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6 June 2002

University of Heidelberg: The Living Spirit on its Travels

Opening of the Heidelberg Center in Santiago de Chile — Huge response in Latin America — Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff: "The Heidelberg Center makes us more international than ever."

"The important universities of the world already active in our country have now been joined by another of noble origins. Its presence will give the intellectual climate of the Chilean nation added zest and vigour." Thus the leader in Chile's biggest national daily "El Mercurio" (13 May 2002) on the opening of the Heidelberg Center in Santiago de Chile.

Gratifying as such praise naturally is, Rector Professor Hommelhoff prefers a more low-key assessment. "Of course, we should be fully aware of our strengths and the excellent reputation this university has internationally. But we must not forget the attraction exerted by the city of Heidelberg itself. It is the combination of the two that makes us what we are." This is apparently common knowledge in Latin America. Although the advertising for the Heidelberg Center only started last December, the demand for places is immense and selection anything but easy.

"In the first year we had 27 political science students," reports Professor Dieter Nohlen, academic director of the Center. "That's quite a lot for Latin America." Most of the students enrolled on the course come from Chile but there are also young people from Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. The students, says Nohlen, are hugely enthusiastic and highly motivated.

There is a new slogan going the rounds in Santiago: "Heidelberg makes the difference." The one- and two-year M.A. courses in European Political Studies provide for study sojourns in Heidelberg. The idea is for the students to write their theses in Heidelberg so that they can profit from the excellent political science libraries that Chile simply does not have yet, says Nohlen. Another aim is to attract more international students to Heidelberg. The quest for the living spirit in conjunction with the influx of the best minds from elsewhere has thus taken on a new form.

Alongside the M.A. course on European Political Studies Heidelberg intends to offer other subjects in quick succession. Three continuing education seminars have already been conducted with great success. The first was on Medical Informatics, a subject still in its infancy in Chile. Professor Hans-Peter Meinzer of the German Cancer Research Centre acquainted his students with the latest research findings and methods in this field. The ultimate aim is cooperation on the identification and treatment of tumours in the spinal column.

Professor Otwin Lindenkamp, medical director of Heidelberg University's Pediatric Hospital, informed his Chilean colleagues, most of whom model their methods on those used at North American universities, about new avenues explored in Heidelberg in the provision of medical care for premature babies and neonates. Here too, cooperation with Chilean experts has intensified as a result and the University now has access to the Latin American neonatology network.

Systemic Family Therapy was represented by psychologist Andrea Ebbecke-Nohlen, whose seminar on short-term therapy for couples takes its bearings from the theory and practice of the new Heidelberg School. Numerous Heidelberg psychiatry and psychotherapy graduates have leading positions at Chilean universities and institutions and they have indicated a keen interest in participating in joint programmes. Offerings from other departments of Heidelberg University are to follow.

"The Heidelberg Center in Santiago de Chile," said Hommelhoff, "makes us more international than ever." Such higher education bridgeheads abroad and the appropriate prominence they bring have two functions in the Rector's view. They are a way both of sending the "living spirit" on its travels round the world, and of attracting the best brains, people who at a later stage may well establish themselves in leading professional posts. "We do not," he added, "regard the Heidelberg Center as a mere outpost of the University of Heidelberg in Santiago, as a kind of branch office from which we can embark on new activities. We see it rather as a location for the establishment of scientific and scholarly joint ventures." There are plans afoot to design further postgraduate courses in collaboration with Santiago's two largest universities, the Pontificia Universidad Católica and the Universidad de Chile.

"This cooperation with two partners of such high renown in Latin America is an invaluable opportunity for us to establish the Heidelberg Center on the Latin American higher education market very quickly," said administrative director Dr. Walter Eckel. For Eckel the success of the opening ceremony, which aroused extraordinary interest in Chile's political, economic and academic circles and was given corresponding coverage in the press, confirms the choice of location. "And the presence of the delegations from the University of Heidelberg and Baden-Württemberg's Ministry of Higher Education has won the Heidelberg Center many new friends."

Will there be other Heidelberg Centers at a later date? Rector Hommelhoff believes this could well be the case in Asia, notably China. "We are envisaging the possibility of similar Centers in the future," he said. "It's high time to start exporting German science and scholarship on an appropriate scale." Cooperation units abroad might be one way of going about the task.

Hommelhoff thinks the Heidelberg model for enlisting partners abroad has better prospects of success than the rival US approach. Harvard will soon be opening a Latin American Studies centre in Santiago, but it is targeted at the University's own scholars and students interested in that area of the world. This is not a genuine opening-up to the outside world. "One has to meet the people there on their own terms," says Hommelhoff, going on to enthuse about the cordial contacts forged in Chile, notably with politicians. This, he said, was the single most heart-warming experience of his journey to Chile for the opening of the Center. Hommelhoff gratefully acknowledged the part played by the Heidelberg Center's two directors in the success of the venture: "Without the sterling preparatory work done on the spot by Professor Dieter Nohlen and Dr. Walter Eckel things would not have materialised so quickly."

Georg Sposny

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: 02.07.2002

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