3 September 2019
– academic year opening conversation with Dr. Miklós Nyitrai and Zsuzsanna Varga
Dr. Miklós Nyitrai, the dean of our School did not let his colleagues get bored and knowing his plans, this will not change from this September either. We can already see the results of his innovative, creative, forward-looking ideas and these will soon appear internationally as well.
In our discussion about the former academic year, we take into account what happened during his one-year dean's cycle and the tasks of the new academic year. Zsuzsanna Varga, head of the Dean's Office, also plays an important role in the elaboration and implementation of the latter.
Written by Rita Schweier
- Mr. Dean, let us play with the numbers a little bit. On a scale of ten, would you please rate the events of the past academic year, as well as your one-year dean's cycle, in the light of what and how much you have accomplished from your vision?
- There is no measure, no unit for success or failure, but to sum it up, far more success and good things have happened to us than the number of failures or bad experiences. We were not perfect - and there might not be a year in the future when we can say we have been flawless - so I would say an eight.
I believe that the dean's leadership has launched and implemented forward-looking things in the fields of research and education, as well as the educational system, community life and sport. These improvements already have partial results and are promising for the future. The most important thing was to make it clear that the people working at this School want to develop and are supportive of different initiatives.
- Let's start with the education. Do you have enough charismatic, iconic teachers for the faculty, and do you have dedicated students?
Over the past fifteen years, the number of students has grown more dynamically than the number of teachers. Currently, this has led us to deviate from the optimal student-teacher ratio. Our aim is to shift this number to the optimal direction by both appreciating those who work for us and hiring those who bring quality and knowledge. Since 60-70% of the students are foreign, we find it important to have more international teachers in our board of teachers. It is still very low, not even one percent. Under the leadership of Dr. Dóra Reglődi, Vice-Dean for Science, we have launched a "Visiting Professorship" programme, which was supported by the Senate, and we were able to provide a budget source for the programme as well. This programme is about employing international teachers, researchers, or specialists for shorter or longer periods of time and displaying them in our system.
We have teachers with a solid career, sufficient experience and visibility. They live among us, we meet them every day, and therefore perhaps we are not even aware of what they mean to us. We can identify the great persons from the past more easily because their image has become clearer throughout history. Besides the iconic personalities, teachers who are not yet legends but have daily contact with our students also have an important role.
As far as students are concerned, the admission process in the Hungarian programme is a relatively fixed system. Based on their high school results, students are enrolled in a database that shows enrolment rates and sets a threshold for our maximum number of 210 students.
Our colleagues are doing a great job with the Hungarian programme enrolment as the current numbers prove; for example, after last year's 304 first-place applicants, this year there were already 347 first-place applicants in the general medicine programme. This means an increase of more than ten percent in a market with very strong competition. Last year, the threshold of the general medicine programme was 418 points; this year it was 422 points. Based on these, we cannot see a tendency yet but if our numbers change similarly in the coming years, we will certainly be heading in the right direction with the improvements. The admission numbers remain unchanged for both the English and German programmes, and have been filled with high-quality, qualified students.
- The dean's leadership has developed a motivational system to acknowledge and motivate the employees. The latest element of this is a prestigious men’s watch designed for the newly appointed associate professors and full professors. At the beginning of July, the women’s version was just an idea, and Zsuzsanna Varga said at the time that plans were coming in August. Is that the case?
- Yes, we have approved the plans and entered the order phase. We imagined the women's watch as the man's inverse. While the men’s watches are blue, women’s watches are white. It is important for us that the students and colleagues have a great time here, thus they will study and work effectively. We would like to contribute more to this with little things, such as the fruit day, which we have held once a month so far. In the future, there are going to be muesli and fruit slices as well. We have also started the massage among the administrative staff of the Dean’s Office, and from September, we are extending it to the administrative staff of the other departments and we are planning to involve the teachers as well. We are also thinking of launching a tradition-forming sports day and, later, organizing a "Medical School's Voice" competition, based on the "PTE Voice".
- Do you have any feedback on how popular these initiatives are?
