The GoodUni Proposals

This document is a list of proposals for making NewUni competitive on the international level. The list takes inspiration from the GoodUni-articles of the blog “Fluctuat&Mergitur”, from discussions with the DIG team of Télécom ParisTech, and from a meeting on 2018-07-10 with the director of Télécom ParisTech, the director of research, the director of the INFRES department, and the head of the DIG team. The current form of this document is supported by the DIG team, as per vote on 2018-09-13.

Preamble

GOAL
We want NewUni to succeed, and we are committed to supporting the new institution.
INT
If NewUni wants to succeed on the international level, then NewUni has make its study programs, its research, and its organization competitive with the other international players. This cannot be done by just cosmetic changes. It requires a profound rethinking of the existing system, and it will require investment, courage, and sacrifices. We have to be ready to change our way of functioning, ready to plan for the long term, and ready to abandon what we previously held dear — with the ultimate goal of improving the common institution.

Organization

DEM
We believe that NewUni should put in place a structure that governs the new university on the shared issues. The participants of this structure should be elected wherever possible. The structure should be transparent, and all councils should make public reports of their meetings within two weeks wherever possible. Crucially, this structure should be put in place before any decisions are taken. With this, we hope to avoid the inefficiency and frustration that were generated when Paris-Saclay started working without such a structure.
MERGEAD
We believe that NewUni offers the unique occasion to simplify the administrational structure of the partner schools: Administrational layers can be shared and thereby reduced. On the long run, we can imagine that the schools grow closer and closer, and share more and more, thereby reducing more and more complexity. With this, we hope to avoid that NewUni becomes another Paris-Saclay, IMT, or ParisTech.
QUIT
We believe that NewUni can bring all the advantages that we were previously hoping to obtain from other structures (such as ParisTech, the IMT, Télécom Evolution, and Paris-Saclay itself). Therefore, we propose that the NewUni schools should consider leaving these other structures. This is a heavy step. However, we cannot just always create new institutions. We also have to have the courage to abolish those that are no longer necessary. Such a step would reduce bureaucracy, free resources, and remove dependencies.
ONESTRUC
Currently, we have one structure for organizing research (the lab) and one structure for organizing the teaching and the research (the departments) inside each school. Each of these two structures has its own budget, council, and label. The structures also have seemingly competing competencies concerning research. We believe that this organization can be simplified. There should only be one council (at the level of the school), one shared budget (at the level of the school), and one label (that of the school, if at all, s.b.).
As before, research would be coordinated by the director of research, teaching would be coordinated by a director of teaching, and the staff would be evaluated by the hierarchical superiors — just without a separate organizational structure or a separate budget for the different roles.
Such a unification would remove complexity, and bring us in line with the other international universities, which do not have separate structures for research and teaching either.
HOUSE
To organize the interplay between the directors and the research groups, the hierarchical superiors and the directors could form an “upper house” (currently the CODIR). The research groups would elect group principals, which together would form a “lower house”. The modalities of interaction between the two houses would have to be discussed: Decisions could be taken by the upper house after consulting the lower house. Or a director could convene the lower house to take a decision together. For us, the important point is that we can know who has taken a decision and the responsibility for it.
3LAYERS
We propose that the new university consists of just three layers: Research teams, the school, and NewUni. The research teams manage their own money. The school layer redistributes shared money, and makes hiring decisions. The schools could later evolve into faculties of NewUni.
Such a system would simplify the administration, and bring more transparency to the system. We are aware that this is a rather utopian vision. But we have to have a vision.
POS
In the context of the partner schools closing ranks, we believe that the lecturer positions across NewUni should be harmonized and have the same opportunities and duties, no matter what school they belong to.

Infrastructure

BUR
We believe that an excessive bureaucracy is a real roadblock for an attractive and efficient working environment. If the administration of NewUni is not efficient and well organized, we risk losing researchers and collaboration opportunities. Therefore, NewUni should invest time and resources into reducing, streamlining, and improving its bureaucracy. Administrational processes should be automized, or at least digitalized, wherever possible. Paper forms should be abolished. Engineers should be hired to help with this reform.
INFRA
The current administration of students is too heavy: Too many tasks are done manually, and too many incompatible systems are involved. The Synapses team is working hard to improve the process, but we believe that we need more than punctual improvements. We need a bolder vision: NewUni should put in place a single, shared digital infrastructure to manage grades, students, and courses across all schools of NewUni. Crucially, this should happen before new students are admitted into joint programs. See the next point to learn how this could be accomplished.
SHEETS
We currently have to deal with a wide variety of requests to store, exchange, collect, update, and treat all types of data: grades, course schedules, course evaluations, etc. (pictured on the right, click to enlarge). It is not possible to foresee each of these tasks, and to implement a system for each of them. Therefore, we propose that NewUni provides a generalist system, which can deal with tabular data in general.
We think of a home-made version of Google Sheets. Crucially, the system shall give read and write rights for each cell to different people. In this way, a lecturer could, e.g., have the right to enter a grade into a cell, and the student could have the right to read it. Here is an example for the grades that the students had in different labs of a course:
Such a system could be used not just to manage the grades of different labs, but also application opening dates, course evaluation modalities, or course evaluations by students. If a limited workflow management is added (writing into once cell freezes the preceding cells), then the system could also be used for vacation requests, refund forms, and travel requests — since in the end, all of these are all just shared spreadsheets with access rights. The data could be easily shared across different institutions of NewUni without any copying if data, because it resides in shared database — just like Google Sheets. Such a system could thus provide the comprehensive shared digital infrastructure that we will need for NewUni to work.

