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29 May 2001

Excellent Prospects for Heidelberg

An interview between the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung newspaper (RNZ) and Ulrich Cartellieri, the chairman of the new Heidelberg University Council on the future of the University. By Heribert Vogt

The new Baden-Württemberg University Law gives the Heidelberg University Council major powers in shaping the future development of the University. Alongside seven members from the University, the Council also has six external members including Nobel Prize laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Avi Primor, former Israeli ambassador to Germany. The chairman is Ulrich Cartellieri, member of the supervisory board of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt. In the following, Cartellieri gives his views on issues with a bearing on the future of the University. Central topics are key technologies, profile enhancement, resource management, competitiveness, the University Council and the distribution of competencies. The interview took place at the Deutsche Bank offices in Frankfurt.

RNZ: Dr. Cartellieri, you are the chairman of the new University Council at Germany's oldest university. Heidelberg University has been in existence for 600 years. What does this grand tradition mean to you?

Cartellieri: A grand tradition is a value in itself and as such deserves to be cultivated. But let me add straightaway that for me tradition does not mean keeping the ashes but sustaining the flame.

RNZ: Minister-President Erwin Teufel once called Heidelberg University a "solitaire" in the higher education landscape. What is it in your view that makes the University special?

Cartellieri: I think the special thing about Heidelberg University is the way it links a grand tradition with outstanding assets for the future, in molecular biology, say, or cancer research. The same applies to the more traditional disciplines, law being a case in point.

RNZ: What are the strengths of the University, not least in connection with important key technologies? And where are its weaknesses?

Cartellieri: At present the University Council is taking a very close look at existing strengths and weaknesses, notably in connection with structure and development planning. I don't want to make any comment on that for the moment. When I hear the catchword "key technologies", I always tend to feel a little sceptical. The job done by a university and its effectiveness in doing that job cannot be judged in terms of its standing in key technologies alone. I have frequently had occasion to point out that 95 percent of a highly industrialised modern economy is accounted for not by key technologies but by all the millions of other things we need to live in a complex economic setting. A university with Heidelberg's broad range and scope has a much more comprehensive task to fulfil and here its record by and large has been excellent. And taken in the whole, this is at least as important as where it stands in certain key technologies. We need to make sure that the catchword "key technologies" does not restrict our view to excellence in a few disciplines, losing sight of all the other subjects that are at least as important.

RNZ: In the course of its history Heidelberg University has had eight Nobel Prize laureates. If you were asked to name three outstanding scholars and scientists working at the University today, what would your answer be?

Cartellieri: Of course I'd have no trouble doing that but I'm still not going to. It might be misunderstood. There are very many outstanding scholars and scientists in Heidelberg. One name very much in the public eye at the moment is Professor Paul Kirchhof. As I'm sure you know, he has advanced ground-breaking proposals for improving and simplifying our tax legislation.

RNZ: And which three institutes are especially important in your opinion?

Cartellieri: Here the Molecular Biology Centre (ZMBH) springs to mind, or the Centre of Interdisciplinary Scientific Computing. And of course the physics institutes.

RNZ: Should the University be more universal in future or should it enhance its profile by introducing new courses?

Cartellieri: Ideally, it should do the one without neglecting the other. It should, indeed must, enhance its profile as best it can, but certainly not at the expense of its universal scope. The more universal it can be, the better.

RNZ: Where does Heidelberg University stand in comparison with other German universities?

Cartellieri: Roughly speaking, its strengths are certainly on the research side, its weaknesses more in the teaching sector. This is a problem for many universities with a very large body of students. In Heidelberg the Neuenheimer Feld is of course something very special, a close-knit campus of very high quality.

RNZ: At present there is much talk of taking American universities as a model. Where does Heidelberg University stand internationally?

Cartellieri: Heidelberg has an especially good reputation in the eyes of leading scientists and scholars elsewhere. It also has an above-average number of foreign students. Here, however, we need to ask where these students come from and what their qualifications look like. According to the figures at my disposal Heidelberg has some catching up to do in attracting students from English-speaking countries.

RNZ: The well-known education expert Peter Glotz is fond of underlining the similarities between a university and a corporate enterprise. Will universities have to be run like businesses in future, and if so, where does that leave the humanistic tradition à la Humboldt?

