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21 September 2004

"Focus" Ranking: University of Heidelberg Heads the Field in Medicine and Biology

Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff: "With reference to a broad range of academically relevant factors, the news magazine has once again confirmed the University of Heidelberg's leading status among German universities" — In the overall ranking of 16 subjects and in psychology the University came fourth, with a fifth place in chemistry — "Gratification and challenge"

In the new nation-wide university ranking by the German news magazine Focus, the University of Heidelberg leads the field in biology and medicine. "With reference to a broad range of academically relevant factors, the news magazine has once again confirmed the University of Heidelberg's leading status among German universities," commented rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff. In the overall assessment of 16 subjects and in psychology the University came fourth, with a fifth place in chemistry. The magazine singles out a number of structural innovations at the University, praising the Molecular Biology Centre for its flat hierarchies and a department structure especially conducive to encouragement for upcoming young scientists and commending the new "Heicumed" course at the Medical Faculty as a "ground-breaker in medical studies" (Focus). "The University has noted the outcome of the Focus ranking with considerable gratification," said Hommelhoff, "and sees it as an encouragement to pursue our chosen path." He added that the ranking was also a challenge to improve on this outstanding achievement.

"Democracy in the lab: Heidelberg's Molecular Biology Centre produces top-flight researchers." This was a headline in issue 39 of Focus magazine this year. "There have been many attempts to imitate the structure of the Centre. Here, in the immediate neighbourhood of the German Cancer Research Centre, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the Max Planck Institute of Medical Research, the tally of top-flight young researchers has been remarkable. This is where they came up with the hepatitis B vaccine that made Heinz Schaller, its developer and one of the founders of the Centre, a rich man. Konrad Beyreuther discovered the so-called Alzheimer gene. And it was here that Hermann Bujard, former LaRoche researcher and the other founder of the Centre, designed a genetic switch now in use in every genetic engineering lab all over the world. 'The achievements of the Molecular Biology Centre are a model for the reform of higher education,' affirms Peter Gruss, president of the Max Planck Society and founder member of the research centre two decades ago." (Focus 39, p. 132)

Summing up on the outcome of its survey, Focus reports that even insiders are surprised at the wide gap between a small group of front runners (including Heidelberg) and the rest of the field. For higher-education experts, however, the members of that select group "do not come as much of a surprise." The market has long since mapped out the terrain. German universities are by no means much of a muchness.

"Heidelberg: Germany's oldest university, established in 1386, is at the same time one of the most modern research universities," the news magazine comments in its remarks on the overall rating (though we are duty bound to add that strictly speaking Heidelberg is not Germany's oldest university but rather the oldest on present-day Germany soil, after Prague and Vienna). Another conclusion from the ranking is this: "Almost all the top universities can look back on a century-old tradition."

In biology, Heidelberg is well ahead of its competitors with an overall score of 84 points. Focus comments: "The ideal setting for budding life scientists. Heidelberg is a clear winner, leaving all the others miles behind." The score takes account of teaching and research repute, Thomson Scientific's (Philadelphia) ISI citation index (the most comprehensive analysis of publication success), external funding, the ratio between students and teachers, length of study (in semesters) and the number of doctorates. In medicine, Heidelberg also comes first, with 71 points. "Heidelberg is much in demand with international students," Focus emphasises. Other factors the magazine took into account for the rating (alongside those already mentioned) are figures provided by the Federal Statistics Office, recommendations from leading scientists in Germany and abroad and from personnel managers in major companies.

In psychology Heidelberg was given 4th place with an overall score of 53 points, following Konstanz, Bochum and Würzburg. In terms of teaching and research repute, however, it too led the field. With an overall score of 63 points, chemistry in Heidelberg came in behind the two Munich universities, Freiburg and Mainz.

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

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