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‘Networked research and an innovative range of study courses’

Published on 29. September 2017, 15:49 h
Interview with Rektor Professor Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Sagerer on the founding of the Faculty of Medicine

Where will the new building go? How many study places will there be? What is the time plan? The Rektor answers questions on the current state of planning.

Professor Sagerer, the new state government signed the coalition agreement back in June. This sets out a clear plan to set up a Faculty of Medicine at Bielefeld University. Up to now, you have not said anything about the University’s internal plans. Why?

Rektor Gerhard Sagerer: „Wir werden Qualität in der Lehre sichern und gleichzeitig unser Forschungsprofil intensiv schärfen.“ Foto: M. Brockhoff/ Universität Bielefeld

Well, our own ideas are not completely unknown. We already gave a first sketch summarizing our basic ideas in 2011, and we also presented this to the general public. This will form the basis of the detailed concept for a Faculty of Medicine.

… and where do things stand at present?
Naturally, we have been working on our ideas internally since the summer and have had many discussions. However, we first have to wait until those responsible in Düsseldorf have sorted things out. Nonetheless, we do have a new state government and the Faculty of Medicine is a central topic for the new coalition. Therefore, we wanted to know whether there are any concrete ideas yet and what these might be. Our first discussions with the Ministry of Culture and Science were positive: it is the University that is responsible for working out a concept, and we shall now work our ideas out in detail.

On the 19th of September, the local newspaper, the Neue Westfälische, reported that the former President of the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences, Dr. Oliver Herrmann, would be working out the concept for the Faculty of Medicine. Is that correct?
This report is incorrect. The truth is that this is my responsibility as Rektor. I am also the one carrying out discussions with the Ministry and the hospitals. Structural tasks, in contrast, are the responsibility of the Chancellor. In our clarification of the article in the Neue Westfälische, we already stated that Bielefeld University will be carrying out the planning and working out the concept with its own personnel. We shall create the necessary structures, set up new committees, and also recruit new staff at short notice. The Rektorat will work out the concept internally with the faculties, institutes, and committees. Any suggestions will be incorporated. This concept will then serve as a basis for the necessary political decisions by the state government. External experts will provide support and counselling as needed, and we shall also be consulting Oliver Herrmann, whom I hold in high regard. Through his earlier post as Chancellor of Kiel University, he knows a great deal about the structures and concepts of medical faculties. Incidentally, I am very glad to have an acknowledged expert in the University who will also make a decisive contribution as the Rektorat’s Founding Commissioner.

Can you already say who that is?
We have recruited Dr. Claudia Hornberg, Professor of Environment and Health in the Bielefeld School of Public Health, for this task. She is a physician herself and knows a great deal about the discipline and medical structures in both the OWL region and beyond.

The state government intends – according to the coalition negotiations – to make about 50 million Euros available for the Faculty each year. Will that be enough?
A decision has yet to be made on the budget. We assume that such a sum could be sufficient for the running costs – including the additional service facilities and expansion of the administration. However, that still needs to be planned in detail and coordinated with the Ministry. Further initial funding will also be needed for planning, development, building, and infrastructure. An important aspect is that we are planning – as far as the clinical side is concerned – a model based on cooperation with clinics. You can find similar models in Bochum or in Gießen. We shall not be running our own university hospital – unlike, for example, the new medical faculty in Augsburg.

How high will this initial investment funding be?
That’s something we cannot say today. But we shall clearly need an additional building, investments in the basic subjects – particularly biology, physics, and chemistry, and the health sciences – and we need to expand the library and the computer centre. Moreover, the cooperating clinics will also need to invest in classrooms and the like, because that is where the clinical teaching will be carried out.

Where will the new building go?
We want to build it on the site of the present multi-storey car parks. The loss in parking spaces will then be compensated by placing underground car parks beneath the building. Currently, there is no planning permission for any more buildings on the North Campus.

And what is the time plan? When will the first people be studying medicine in Bielefeld?

We aim to start studies in 2021/2022 – and then for both first-semester students and those changing universities who wish to move on to their clinical studies in Bielefeld. As a result, there are some decisive steps that we shall already have to make next year – regarding, for example, the structure of study programmes, the tenders for participating clinics, or the evaluation by the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat).

And what are the next specific steps?
This year, we still have to specify the project structure and the processes. Also in this year, we want to start planning construction of the necessary building, and, if necessary, also consider temporary accommodation. We also need to make progress on the structure of study programmes. Next year, we have to get started with the tenders for the clinics – we want to conclude contracts one year later. From roughly mid-2018 onwards, we should have a complete concept that can then go to the Wissenschaftsrat for their evaluation.

