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19 October 2004

Heidelberg Way Out in Front (Focus)

In its new ranking the news magazine puts Heidelberg well ahead of all other German universities for mathematics — In physics, where it was just pipped to the post, Heidelberg outstrips all other German universities in the international response to its scientific publications

"Heidelberg way out in front of all the others." With reference to mathematics, this is the result of the new ranking published by the German news magazine Focus. "Physicists from the University of Heidelberg get the biggest international response to their publications," the Focus survey concludes, putting Heidelberg second for this subject among German universities. Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff was accordingly gratified by the University's showing: "After outstanding rankings in biology, medicine and law and a third place for political science, the news magazine has attested the excellence of the University of Heidelberg in mathematics and physics on the basis of a far-reaching survey taking full account of the academic parameters. These subjects make a substantial contribution to the profile of the University."

Getting out of the ivory tower

The leading universities in the three subjects in question are all marked by their successful attempts to "get out of the ivory tower," Focus sums up. "In mathematics, physics and computer science, abstract theory dominates in at least the first few semesters. But the universities are now doing their best to acquaint their students with application-oriented research at an early stage and also to put them in touch with industry. Heidelberg, for example, provides not only a traditional course in mathematics but also a degree in 'mathematics for scientific computing'. In addition to the usual subsidiary subject, this course dedicates 30 percent of its efforts to computer science. 'This makes it highly practical in its orientation,' emphasises Rolf Rannacher, vice-dean of the Faculty. 'One of the obligatory components is a two-month internship outside the university, say with an industrial or software company.'" (Focus 43, p. 93)

The citation index and external funding criteria put mathematics in Heidelberg right at the top of the list. It also achieved the highest possible scores for research reputation and teaching.

Prof. Dr. Rolf Rannacher, vice-dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, describes the approach taken there as follows: "In Heidelberg mathematics is notable for its consistently high quality in pure and applied mathematics, the latter with an outstanding emphasis on scientific computing. In this it benefits from its close contacts with a top-ranking environment in the natural sciences and life sciences, which facilitates the conduct of an unusual number of interdisciplinary projects run on external funding."

The Thomson Scientific citation index physics puts Heidelberg well ahead of its competitors

In the citation index devised by Thomson Scientific Inc. (Philadelphia) to investigate how often scientific publications in a given subject are cited internationally, Heidelberg's physics institutes are way out in front of their German rivals. With an immense quota of external funding amounting to 570,000 euros per professor, the Technical University of Munich just managed to squeeze into first place ahead of Heidelberg. But its score on the citation index was 59, as opposed to 100 for Heidelberg. With regard to the number of doctoral theses per professor, Heidelberg also made an excellent showing, with a score of 3.3 over and against 1.4 for the top-ranking Technical University of Munich. In the Focus survey, the number of students in the winter semester 2003/4 was not included in the assessment. Heidelberg had 1,375 students, putting it well ahead of the other German universities and indicating Heidelberg's attractiveness for students.

"We are very happy with the outcome and proud of our second place," says dean Prof. Dr. Johanna Stachel. Particularly gratifying for her were the top ISI ranking and the second place in the number of doctoral degrees. "Both these results confirm that we are a highly research-oriented Faculty with special emphasis on advanced and doctoral studies."

By contrast, the Faculty regrets the poor student-teacher ratio. "This is one of my main headaches," says Stachel. As the Faculty with the highest number of Diplom and doctoral degrees anywhere in Germany, "we are by no means the largest faculty." At present the University has 33 full-time professors of physics and astronomy (including ongoing appointment procedures, prospective successors and computer science). "In reality, though, this ratio is better than it looks. 66 scientists who did their Habilitation at our Faculty and are now working at research institutions in the vicinity help out with teaching and supervision."

Prof. Stachel also points out that the Faculty hopes to improve the ratio with the aptitude testing procedure introduced in summer 2004: "This will help us select students who are very likely to be successful in their studies. That means there'll be less manpower devoted to intensive supervision of early practical work and beginner classes, without reducing the number of degrees."

The Faculty is proud of the 8.9 million euros in external funding it acquires every year, "the highest amount anywhere in the University, with the exception of medicine." However, Focus based its ratings on 40 professors, as opposed to the 33 actually working full-time at the University. "Naturally, though our theoreticians have a very positive effect on the ISI citation ranking, they do not generate as much in the way of external funding, as they usually depend not so much on expensive equipment as on their own brains," Prof. Stachel concludes.

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

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