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28 January 2004

University of Heidelberg Welcomes Federal Government's New Plans for Top-Flight Universities

Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff: "The University of Heidelberg is already up among the front runners in Germany and has carved out a successful position for itself internationally"—Rector "very much in favour" of the new government programme—"The brainstorming process has already begun here in Heidelberg"

The University of Heidelberg welcomes the Federal Government's plans to fund top-flight universities in the process of a competition for the best ideas. "The University of Heidelberg is already up among the front runners in Germany and has carved out a successful position for itself internationally," commented Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff. He emphasised the he was "very much in favour" of the new programme. "The brainstorming process has already begun here in Heidelberg." In the next few days, all professors at the University will be sent a letter encouraging them to "contemplate projects that will put us in a position to engage in this competition."

Hommelhoff commended the Federal Chancellor for his sustained commitment to the initiative announced at the beginning of the year and expressed his gratification "that the plans to promote top-flight universities are taking concrete shape rather than just petering out." A research-oriented full-scale university like Heidelberg will thus be given "new prospects for advancing into entirely new dimensions. Now we can tackle projects we could only dream about before."

The Rector particularly welcomed the fact that the envisaged special funding for top-flight universities is additional and will not be withdrawn from other universities. Also, universities will be competing for this funding, which will be distributed in accordance with a verdict by an expert jury, rather than farmed out on a "fair shares" principle benefiting all the regions of Germany equally. "Naturally" the University of Heidelberg will be taking part in this contest. "Heidelberg will consolidate its profile." Today already, the Rector said, Heidelberg is notable for its interdisciplinary approach, its links with non-university research institutions and its international orientation.

"Heidelberg Area" to Rival Boston and the Bay Area

"The aim we need to work for goes beyond Heidelberg itself. We must make the entire academic potential of this whole region visible," Hommelhoff urged. The intention is to enable the region around Heidelberg, including Karlsruhe and Mannheim, to rival other regions like Munich and Berlin, as well as centres in the United States like the Boston Area or the Bay Area.

The Rector announced that the participation in the competition will be placed on a broad footing: "We are open to any suggestions from our researchers, whatever field they are working in." While it is to be expected that the life sciences and other natural sciences will play a major role, there are also plans to design a competitive format for major cross-disciplinary research projects from the humanities and cultural studies.

Hommelhoff sees participation in the competition as an excellent opportunity to do even more to encourage the upcoming generation of researchers: "We already have an excellent foundation for this: more post-graduate research groups than any other university in Germany." More money from Berlin would be used to extend the Research Schools existing in collaboration with the local non-university research institutions like the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the German Cancer Research Centre. In addition, major improvements are envisaged for research-oriented teaching, notably the student-teacher ratio.

For all this to come true it will however be necessary to change the legal framework at Federal and state level. At present, the legal provisions impose restrictions on the universities that make it inordinately difficult for them to compete in the global league.

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

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