How many medicine students can we expect to have in Bielefeld?

When everything is finally completed, we expect to have up to 300 study places each year.

How are you going to ensure that setting up and running the new faculty will not harm the other faculties?
For me, that’s a very important point. I have always said that the Faculty of Medicine will require completely independent additional financing.

Bielefeld University sees itself as having a strong research orientation. Will the same be expected of medicine: What will the Faculty specialize in scientifically?

Naturally, we shall also be emphasizing a strong research orientation in medicine. We want to implement this through close links between the new Faculty and other areas of research at our university. There are a whole range of approaches in, for example, the health sciences, psychology, biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, or computer science. We have scientists at our university who are already carrying out research on medical issues – until now, in cooperation with locations in the OWL region and beyond.

The university will not have its own hospital. You are following the Ruhr-Universität Bochum model: cooperation with clinics. How exactly will these cooperations be organized?
The faculty has to cover all the fields in the approbation regulations. At present, we expect to start by cooperating with approximately 24 clinics. It is important to point out that I just said clinics and not hospitals; that means specialist departments at hospitals. Tenders will be invited for this. By the way, you can also find this cooperation model in Gießen and not just in Bochum.

What do the clinics have to contribute?
We are looking for clinics with a strong research profile and teaching experience. We also expect an openness to innovation in medical training. The University and the Faculty are responsible for the quality of research and teaching, whereas the clinics naturally remain responsible for the patient care and clinical routines that they will also continue to finance. I think hospitals will probably send in applications covering several of their own clinics. A further option is joint applications by several clinics run by different institutions.

And who appoints the university professors?
Professors are always appointed by the University on the basis of our academic procedures just like we do in other appointment procedures.
The same also applies for the clinical professors – here naturally in agreement with those running the clinics.

Will cooperations be only with clinics in Bielefeld?
No, not in principle. We want to recruit those clinics with which we – in line with our present research profile – can achieve the best research and an innovative training of students. Hospitals throughout the OWL region can apply with their clinics. One of our tasks in the coming months will be to formulate what we require from the clinics.

You just spoke about ‘innovative medical training’. What will the study programme look like?
In Bielefeld, we have always striven to provide innovative teaching. The same will also apply to medicine. Nonetheless, it is too early to go into details here. This still has to be discussed with the Ministry. And we shall also be involving the Wissenschaftsrat that will evaluate the concept.
As a University, we set high scientific standards – this principle of ‘training scientifically’ will also be the benchmark when formulating our teaching programme. As in research, our aim is to establish close ties with the existing disciplines at Bielefeld University.

How will you ensure that the general practitioners to be trained here will actually remain in the region? After all, the initiative comes from Düsseldorf  . . .
We intend to organize our study programme so that there will also be a focus on general medicine. We believe in the need to direct attention towards the tasks to come in the future and to prepare general medicine for the challenges of the twenty-first century. E-medicine, patient communication, or individualized medicine are just three of the keywords here. This also leads to exciting research questions, and this is where our University provides excellent linkages. We want an innovative, forward-looking training that will make the profession attractive. It is also important for students to gain early and intensive contact with the general practitioner’s profession. We are encouraging this by building up a tight network with general practice surgeries throughout the OWL region. This should help to make staying in the region as attractive as possible.

How will the Faculties and Institutes be including in planning?
In the coming weeks and months, we shall be engaging in internal presentations and discussions over our basic ideas. The main contacts will be with the Faculty deans. However, we shall also be engaging in discussions with other bodies. My wish is that when our scientists are considering their future research activities, they will start to think about interesting potential links to medicine.

How far is the project to set up a Faculty of Medicine placing a strain on the administration? There are also a few other projects to deal with  . . .
It is definitely very demanding and a challenge for those staff members who are taking on additional tasks during this phase. However, we shall relieve this strain by quickly recruiting additional personnel with the necessary funding coming from the state. From time to time, we shall also get the support of external experts.

If we come back in twenty years and interview you about the Faculty of Medicine a second time, what would you like to be able to tell us?

My vision would be a Faculty of Medicine that has become a fixed and integral part of Bielefeld University that is highly networked with other disciplines in both teaching and research. I would like to report on interdisciplinary research teams that are carrying out world-class medical research and graduates of Bielefeld University who have received the best scientific training. And also that many of our medical graduates are remaining in the region as practicing doctors.
Posted by JBömer in General
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