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27 February 2002

From Heidelberg to the World

University of Heidelberg's new Centre in Chile — Vice-rector Prof. Dr. Angelos Chaniotis' press interview with the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung (Heidelberg) — Interviewer: Heribert Vogt

On 11 March 2002 the University of Heidelberg will be the first German institute of higher learning to establish an outstation abroad: on that day the "Heidelberg Center" in Santiago de Chile will be opening its doors to students for the first time. In the following interview, Prof. Dr. Angelos Chaniotis, Heidelberg's vice-rector with special responsibility for the University's "international affairs", gives his view on the role of the University in a globalised world.

Professor Chaniotis, you taught at New York University till 1998. What prompted you to come back to Germany and the University of Heidelberg?

Chaniotis: I had had teaching experience here in Heidelberg and this was also where my academic career began. The big difference between New York University and Heidelberg is that here I had better prospects of establishing networks between my subject and other disciplines. Those disciplines were there all right in New York, but in Heidelberg, with its distinctively academic atmosphere, the working conditions are much better. Another major motive for coming back was the University Library. For the kind of research I'm engaged in, especially epigraphy, Heidelberg is simply a better environment than New York University.

Normally the angle of vision is a different one — across the Atlantic to the States. What do American universities have that their German counterparts don't?

Chaniotis: Structurally, American universities have no advantages whatever over German universities. But you must remember that in the US they speak English, the "lingua franca" of present-day scientific exchange. This alone is reason enough for many scholars and students to go there. Also, American universities have an entirely different education sponsoring tradition; for example, there are tax perks for sponsors. The fact that American students have to pay anything up to $20,000 means that they are much more single-minded in their approach to their studies. But despite all this, the blanket pronouncement so often heard from politicians about German universities being in a weaker position in terms of international competition is one I do not share. Just look at how many scholars and scientists from good American universities are working right here in Heidelberg.

But the majority of Nobel Prize laureates come from the US.

Chaniotis: Look at where they came from originally and you'll find many of them weren't born in America. The crucial point here is immigration legislation and the opportunities scientists from abroad are given to assimilate. I've been living in Germany for 20 years now (with some minor interruptions) and they still won't give a permanent residents' permit. My present one runs out next year. It's absurd. For the US I have a Permanent Resident Card. But not here. Things like that have nothing to do with the universities of course. Sometimes it's the location they're in that puts people off.

If social conditions are so important, what can you as vice-rector for the University's "International Affairs" do to improve them?

Chaniotis: Prime factors in the University's international relations are first the international students, then the joint research ventures between Heidelberg and universities abroad. Another thing that fosters international communication is the general academic mobility made possible by exchange programmes for students and lecturers. And there are links between these factors and international relations at a political level. Baden-Württemberg, for example, has a privileged relationship with China and other Asian countries. Finally, it is the task of the University to invite the most intelligent and innovative brains in the world to come here. The Rectorate has no intention of telling our colleagues what to do in this respect. In fact, it's the other way round. When we see that cooperative ventures between individual professors or departments are functioning very well, we step in and offer our support. But in general I believe that the University should take the initiative and decide what international relations are especially beneficial.

Links with Asia appear to be especially intensive, through the South Asia Institute, say, or the Faculty of Oriental and Classical Studies.

Chaniotis: Asia is certainly one of our main focuses. Indeed, it is Heidelberg's ambition to become Asia's gateway to Europe. The South Asia Institute has three outstations, in New Delhi, Colombo and Kathmandu. But Asia is not only interesting from a research point of view, lots of our students come from there and we have privileged relations with those countries. We have four partnerships with Chinese universities alone. With regard to the dynamism displayed today by the Asian continent, our past investments were certainly well-advised. And the University of Heidelberg can enhance its profile further through exchanges with elite universities in Singapore or Hong Kong.

What is your view of the exchanges with the United States, notably in the sciences and medicine?

Chaniotis: Exchange has largely taken place so far at the level of collaborative ventures between individual departments. In the last few years the number of American students has actually declined. Here, language is certainly a major handicap. The University has no intention of giving up German as a teaching language. But there are disciplines in which English is not just the most important but the only language used for communication. Here we need to establish intensive courses in English or offer joint workshops with American universities.

On 11 March the University of Heidelberg is opening the "Heidelberg Center" in Santiago de Chile, the first-ever outpost established by a German university abroad. What do you think this venture will bring?

Chaniotis: It will have a number of advantages. The simple fact that the international press has been comparing this initiative with similar centres established by Harvard is good for Heidelberg University's image. But the main thing of course is the exportation of courses made in Germany. In Chile we are starting with European Political Studies. South American students can begin their studies in their familiar surroundings, albeit with Heidelberg standards. For the University of Heidelberg this represents first of all a reduction of the work-load. But it also gives the University a chance to recruit the best students for post-graduate studies once they've completed their courses in Santiago. In addition, such a centre also encourages contact with Chile and the whole Latin American continent.

Are there relations with other continents?

Chaniotis: Our relations with Africa, Australia and New Zealand are not so intensive, but we do have many students from those regions. We also have other prospects for exporting Heidelberg degree courses, for example to Hungary and Syria. Heidelberg is involved in the establishment of a German-speaking university in Budapest, a project initiated by Baden-Württemberg's Ministry of Higher Education.

How international is Heidelberg in comparison to other universities?

Chaniotis: Heidelberg is certainly the most international university in Baden-Württemberg, both in terms of students from abroad, scholars and scientists from other countries and the number of collaborative research enterprises. But there is one thing that gets too readily forgotten. We do our best to be competitive and attract good students from abroad to Heidelberg. But as things stand at present, we have to work on the assumption that once they've completed their studies they'll be leaving the city — and Germany — largely because they have little choice. There is a clear discrepancy here between Germany's immigration laws and the politicians' exhortations for German universities to be more international. If the United States has more Nobel Prize laureates, one of the reasons is that the Americans were quick to see the advantages of migration and revised their regulations accordingly.

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 20.03.2002


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