- Yes, we have great experiences. We have previously noticed that if the School’s leadership supports the participation in various sports competitions, then there is a demand for them, so we have expanded the programmes with the help of the UP MS Sports Facilities and those responsible for the School’s health plan. The fruit day and the massage are also very popular, for the latter the later arriving candidates have barely found free appointments.
- In addition to the internal changes and innovations at the School, the exterior of the campus has also been renewed.
- We wanted to make the campus look livelier and more youthful, so we decided to decorate the southern garden with shade sails. These have recently been installed and have not only made this area cosier, they are also useful in the heat.
Ny.M.: We set up 14 sails of 40-50 square meters each, covering an area of 500 square meters. The idea came from the city, by the way, with the cosy shade sails of the Király and Irgalmasok Streets.
- Do the other ideas come from somewhere too?
Ny.M.: - At other institutions, it is also important to acknowledge and motivate the colleagues, and I have witnessed a lot of good ideas in our country and abroad. I believe that learning from others is not a shame at all. We have thought these through, and looked at how they could be adapted, and whether they needed to be implemented at all. We worked with a Hungarian multinational company for example; whose executives told us how they pay attention to their employees. For example, a free breakfast has been introduced, which proves to be useful because on the one hand employees go to work precisely, avoiding rush hours, and, on the other hand, people of different statuses have the opportunity to talk to each other. This is how this initiative became a community forum. They also have the tradition of gathering the families together at Christmas and giving their children the presents together.
The idea of the gold ring comes from abroad, and almost every major Western European university has one today. When I told Zsuzsi about this idea, she came to me with a box half an hour later, with the back of it saying February 2016. It suggested that the previous dean's leadership was thinking about something like this as well.
V.Zs.: -Besides the rings, there are also the School’s brooches that each staff member receives. We had them produced in a variety of colours. We give bronze brooches to everyone; they can become part of the colleagues’ daily outfit to indicate their connection to the School. The brooches also come in yellow gold and silver, in antiqued bronze for Alumni students, and in rose gold for emeritus professors. This symbolism also emphasizes the sense of belonging to the community.
Ny.M.: - It is not sure, for example, that everyone will wear the watch, as there are people of all tastes. But if the person receiving the gift keeps it on the shelf, looks at it and remembers that it was received when he/she became an associate professor or professor, it can mean spiritual recharge, positive feedback for them. We had ties made for the heads of the departments, and scarves for the ladies, each with our coat of arms.
V.Zs.: - As an exclusive product, there will be silk ties for our VIP guests in the future. We would also like to appreciate our excellent teachers and give them a gift, similar to the Szerzők Ünnepe (Celebration of Authors). They receive a sculpture depicting a coat of arms, which, just like the owl earlier, was voted by the public.
Ny.M.: - It's worth mentioning our new culinary ideas as well. We have announced the application for a new operator in the place of the Bellagio Restaurant, and we are in the process of finding the operator of a large restaurant located at the bottom of the new education block. We took into consideration the dining and coffee options that we would ideally imagine on the campus. Experts design the elements of this vision, one of them is Professor István Kiss, who also runs our health programme, the other one is an external chef consultant, Péter Várvizi, who we employ in the framework of a contract.
- Your colleagues did not spend much time relaxing in the summer, either.
- There was some time for relaxing, but they were really busy. They worked to reinforce our three strategic points: one of them is a marketing concept matching the university, by including faculty specialties and presenting them internationally. The other one is PotePedia, backed by an IT firm, and the third one is our idea of reducing the number of students in clinical, practical training groups. There are currently 24 students in a group, which is a problem for the patient, the teacher, and the students as well when visiting a patient. We have already made progress: the 1st Department of Internal Medicine will teach cardiology and gastroenterology to groups of six students from September. Of course, we do not plan to introduce the system by force, but in small steps, taking into account the characteristics of the particular clinic: the size of the teaching staff, the infrastructure, the language skills, and the material conditions. I hope that in the near future students will be able to participate in the practices in groups of six or maximum twelve. This process is under the guidance of Dr. László Czopf, Vice-Dean for Education, and it is a huge task. If this is going to be implemented, it will also be reflected in the quality of our education.