We have already implemented a prototype for such a system, which works by Shibboleth login: Frugal Sheets. An engineer at Télécom ParisTech is currently looking into this, because this prototype would have to be cleaned up, extended, and maintained to fulfill its role. Particular emphasis would have to be put on the security and traceability of the data, and on the ability to import and export it.

A detailed case for the Frugal Sheets is made here.

Teaching

MERGEMASTER
We believe that a master’s program that runs separate from the engineering programs is not viable, and not credible. We therefore propose that the core of the education at NewUni should be shared 2-year master’s programs, and that the engineering programs should be merged into that program. The master's programs would be internal to NewUni. Diploma students should then get both an engineering diploma and a master’s diploma. The students spend their first year in their school. In the second and third year, they enroll in the new master’s programs. They can still spend 2 days of the week (Thursday and Friday) in their home school, if this is necessary to keep the school profiles.
2YMS
We believe that NewUni should abandon the distinction between M1 and M2, and introduce contiguous 2-year programs. This will make NewUni compatible with many other international universities, as well as with the Bologna Agreement. It will also allow an earlier, and thus a deeper specialization of the studies. Students, who, for legacy reasons, have to join in the M2, just do half the number of credits. This will greatly simplify the admission, the juries, and the organization of the program.
ECTS
We believe that the basic unit of teaching should be a course with a number of ECTS credits. All that students should have to do is to accumulate a certain number of ECTS during their master’s studies. Courses can have prerequisites, meaning that students are not allowed to take a course if they have not validated a course that is a prerequisite for it. Apart from this, students can take courses in any order they wish. The program consists just of a pool of courses with a partial order given by the prerequisites.
FIELDS
We believe that it is not necessary to create what is currently known as a “parcours”. It is sufficient to create the “mention” (say, mathematics, computer science, and electrical engineering). Inside each “mention”, there are different thematic fields (say, “Data Sciences”, “Networks”, etc.). Every field contains a number of courses. Students have to take at least a certain percentage of their ECTS credits in one field of their choice (so as to specialize their education), and the rest in fields that are different from the main field (so as to broaden their education). This system would do away with the notion of “parcours”. It would allow us to easily accommodate the arrival or departure of a lecturer, the creation of a new course, and the migration of a course from the engineering diploma to the master’s program. It will also allow offering thematic fields that are too small to constitute a master’s program in their own right.
If we want a PhD track, then the master’s thesis can take the form of a research project proposal. If the student validates the proposal, and passes the necessary coursework, she/he continues directly with the PhD. See a presentation about this model.
CAL
We believe that all schools of NewUni, and all study years, and all disciplines, should follow the same calendar. Individual programs can always deviate, but the default should be defined defined centrally. The advantages are manifold: These are the reasons why international universities usually have a central calendar.

A detailed argument for a shared calendar is here (“Bologna Talk”). A shared calendar proposal has been in place every year for Paris-Saclay since 2016.

Research

VISI
We believe that having too many labels attached to a same institution has a significant negative effect on visibility. The effect is worse if the labels change over time (pictured).
International universities vary in the number of and structure of labels that they put on their papers (see below). However, for visibility, we believe that the best option is to go with just one single label — both for publications and public appearances such as conference badges and others. Therefore, we believe that NewUni should remove all labels other than the future name of NewUni from their publications and public appearances.
For reference, we list here how the top 10 universities in the world sign their publications in computer science (based on the sample of the most cited paper after 2005 of the most cited staff):
  • MIT: Just MIT: 2; MIT+center+institute: 1; just lab with MIT in name: 3; lab+MIT: 4
  • Stanford: department/lab+Stanford: 4; just Stanford: 1
  • Harvard: just Harvard: 3; program+institute+Harvard: 1; school+Harvard: 1
  • Caltech: department/lab+Caltech: 3; just Caltech: 2
  • Cambridge: just Cambridge: 2; group+lab+Cambridge: 1; department+Cambridge: 2
  • Oxford: department/lab+Oxford: 3; lab with Oxford in name: 2
  • University College London: department+UCL: 4; just UCL: 1
  • Imperial College London: department+ICL: 4; group+dep+ICL: 1
  • Chicago: department+Chicago: 5
  • ETH: institute/department+ETH: 3; group+department/institute+ETH: 2
COL
We believe that collaboration in research is not a goal in itself. Research does not become better just because it is a collaboration. If we give funding preference to projects that are collaborations, we pay the opportunity costs of not funding other projects that are maybe scientifically more reasonable. Therefore, collaboration should not be advertised as a goal, taken as a measure of success, or prioritized for funding. We also think that the researchers themselves are best placed to choose their collaborators if they need some. Therefore, NewUni should not nudge people to collaborate with certain politically desired partners. NewUni should just help researchers to get to know each other (through social events, seminars, and team visits), so that they can collaborate when they see the need.
We think that if we take the creation of NewUni as an opportunity to put in place true reforms, then NewUni has all the prerequisites to achieve the success it aspires.