Lively discussion about the Excellence Strategy
On 19 July, Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek announced which eleven universities will in future bear the title "University of Excellence". Kiel University (CAU) was not amongst them. Two months after the decision, the University Board at the CAU invited everyone to a status meeting on Monday 16 September, in the foyer of the university tower building at Christian-Albrechts-Platz in Kiel. About 150 researchers, students and employees from the university, external guests from the worlds of politics, business and from partner universities and scientific institutions took part in lively but fact-orientated discussions. The event was chaired by the director of the ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, Professor Klaus Tochtermann.
The CAU shows a steep positive development curve.
Regarding public debate on the performance in the Excellence Initiative competition, University President Lutz Kipp left no doubt in his welcome address that the CAU is one of the most significant German universities. The enthusiasm with which Kiel participated in the competition has won the university many admirers, according to Kipp: “In the course of the selection procedure, we have gained a lot of recognition both nationally and internationally. We have celebrated considerable successes: with the Leibniz Campi, the 1000 Tenure-Track Programme, with teacher education, and with the collaborative research project applications and the clusters, just to name a few. We were very close to joining the ranks of the 11 best." The only sensible solution is to try again in 2026. "Therefore, we would like to invite the entire university to continue discussing the feedback from the German Council of Science and Humanities with us, and to use this as the basis for developing perspectives for the university, also with a view to the coming Structure and Development Plan (STEP), or even a new application to become a University of Excellence in 2026."
The great enthusiasm of all university members for the overall strategy is evident.
Altogether, the evaluators rated the CAU’s performance achieved in research, teaching, transfer and research infrastructures as very good. But they were particularly impressed by the enthusiasm with which the parties presented their ideas and put them into practice, highlighted Kipp. "With regard to projects and plans, so our strategic future planning of KIEL UNIVERSITY INTERFACES for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, these were even rated as excellent. This is something we can really be proud of. At the end, what was missing for success in comparison with the current Universities of Excellence is simply the breadth of implementation," summed up the physicist.
This gap could be closed, if the measures described in KIEL UNIVERSITY INTERFACES are implemented. Because: "The evaluators declared these solutions as effective," said Kipp looking ahead. Also promising is that the evaluators praised the practice of interdisciplinarity and the current step towards transdisciplinarity in Kiel as an "exemplary vision in the research sector". "In particular, the fact that we cooperate across all faculties in the priority research areas was positively evaluated." In addition, the CAU was attested as having teaching that is research-orientated and tailored to the world of work, as well as "significant external support and recognition for the teaching innovations". There was specific praise for the close cooperation with the city of Kiel, the state and partner institutions, the promotion of early career researchers and equal opportunities, as well as the measures for personnel development.
There was an ensuing lively discussion on the reasons for not winning the Excellence Initiative and conditions for a potential new application. Success in a subsequent competition will not happen by itself, emphasised one of those present. Therefore, there must urgently be a systematic comparison with German and foreign top universities, particularly in the areas not yet up to standard. It is also important that the ongoing discussion on the future of the university is carried out in the same open and transparent manner as before, said a participant.
With regard to internationalisation, it was said: "In light of the too low proportion of students and lecturers from abroad, the CAU must create incentives for international mobility, promote international cooperation and thus increase its visibility worldwide." This requires a consistent language strategy, a good welcoming culture, and an internationalisation strategy that is coordinated with the state and the region, demanded two participants.
In any case, the way in to the competition comes from excellent researchers and collaborative research projects, noted a scientist. Here, the university and the state must increase their efforts. Existing strong research areas should receive continued support, while the area of marine sciences should be made cluster-ready. One way to get more researchers involved in the Excellence Strategy might be to expand research more with common method platforms. This would mean that people could also be involved in the development of excellence, who previously had little to do with collaborative research, another scientist suggested.
Ultimately, everyone agreed that a competitive application needs early backing from and strategic interaction between the university, politics and the ministry. On the question if the CAU has the support of the Ministry of Science in case of a new University of Excellence application, Kipp replied "It is clear that we need more money or options or other structures than before in order to implement our idea. We need to explore these possibilities now. A potential new application is only promising as a joint effort between science, politics and ministries." Friederike Kampschulte, head of department in the Ministry of Science, assured that the state is generally open to a new application: "The state will continue to support the CAU and its development of priority research areas. With regard to a new competition for the title of University of Excellence, the university must first decide itself if that is what it wants."
Also to answer this question, after establishing the status quo, attention turned to discussion and brainstorming. Work was conducted in five groups, on key focus areas derived from the WR’s feedback: research/transfer, internationalisation and diversity, teaching and digitalisation, enabling and construction, as well as transition. The results of the workshop are being incorporated into the current target agreements with the state for the next five years, as well as the successor of the Higher Education Pact (Future Contract).
"It has once again been demonstrated that the Excellence Workshop is a good instrument for debate and participation in the strategic development of our university. I would like to thank all those who participated, for the time invested, their ideas, and the critical but constructive involvement. We want to continue this 'positive spirit of cooperation', through a transparent participation process," said CAU President Kipp, announcing further working group meetings.