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Ruperto Carola 1/2008: Liberty and Creativity

21. May 2008

Commodification and internationalisation: Is that what the future has in store for universities? – Law professor Ute Mager’s title story addresses this question in the latest issue of the University of Heidelberg’s research magazine – The new edition of Ruperto Carola covers a wide range of subjects from book history, reproduction medicine and surgery to computer science and religious studies

The call for "greater autonomy and more competition” has generated extensive innovations ultimately geared to making universities into "going concerns”. But "academic research and the world of business and industry function on the basis of completely different rationales,” says Ute Mager in the title story of the latest issue of the University of Heidelberg’s research magazine, "and jurists are sceptical about the wisdom of papering over that crack.” The new edition of Ruperto Carola (1/2008) covers a wide range of subjects from book history, reproduction medicine and surgery to computer science and religious studies.

Universities reflect the age and the society in which they operate. The early cathedral schools were followed by universities established by monarchs; in the Enlightenment the university turned into a middle-class institution largely geared to the production of civil servants, while in Germany the introduction of the Basic Law made it into a protean phenomenon marked by all the social and democratic features associated with the rule of law. The cascade of higher-education reforms since the late 1990s indicates that a new stage has now begun, best characterised by the terms "commodification” and "internationalisation”. Ute Mager takes a critical view of these new developments.

Ute Mager studied law in Kiel, Lausanne and at the Free University of Berlin, where after her in-service training she did her doctorate and obtained her Habilitation. After stand-in professorships at the Universities of Mainz and Bielefeld she became professor of public law at the University of Heidelberg in 2004. She has been dean of studies since 2006 and took charge of the Centre for Advocacy-Oriented Legal Training in 2007. Her research interests focus on German and European constitutional and administrative law.

Vice-Rector Thomas Pfeiffer in the editorial

"The next stage on the road to excellence is the removal of obstacles militating against excellence.” In the editorial vice-Rector for teaching and communication, Prof. Dr. Thomas Pfeiffer, sets out his views on this subject. "The elation caused by the University of Heidelberg’s success in the third line of the Initiative for Excellence competition has gradually been replaced by more humdrum concerns,” he writes. "The significance of other parameters conditioning the achievement of academic excellence is becoming more apparent.” The first difficulty he enumerates is the state of the university buildings. Another obstacle he refers to is the rigidity of the legal regulations pertaining to the rights, duties and remuneration of civil servants (which is what professors are in Germany). Professor Pfeiffer emphasises that the present system makes it increasingly difficult to induce top-flight international capacities to accept professorial posts at the University.

He also identifies a psychological factor that he feels to be even more serious than these technicalities. This is what he calls an "anti-excellence attitude”. Since the announcement of the outcome of the Initiative for Excellence contest in October 2007 various sources of research funding have turned down applications from Heidelberg with the argument that its new status as an "excellent” university has given it all the money it needs. "Such an attitude is incompatible with the objectives of the Initiative,” Pfeiffer insists. "The fact of the matter is that, if we really want to compete with the leading universities worldwide, the resources at our disposal are still incommensurate with the tasks facing us.”

Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Compiled by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published in 1805-1808, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) is the most influential anthology of German songs in existence. But in its day this monument to Heidelberg Romanticism came in for some vitriolic criticism. Its detractors called it "a chaotic ragbag of smutty and unedifying ditties.” Armin Schlechter’s article takes a closer look at the critical response to the anthology. From 1996 to 2007 Schlechter was in charge of the Manuscripts and Old Prints section of Heidelberg University Library.

Wanted children

In the past, hardly any other medical procedure caused such a stir as artificial insemination. Today it has become standard practice. But "in vitro fertilisation” has not only revolutionised the treatment of sterility. It has been the basis for numerous innovations that go far beyond the scope of reproduction medicine. "Modern medicine can help many involuntarily infertile couples to have healthy children of their own,” says Thomas Strowitzki in his article. The author has been medical director of the Department of Gynaecological Endocrinology and Fertility Disorders at Heidelberg University’s Women’s Hospital since 1999. He is also the chairman of the Ethics Commission of the Heidelberg Faculty of Medicine.

Gentle surgery

The age of minimally invasive surgery began some 25 years ago. It seeks to avoid major open surgery and make operations less traumatic for patients. In the meantime operation robots and computers have optimised these procedures and made even complex surgery of this kind a viable proposition. But the success of such interventions still crucially depends on the experience of the surgeon. Carsten Gutt’s article describes the latest developments in this field. Gutt is senior surgeon and head of the Minimally Invasive Surgery section of Heidelberg University’s Surgical Hospital. As chief proposals officer and scientific secretary of the Graduate Research Group on "Intelligent Surgery” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) he is concerned with the development of innovative surgical procedures. When working at Frankfurt University Hospital (1993-2001) he performed the first robot-assisted abdominal operation ever undertaken in Germany.

Voluntary self-regulation

In mechanical manufacturing processes quality assurance has long been recognised as a crucial feature. Many norms and standards have been devised for the purpose. But in the software sector, quality management is still left to the skill and initiative of individuals. "Built-in tests” are a new approach to this problem. Here the software is extended to enable it to check its own quality standards without human agency. This is the subject of the article by Barbara Paesch, a professor at Heidelberg University’s Institute of Computer Science. Till October 2003 she was head of department at the Fraunhofer Institute of Experimental Software Engineering. Her research work focuses on software engineering methods and processes for achieving quality with a reasonable degree of time, effort and expense. With her group she has conducted numerous industrial, national and international research and transfer projects.

Back to the origins

Michael Bergunder’s article looks at the rediscovery of Buddhism in India. The renaissance of Indian Buddhism is a case that illustrates the global dynamics of cultural exchange processes. Are there still Buddhists in India? 100 to 150 years ago an Indian would not have understood the question. He would probably not even have known what Buddhism is or ever have met a Buddhist in the course of his life. Michael Bergunder is professor of religious history and missiology at the Faculty of Theology and a co-opted member of the Faculty of Philosophy for religious studies.

Small galaxies and their eventful histories

Hundreds of dwarf galaxies populate the great galaxy clusters and confront astronomers with intriguing problems. In the section "Brief Research Reports” Thorsten Lisker goes into this topic. In the framework of the Initiative for Excellence Lisker was recruited to head a young research group. Since then he has been in charge of the "Extragalactic Astronomy” group at the Astronomical Computer Institute, one of the three institutions making up Heidelberg University’s Centre for Astronomy. The group is part of the Heidelberg Graduate School for Fundamental Physics, which was also established with funding from the Initiative for Excellence.

In the "News and Views” section, former Rector Peter Hommelhoff calls for an improvement of university teaching. "The number of professors must be substantially increased,” is the solution he proposes. Ruperto Carola 1/2008 rounds off with the section "From the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation.” Here Paul Kirchhof presents the outstanding doctoral theses submitted in 2007.

Ruperto Carola is published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg GmbH. Single copies cost € 5 plus postage. Like the special subscription offer (€ 30 for four issues) they can be ordered from: Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 10 57 60, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available in the entrance area of the Old University (Grabengasse 1).

For more information and the complete articles of earlier issues (in German) go to

Please address any inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Public Information Officer
University of Heidelberg

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317
Editor: Email
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