Newsletter from the President / No. 9 / 17 December 2019
2019 was a year full of excitement for our university in many respects. We finalised the development plan for 2020 – 2024 as well as adopting a mission statement for our teaching and our policy document for employment relationships. These enable us to affirm our commitment to strengthen research, improve our teaching quality, promote young academics in an ambitious manner and develop the university in a way that deliberately keeps your interests in mind.
We can assume that the upcoming Pact for the Future between the federal and state governments and the Hesse University Pact will also have positive effects on the University of Kassel from 2021 onwards, even if some important underlying conditions are still subject to negotiation. Whatever happens, we will obtain greater certainty for our financial planning and establish some new professorships.
More professorships provide an opportunity for profiling
We achieved our greatest success in 2019 within the German government’s WisNA programme (support for young academics): all 13 professorships, which we applied for, were approved. We have the opportunity of tying outstanding young academics to our university. The application envisages professorships in material sciences, the sciences and agricultural sciences as well as in psychology, teacher training, the arts and gender research. Thanks to our success in the young academics’ programme, we are therefore becoming stronger in many areas that are important for the positive development of the university.
It is the declared political will of the Hesse Science Minister to create 300 additional professorships in the federal state in order to improve the student/tutor ratio. The ratio of professorships to students is therefore the key issue for the minister; that is also what is recorded in the state coalition agreement. The University of Kassel is demanding its share of this figure. Overall, we will most likely establish far more than 30 new professorships during the next few years and therefore grow by more than 10% in this respect. We also want to use these professorships to enhance our profile.
I have submitted a suggestion to the Senate for this purpose and this is now being widely discussed within the university: the United Nations has summarised the most important global challenges in its 17 Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. My idea is simple: we should establish 17 new professorships, one for each of the SDGs, and create a new English-speaking institution. After all, the world needs more research regarding the consequences of climate change, global food security, equitable work, sustainable consumption, gender equality and the other SDGs. My preference would be for a new Faculty for Sustainable Development, a major academic centre or a different lighthouse facility. Each position would also strengthen the level of expertise in the existing faculties. For Kassel is already completing excellent and visible work in these fields. This profile would finally place the University of Kassel on the international map of research into sustainability and would attract students from all over the world. This idea ideally suits our history and our motto of “Today for Tomorrow”. Thanks to the professorships from the German government’s “Tenure Track” programme, we would remain able to function in other areas too and could also grow still further at other points.
I would ask you to consider my suggestion and get involved in the discussions!
Courses of study: the everyday realities of students’ lives require more flexible courses
The numbers of students remain high: 25,103 have enrolled for the current winter semester, including 5,590 in their first regular semester. And the number of international students is higher than ever – this is once again a very gratifying development: 3,442 enrolled students have a foreign passport – that is about 13.7 percent. The number of foreign students, who have acquired their entitlement to study abroad, is 2,481. The international students also include students with a refugee background. Some of them are being supported by the federal state. The University of Kassel was top of the list in Hesse for these scholarships – and that gave me a great deal of pleasure too.
Our new mission statement for teaching recognises that individual education courses should reflect the everyday reality of young people today. We are therefore seeking to provide more flexible opportunities to study. As an open university, we explicitly welcome the fact that there are other entrance qualifications to the university alongside the general higher education admission qualification. It is gratifying to hear that politicians are placing greater importance on teaching quality and academic success. Qualitative features will be more important in future than just student numbers; this is a welcome development, because we were already calling for this several years ago. The mission statement for teaching also provides us with valuable ideas and they will have a positive, long-term effect on everyday teaching, as we develop our range of courses. I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have worked on this during the last twelve months under the leadership of Vice-President Prof. Dr René Matzdorf.
documenta Institute: the concept and framework are now available
As you know from earlier newsletters, I am particularly involved in the creation of a documenta Institute. The project partners – the city, the federal state, Documenta GmbH and the university – were able to announce in November 2019 that the concept and framework had been completed and a provisional academic head will be appointed during 2020. We do not yet know exactly where the building will be located in Kassel. However, the content is more important for us as a university; in this respect, there is no disagreement that the research institute should achieve an outstanding academic level, at an international level too. This will lay the foundation for permanent funding from the German government too. The three additional professorships, which the University of Kassel will contribute to the institute with the support of the federal state, will be filled in 2020. The variety in terms of personnel will also demonstrate how interdisciplinary the work at this institute will be.
