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Mission – to carry on organizing the transformation

Veröffentlicht am 14. Oktober 2019, 12:03 Uhr
Interview with Rector Professor Gerhard Sagerer

Rektor Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Sagerer, Foto: Universität Bielefeld/ M. Adamski
Rektor Prof.  Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Sagerer, Foto: Universität Bielefeld/M. Adamski
Your new – third – term of office began on 1 October. You were re-elected by the University Electoral Committee with a clear majority. A great vote of confidence. What does this mean to you?
Sagerer: I am deeply honoured by such overwhelming approval and would like to express my sincere thanks for the confidence placed in me. This majority is a testament to the work of the rectorate over the last few years. I also see it as a mandate to carry on organizing the transformation of our university.

What do you mean by ‘transformation’?
Sagerer: This transformation is coming from very different directions. Our growth, for instance, has been huge – in terms of both the number of students and the number of employees – but we have not yet established ourselves as one of the larger universities. A second example is that we are gaining a Medical School, and this will need to be well integrated into our university. Another is that our academics are increasingly more successful in applying for third-party funded projects. However as the Cognitive Interaction Technology Cluster of Excellence (CITEC) and the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology (BGHS) draw to a close, we are unfortunately disappearing from the Excellence Strategy map. The financial framework conditions for universities are also changing, bringing not only opportunities but also risks. In addition, universities are having to assume more and more responsibility for the development of society. But we must be careful to remain true to ourselves in the face of such varied expectations. Our construction projects and digitalization also mean change-involving opportunities and challenges.
As I see it, my task is to shape these change processes together with the rectorate, the deans, the senate, student representatives, and other representatives of various groups. This calls for open and transparent communication. We need honest dialogue.

Your agenda is already well filled then. Where do you see the priorities and what are your concrete plans?
Sagerer: Let's start with the topic of ‘studying’. I am a staunch advocate of the Bologna Reform. When done well, it’s of great benefit. And we have been doing it well for many years. I firmly believe in our academic structure. It offers our students scope for individuality and development – the keywords here are open degree programmes, a variety of subject combinations, uniform-sized modules, and the possibility to repeat examinations. Of course, we still need some fine-tuning here. One concrete point: I would like to broaden and strengthen the area of ‘individual subsidiary subjects’. We have also embarked on the path to system accreditation and are currently working with the faculties to establish the necessary quality management system. Ideally, I would like us to have all degree programmes certified internally by 2023.  Another area in which we have made progress in recent years is in our research culture. As vice-rector, Claudia Riemer in particular has succeeded in intensifying dialogue with teachers and students. The guiding principle for teaching and the ‘Living Document on Attendance of Lectures’ are the outcome of a process that is certainly still incomplete. And digitalization in teaching is another central task.

And in the field of research?
Sagerer: We are committed to being a strong research university. We have proved this repeatedly in the past. But to guarantee this in the future, we need to ensure that our top researchers have enough time for research. We must enable them to develop their ideas and approaches, propose any necessary projects, and carry them out successfully. And it is precisely here that things get difficult: professors have a variety of tasks in teaching and supervising students. They also have to engage in a lot of self-administration. This work also mustn’t suffer when they invest time in research...

How do you intend to resolve this contradiction?
Sagerer: The solution doesn’t lie with the individual person, but on the faculty level. If individuals are given the opportunity to do more research, then the shortfall in teaching and the reduced supervision resources must be compensated. I see various potential ways for faculties to make up this shortfall – starting with young academics, across additional, remunerated teaching by colleagues, up to the use of senior professorships. Senior professorships in particular should ensure that we are able to deliver competent teaching. I now want to start discussing this with the faculties. There won't be a standard blueprint for this. I am certain that the faculties will find individual solutions, and this will make a significant contribution to our research university while simultaneously ensuring and even improving the quality of our teaching.

What role do young academics play in your ideas?
Sagerer: A central one. We need ambitious, creative, and courageous young academics. They are a decisive pillar of our research and teaching. My goal is to qualify them better for their tasks and to enable them to plan their careers with confidence. I base my ideas on three pillars: qualification, support, and dialogue. I have already developed concepts here, but don't want to go into more detail today. I first want to discuss my ideas with the representatives of the young and mid-level academics.

No doubt the Medical School will bring the greatest change. How do you gauge the risks and opportunities?
Sagerer: It is my firm belief that the opportunities will dominate. We are gaining a wide range of options for expanding Bielefeld University’s teaching and research profile. Moreover, the new faculty is not a ‘closed shop’ – on the contrary: it offers numerous points of contact for many of our faculties and institutions. I can only encourage colleagues to get involved in the current plans and developments. We are all being called upon to seize the opportunities. Our new faculty is also an essential element in the positive development of the East Westphalia-Lippe region. And we want to achieve even more: we want to set national benchmarks with our approaches.

… and what about the risks?
Sagerer: I prefer to speak of the challenges. The construction projects must certainly be mentioned in this context. We need new buildings very quickly. But I am sure our chancellor has already set us on the right path. We are also still waiting for the opinion of the Science Council, which is evaluating our concept. However, I’m confident that approval will be granted.

And what is currently happening in the faculty?
Sagerer: The first appointment procedures are underway and the next professorships are being advertised. New jobs will also be created in the other faculties and in the administrative and service areas in order to cover teaching exports and additional demand. Following the signing of framework agreements with the first three hospital owners, the focus is now on selecting concrete specialist clinics for the University Hospital OWL. In addition, colleagues involved in projects – for example regarding the curriculum or the necessary IT infrastructure – are creating the foundation for studies to start in the 2021/2022 academic year.

The process of electing the vice-rector is currently underway. Can you nonetheless tell us something about your team?
Sagerer: I don’t wish to pre-empt the commission, but I can say this much: Claudia Riemer is not standing for re-election. She wants to invest more time in her research and teaching again. I regret this, but of course I completely understand. My sincere thanks go to her for her support over the past few years. Today, however, I don’t wish to say anything about the future team or its members.

Finally, can you briefly summarize your vision of Bielefeld University in 2023 – the end of your new term in office?
Sagerer: We shall still be faithful to ourselves and continue to live by what we have described in ‘Our Mission’. Our university will be one of the strongest research institutions in Germany and enjoy international recognition. Our degree programmes will be impressive, highly attractive, and promising – and for ambitious students from all over the world. The Medical School will be up and running – both in research and teaching – and as a full university, we will be the centre of the OWL academic region in 2023.

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