Cartellieri: Administratively, an institution with a staff of 7,000 and costing about 400 million marks a year, not counting the billions that go into the university hospitals, must of necessity be run like a business enterprise. That has nothing to do with Humboldt. The excellence of the top American universities lies in their reputation as research centres and the number of outstanding students they produce. But they are also extremely well managed. This is something we need to emulate in Germany. We must not see fine humanistic traditions and management efficiency as opposites. The problem German universities have is not so much a general deficit in financial resources but an extremely inefficient use of the funds they do have. This has to do with the specific constitutions our universities have and the old-fashioned "cameralistic" principles on which they still do their accounting. Once we modernise all that, the existing resources will go much further than they do today.

RNZ: The present Rector, Prof. Jürgen Siebke, recently underlined the progress being made in this direction. How can the University be made more competitive? What role will study fees, student selection, evaluation and salaries based on performance play in this?

Cartellieri: Taking those one by one, I'd say the really important things are modernising structures, simplifying administration, financial autonomy (the new University Law provides for that to a large degree) and sharpening the focus and profile of the Faculties, not least vis-à-vis other Faculties. For example, Heidelberg's Faculty of Economics will have to see how it can best define its profile over and against the excellent economics faculty in Mannheim. This is just one instance of competition between two universities in close geographic proximity. Then we need more interdisciplinary cooperation in research and teaching. Of the things you mentioned some are of significance more in the midterm: the right of Faculties to choose their students, study fees, payment by performance. These are all being discussed and I am convinced that they are on their way, sooner rather than later.

RNZ: What role should the University of the future play in our market economy?

Cartellieri: I'd prefer to ask what role should it play in society. It must provide students with education and training of a quality ensuring that we turn out citizens able to appreciate the value of a society constituted around a market economy and hence willing to commit themselves to preserving that value. Well-trained, well-educated young people are crucial for the development of a highly complex post-industrial knowledge-based society.

RNZ: But is the university not also an economic player, say in connection with the transfer of knowledge and technology to business enterprises?

Cartellieri: This transfer of knowledge has always been there. And in Heidelberg it works really quite well. Certainly, there are ways in which it could be facilitated further. But collaboration between universities and the business world is not a core problem in the German higher education landscape.

RNZ: You are the chairman of the University Council, an illustrious body with seven internal and six external members. What influence does this body have and what are its aims?

Cartellieri: The new University Law gives it a very large range of tasks to perform. Those tasks oscillate between advisory, participatory, supervisory and decision-making functions. It begins with questions of who gets what within the University, here the Council is called upon to establish principles for deciding such questions. More important are the elaboration and implementation of structure and development plans. The Council also has to decide on job descriptions for professors and give its views on the Basic Constitution of the University. Many things are dependent on its consent, for example the sale of property and approval for draft budgets. Then it has to approve the annual financial statements, etc.

RNZ: What was your practical experience in connection with the election of Professor Peter Hommelhoff as next University Rector?

Cartellieri: Professor Hommelhoff is an excellent choice for the post. He is an outstanding scholar and administrator. In principle it would of course be desirable for this office to be given the capacities commensurate with its significance, thus making it attractive for renowned external candidates.

RNZ: How does the University Council work and what is its relationship to the Rector's office?

Cartellieri: It convenes regularly in Heidelberg and the meetings are preceded by large-scale written preparations; it also uses written circulation procedures. There are numerous consultations with the Rector.

RNZ: How does this dual structure between University Council and Rector work? Where is the major emphasis in each case?

Cartellieri: The emphasis common to the numerous tasks incumbent on the University Council is definitely on questions of principle, the development of forward-looking structures for the University.

RNZ: Can one compare the relationship between University Council and Rector with that of the supervisory board and the board of management in a company?

Cartellieri: No. The University Council is somewhere in between, having both executive and supervisory powers.

RNZ: So who really runs the University?

Cartellieri: There is little point in thinking of this in terms of hierarchies. It's more like the different limbs of the same body. Of course, as a newcomer the University Council will have to prove that it represents genuine "added value". But I have no doubt that this will be the case.

RNZ: How do you rate the overall potential of Heidelberg as an academic location, taking into account both university and non-university institutions?

Cartellieri: I believe that Heidelberg's prospects are excellent. It has a great name, outstanding institutions, brilliant minds, and it's an attractive location.

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de


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Updated: 05.06.2001

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