Good employment relationships are the foundation for good science
In-depth discussions took place at universities about the topic of temporary employment in the academic world during 2019 – and not just in Kassel. As university managers, we have often faced up to and discussed this issue and have stated our beliefs: temporary jobs at universities are necessary in order to be able to offer young people the opportunity to gain a doctoral or post-doctoral lecturing qualification in five, ten or twenty years from now too. Colleagues with a temporary work contract will also be required for research projects with a clearly restricted task and a defined period in future. University managers across Germany agree on this. On the other hand, temporary positions also exist because the federal and state governments only provide funding for limited periods. A process of rethinking has started here. We will therefore make use of the room to manoeuvre that is developing in the next few years to fill more permanent positions. We will be guided by the principle that jobs, which mainly involve permanent tasks, should be offered as permanent positions. At least 80 percent of the jobs should be permanent positions for teaching staff involved in special tasks in just a few years’ time. Our policy document for employment relationships was passed by the senior managers in December; for the first time, this establishes standards for the minimum period of temporary employment or the scope of the job, for example. The University of Kassel is entering the discussions for a nationwide code for good work in the academic world by adopting this self-imposed undertaking.
Congratulations number I: Goethe Plaque for Professor Kleinkauf
Prof. Dr Werner Kleinkauf has received the Goethe Plaque and therefore the highest award that the Hesse Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts can present. The Kassel professor, founder, entrepreneur and visionary was already tackling the issue of wind and solar power in the 1970s. Kleinkauf, who was born in 1939, studied electrical engineering in Braunschweig. He headed the “energy supply programme” at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). He established the specialist field of “electrical energy supply systems”e as the professor of energy electronics in Kassel and worked on using wind and solar energy. Kleinkauf was also a successful businessman: he was one of the founders of a company making measuring and control systems for wind and solar power units. He is promoting research into sustainable energy systems and spreading them through his foundation. He is also the founding father of what is now the Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Economics and Energy System Technology (IEE).
Congratulations number II: top places in international rankings
Prof. Dr Stefan Seuring and Prof. Dr Tobias Plieninger were named as “highly cited researchers” (researchers most frequently quoted around the globe) in 2019. Seuring, who is head of the supply chain management specialist field, was added to the list for his work in the field of economics and business. Plieninger, who is head of the “social/ecological interaction in agricultural systems” specialist field, was one of the most frequently cited researchers in the field of social sciences. The list in 2019 included 6,216 research scientists in all from almost 60 different countries, 327 of them from Germany. The award provides evidence of the great importance and the wide influence made by research scientists in Kassel. You can find the list at: https://recognition.webofsciencegroup.com/awards/highly-cited/2019/
Congratulations number III: the University of Kassel achieves success in the elections to DFG review boards
Six of our professors have been elected to the new review boards at the DFG (German Research Foundation): Prof. Dr Ingrid Baumgärtner (medieval history), Prof. Dr Mechthild Bereswill (empirical social research), Prof. Dr Stephan Peth (soil science), Prof. Dr.-Ing. Hans-Peter Heim (polymers and biogenic materials), Prof. Dr.-Ing. Thomas Niendorf (metallic materials) and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Uwe Altrock (urban renewal and planning theory). Their task particularly involves assessing applications for funding and initial appraisals and formulating a recommendation for the decision that the DFG committees will make. The 48 review boards are therefore an important level of authority between assessments and decisions. The members are elected by academics – about 150,000 people were eligible to vote in 2019; there were almost 1,700 candidates and more than 600 positions to be allocated. Six successful applications for review board places show than many of our research scientists are in the top league nationally in their subject fields.
The university affirms its commitment to democratic values and academic freedom
Despite all our success stories, we should not overlook one thing: our positive development is taking place in an environment that is becoming increasingly difficult, polarised and unforgiving in socio-political terms. Political forces, which are openly combatting our democracy, have become stronger. The murder of the district president, Dr Walter Lübcke, during the summer of 2019 was a shock. Once again, Kassel was the focus of attention from German right-wing terrorism, following the murder of Halit Yozgat by the National Socialist Underground in 2006. Walter Lübcke was a graduate of the University of Kassel. Using the motto “We are strong together”, the university has publicly adopted a position that opposes right-wing agitation and has commemorated the murdered district president, Dr Walter Lübcke.
The University of Kassel is committed to its responsibility of ensuring that the rules of respectful, objective and non-discriminatory discourse are observed within the framework of freedom of research and of teaching. Universities are obliged to provide the general public with information that mirrors facts and is driven by science.
The freedom of science is under threat in many countries of the world and increasingly in Europe too. Kassel signed the Magna Charta Universitatum during the summer of 2019; this is a declaration, by which the signing universities commit themselves to uphold fundamental values like the freedom of research and of teaching and institutional independence. The University of Kassel is therefore part of an international network consisting of about 900 universities worldwide.
Enjoy your well-deserved Christmas break with your families and friends. I am looking forward to once again tackling the issues that affect our university and move it forward with you in the coming year, 2020.