At the presentation of the Baden-Württemberg Higher Education Teaching Prize 2001 to Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Sonntag and Dr. Niclas Schaper (both of Heidelberg University's Institute of Psychology) in the Great Hall of the Old University, the Rector of the University of Heidelberg, Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff, called in no uncertain terms for a greater emphasis on teaching quality at universities.
With reference to the academic principle of the unity of research and teaching, Prof. Hommelhoff first pointed up its status as an integral part of the freedom of scholarly and scientific endeavour explicitly written into Germany's Basic Law. Teaching at universities, he said, needs to be seen as a fruit of the research process. Accordingly, teaching freedom is not to be equated with arbitrariness or licence but is clearly linked to the communication of insights gained in the research process itself. As such, it is a prerogative of those actively engaged in that process.
If teaching is a function of scientific and scholarly endeavour, there must be greater emphasis on its range, scope and quality. Commending Baden-Württemberg for its pioneering efforts in this direction with the introduction of Study Deans and the annual awarding of the Higher Education Teaching Prize, Prof. Hommelhoff insisted that there was still a lot to be done in this respect, notably in comparison with the status, endowment volume and publicity of the major research prizes.
Teaching, Prof. Hommelhoff continued, serves the education and instruction of all students, right the way up to doctoral studies. The Rector insisted that any attempt to limit doctoral tuition to those students intending to embark on university careers would be impossible to reconcile with the principle of the unity of teaching and research. Young people with top-quality academic qualifications are just as much at a premium outside the university as within it.
Inquiring further into the function of university teaching, Prof. Hommelhoff emphasised its value in enabling students to hold their own in the competition for jobs and to assert themselves in competitive environments throughout their working lives. The logical conclusion from this, he said, is that universities must be willing to modernise their teaching programmes and introduce such things as B.A. and M.A. courses in subjects where it is appropriate and beneficial to do so. Praising the commitment with which the various Faculties of the University of Heidelberg have been applying themselves to this task, the Rector concluded his remarks with a reference to the special responsibilities involved. There have to be markets ready and wiling to accept graduates leaving the university with degrees of this nature; also, care must be taken not to rashly jettison more traditional academic qualification styles that have proved their worth in the past and continue to do so, even in a changing environment.
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