We believe it is important to receive continuous feedback on our work. We also set up a team of two-three people to conduct anonymous polls. After eight months, the Vice-Deans provided feedback on our activities first, then the dean's consultants, the professors, and the circle continues to expand. There are already many thought provoking things that we can learn from, such as comments about the organization or our behaviour. Let me mention the most exotic one that affected me. One of the anonymous consultants suggested that I visit a stylist. /smiling - ed. / I took it seriously. We found an expert who is a very nice lady, and we asked her to take a look at my wardrobe first. Although she did not have a bad opinion about my clothes and my style, she recommended that I should add some colour to the repertoire. Then I went shopping and I also bought new shoes in addition to the colourful shirts. / smiling - ed. / Overall, it was a pleasant experience and I have learned a lot from it. I also took the advice of Professor Miklós Bauer who said it would be important to have a tuxedo. This is what I have asked from my parents for Christmas. It has been sewn by a tailor in Debrecen who is a true craftsman.
- What progress has been made in the field of research?
- The research teams who have done a great job in basic and exploratory research continue to grow. In interdisciplinary research there is a new and more pronounced direction emerging, not only limited to translational medicine, but also to the cooperation with technical and IT fields. Important questions are formulated by the medical health fields, and the answers are now not a medical task, it is much more the task of engineers, IT professionals or pharmacists.
I believe that if we move in this direction over the next five to ten years, and we establish and maintain the right partnerships, this could be a very strong foundation for our achievements in research. Our internal application system also tries to follow this. Dr. Dóra Reglődi, Vice-Dean for Science, has introduced the Tandem application form, which provides opportunities for joint application for researchers in theoretical and clinical fields. As a result, our publication performance increases by five to ten percent on an annual average.
We can also see that a clearing process has begun for the publications. Although the total number of articles is decreasing, the number of articles belonging to Q1 and Q2 is increasing, which means that the number of good quality articles is increasing. Q3 and Q4 numbers stagnate and those that cannot be ranked are significantly falling.
The faculty spent 367 million HUF on the internal application system last year, and this year it is expected to raise even more. How our publication performance changes can also be measured in the amount paid as impact factor rewards. In 2017, it was 49 million HUF, last year it was 64 million HUF and this year it will be 80 million HUF.
- The conditions of patient care are improving as well, and the equipment of the clinics is constantly renewed.
- Patient care belongs to the Clinical Center, and the president of the Center has the right of disposition, the dean of the UP MS focuses primarily on helping the processes in education and research. Last year we offered 300 million HUF from the financial resources of the Modern Cities Program for purchasing equipment for the clinics. We consider it our cardinal task to provide greater support to the trainings in the clinics and to create the conditions for them.
- As far as the investments are concerned, the new education and research block is expected to be completed by May 2020, the procurement of the new dental block is in progress, and the Animal Unit is also in the process of procurement. Are these pieces of information true?
- Yes. The work on our new building is progressing very well, and there does not seem to be a delay. We hope that all four of our institutes will be able to relocate in the new building next summer, and that by 1 September the new educational spaces will be available. The new dental block is based on an EFOP application, and we will hopefully find the contractor soon and the block will be ready by summer 2021. Due to legal complications, we were unable to sign the contract for the Preclinical Research Center, also known as the Animal Unit, and had to restart the tender. This will be an accelerated procedure. We are confident that this year we will see who, in what time period and from how much money can complete it.
We have also completed the “campus reorganization plan”, which rethinks about fifty thousand square feet of all the buildings. The architects made very nice plans, and currently they are being refined. We are going to make information materials, on which we are going to ask for feedback.
- This academic year will also be rich in events and happenings. What would you like to highlight?
- An important celebration in connection with the Alumni. This year, our English programme will be 35 years old and our German programme will be 15 years old, and we are planning to celebrate it in a unified way under the leadership of Klára Somodi. An issue is being prepared in which we can read conversations with the former English and German programme presidents - adventuring a bit in the past - and we welcome our former graduates in a light and meaningful ceremony. We would like them to get closer to their alma mater and we are working on fostering the communication we plan with them in the future.