behaviour and society can be an invaluable addition to the other partners and to the knowledge they possess in connection with technology, data and digitisation. We will conduct joint research at the intersection of these disciplines. At the same time, we intend to further expand the international partnerships in which our researchers participate (such as with the University of Sydney and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) along multidisciplinary lines.
Our faculty wishes to align itself with the university-wide ambition to be a pioneer in the area of open science.
Our faculty wishes to align itself with the university-wide ambition to be a pioneer in the area of Open Science. Whereas the university-wide programme focuses primarily on the why and what, the faculties focus on the how. To that end, we are forming an Open Science team within the faculty.
The four Open Science sub-themes – Open Access, FAIR data and software, Public Engagement and Recognition and Rewards – will likewise be key priorities within our faculty. With regard to Open Access, we will encourage open-access publishing and making scientific output freely accessible to all. In the context of FAIR data, we will encourage the sharing of data and course material and train our staff and students, including PhD candidates, to practice responsible science. Where Public Engagement is concerned, we will link our research efforts to socially relevant questions. We see a connection between new forms of Recognition and Reward, teamwork and the reduction of workloads. Here, too, we intend to realise progress together in the coming years.