Opening Ceremony for the Marsilius Kolleg

18 07 2008
Placing interdisciplinary cooperation on a new footing – Federal minister of education and research Dr. Annette Schavan expects major impulses for German scholarship and science
Attendance was high at today’s official opening ceremony for the Marsilius Kolleg, the University of Heidelberg’s new Centre for Advanced Studies. This had partly to do with the presence of two prominent speakers, Federal minister for education and research Dr. Annette Schavan and Nobel Prize laureate for medicine Professor Günter Blobel. But that was by no means the only reason. The new Centre is designed to have a galvanising effect on the future development of the University. It is a central factor in the University’s Institutional Strategy and can fairly be expected to set new standards in interdisciplinary cooperation. This was the assessment of the external adjudicators of the Initiative for Excellence last year and Rector Professor Bernhard Eitel shares their view. In his welcoming address he stressed the fact that the Marsilius Kolleg is one of the University’s “most cherished projects”, playing “an outstanding role in cementing and sustaining Heidelberg’s profile as a comprehensive public university in the 21st century.”

In the years to come, between 10 and 15 Fellows will be appointed to the Centre to devote themselves to fundamental issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. Two of these issues are “human dignity” and “the aging society”. Modelled on the institutes of advanced studies to be found in many English-speaking countries, this dialogue between the various scientific and scholarly cultures is to be placed on a firmer footing than has been feasible so far. In institutional terms new avenues are also to be explored. Federal minister Annette Schavan expressed the hope that the experience gathered in this context will then benefit the entire “system of scholarship and science in Germany” and supply substantial new impulses. At the ceremony she emphasised her conviction that the Marsilius Kolleg represented the creation of “something truly significant”.

In her speech – a veritable tour d’horizon of the burning issues in higher-education policy at the moment – the minister addressed a plethora of subjects ranging from the Bologna Process to the Higher-Education Pact II. With reference to the unity of research and teaching she expressed her scepticism about the “special measures” for strengthening teaching under discussion at the moment. Instead, she indicated that the “best supporting instrument” in this connection would be the scrapping of the blanket higher-education Capacity Regulation on student-teacher ratios throughout Germany, an opinion that earned her a spontaneous round of applause. She went on to praise the Initiative for Excellence as a successful pilot project leading on to further measures of a similar kind. She welcomed the Marsilius Kolleg as an innovative approach to overcoming the “absence of communication” between the various disciplines “in the wake of specialisation”. Frau Schavan was also optimistic that this new Centre would encourage a higher degree of exchange between academia, the public and political discourse.

At the end of the ceremony it fell to the Nobel Prize laureate for medicine (1999), Professor Günter Blobel (Rockefeller University, New York), to hold the first Marsilius Lecture as the overture to a series in which once a term outstanding personalities from the various scholarly and scientific cultures will be invited to air their views in the years to come. His lecture was devoted to the beauty of cells, referred to in the title of his talk as “works of art”. This alone gave an inkling of what an “interdisciplinary perspective” can stand for.

Blobel was just as gratified as his preceding speakers at the establishment of the Marsilius Kolleg and wished its two academic directors, sociologist Professor Wolfgang Schluchter and virologist Professor Hans-Georg Kräusslich, every success in their endeavours. Now all that remains is to live up to these high expectations. At all events, Federal minister Annette Schavan has indicated her ardent interest in meeting the Fellows of the Centre personally in the near future for an exchange of views. In her eyes, Heidelberg is quite definitely an ideal location for the Centre, which is named after Marsilius von Inghen, the first Rector of the University back in the 14th century. “The University of Heidelberg is in the middle of a remarkable phase of reinventing itself for the future,” she said with reference to the present upheavals taking place in the German higher.-education landscape. There can be no doubt that the Marsilius Kolleg has initiated a new and important chapter in the University’s 620-year history. It will be interesting indeed to see what it comes up with.
Oliver Fink

Opening Ceremony for the Marsilius Kolleg  
Foto: Hentschel

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University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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