"We need more encouragement for young female scientists"
Legal expert Professor Nele Matz-Lück has been the Vice President for international affairs, young researchers, equality and diversity since October 2020. In an interview with "unizeit", she gives insights into her new role.
unizeit: How have you settled into the role of Vice President? Have you already set priorities?
Nele Matz-Lück: I am trying to find my feet in the various fields, structures and bodies, so that I can start shaping developments as quickly as possible. The interesting thing about my portfolio is that it concerns cross-cutting issues, which affect all areas in teaching and research – in the entire university. Within each of these areas, I have identified priority topics: for internationalisation, this is the development of a sustainable internationalisation strategy, also to respond to the criticism of the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) in the framework of the Excellence Strategy. In the field of equality, a priority is that we have more female deans at the faculties – in fact, at present we have none at all. Regarding the promotion of early career researchers, I have been involved in recent weeks in the selection of the DenkRaum fellows. So a very concrete project that is being implemented. Diversity is the area with which I have had the least points of contact from a structural perspective. The more I learn, the more important I believe it is that here too we work on a strategy to make university life great for all those involved.
Where must an institution like the CAU improve on diversity?
With the appointment of the Diversity Commissioner (editor’s note: Eddi Steinfeldt-Mehrtens), the university has taken a big step towards also anchoring this important topic structurally. The same applies to the "Shaping Diversity" audit of the Stifterverband. These are the structures which ensure that we remain permanently vigilant on the topic, accompanied by many individual activities and building blocks, for example the guideline against bullying or the action plan to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
One of the many cross-cutting issues is equality. In science, there seems to be a gender gap in general. Why is that?
I can start with my own scientific discipline: only 13 percent of the teachers of constitutional law in Germany are women. This is extremely low, and it doesn't seem like much will change soon. What we need is more encouragement for young female scientists. In law, we have more female first-year students and more female graduates, in the doctoral research phase the proportion of women then becomes slightly lower, and afterwards the numbers fall away dramatically. The transition from the doctoral research phase into a scientific career must be more closely monitored and supported. Here, there should be active recruitment, and positive role models are required. This also includes women supporting other women. There are mentoring programmes at the CAU precisely for this purpose. And it requires a rethinking by society. Many women seem to automatically put their ambitions on hold during the family phase – or decide against having children to avoid prejudicing their career. If the scientific career is the only reason for not starting a family, then something is wrong with our university system.
Another focus area is internationalisation. What does this actually mean for a university?
I do not believe that internationalisation only means that we have a higher number of international students, but this is a piece of the puzzle. If we want to do well in competition with other universities, then those students who take positive experiences from their time with us back into their home countries, and perhaps later seek contact as postdocs, also serve as multipliers for the research.
All of our work is stimulated by an international exchange, and if we are more internationally visible – for example through large collaborative projects – this will lead to us getting better researchers here. And not only international researchers, but also those from Germany.
So what should the path ahead look like?
I don't have a ready-made internationalisation strategy yet. First we need to take a closer look at which collaborations there are already in the faculties. I believe that there are many more good collaborations with foreign partner institutions than we have previously noticed. We also need to operate a kind of benchmarking. There, the decisive question will be: who should we compare ourselves with? If we compare ourselves with top foreign universities, we will perhaps not be able to achieve much, because we do not have the required resources. At the same time, we need ambitious targets in order to improve ourselves.
Are you planning beyond the three years of your term of office?
One factor in the decision on whether I make myself available for election again is the extent to which space remains for my own research. I also said this to the President at the beginning of our initial discussions: if the Vice Presidency means that the international law of the sea is no longer visible in Kiel, then I don’t want to accept this office. I pursue the law of the sea out of passion. But I think it makes sense to plan for more than three years if you want to achieve conceptual and strategic change. However, at the moment it is actually still much too soon – first you have to convince others with your actions before speculating about the possibilities of a further term of office.
This interview was conducted by Anna-Kristina Pries
Short biography of Professor Nele Matz-Lück, LL.M.
Since 8.10.2020 Vice President for international affairs, young researchers, equality and diversity at Kiel University, since 2011 holder of the Chair of Public Law with a focus on international law, particularly the law of the sea, as well as Co-Director of the Walther-Schücking-Institute for International Law. Spokesperson for the Future Ocean network. Judge at the State Constitutional Court of Schleswig-Holstein since 2018. Before her appointment at Kiel University, she worked as a research advisor at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. More career highlights: Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, K.G. Jebsen Centre for the Law of the Sea at the Arctic University of Norway, Tromsö. Interdisciplinary LL.M. degree programme at Aberystwyth University, Wales. (apr)