City University of Hong KongBeyond Boundaries: how universities in Germany and Asia can learn from each other to improve diversity

Beyond Boundaries: how universities in Germany and Asia can learn from each other to improve diversity

The fifth instalment of City University of Hong Kong’s Beyond Boundaries series focuses on the challenges of internationalisation facing one of Germany’s most prestigious research universities

There is a saying in Stuttgart, Germany, that only the churches existed before universities – and for a small city, Stuttgart has plenty of both. 

With 600,000 residents, Stuttgart boasts eight universities, including the University of Stuttgart, renowned for its long-standing technological contributions to the international automotive industry.

Despite its prestigious reputation, the University of Stuttgart, like many higher education institutions in Europe, faces new challenges brought about by internationalisation.

For the fifth episode of Beyond Boundaries, an interview series produced by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), president Way Kuo visited the University of Stuttgart to meet with its rector, Wolfram Ressel.

CityU is an international university that places great emphasis on the integration of research and teaching – something universities in Germany are famous for championing.

Like Stuttgart, CityU takes pride in its multidisciplinary approach to research, and it was Kuo’s ambition in making the Beyond Boundaries series to explore this theme by talking to other university leaders around the world.

In his dialogue with Ressel, Kuo noted that Japanese institutions like his own had “learned a lot from the German education system”, in particular, Germany’s strict work ethic. “Germany is also really well known for technology in research,” Kuo said.

Ressel responded that Germany has a “long tradition” of autonomy at its universities, underpinned by “the Humboldtian principle, which means that research and education are always done together, not divided into two parts”.

“It is very important that our students are taught the newest technologies, the newest methods, the newest algorithms coming out of research”, because that knowledge “immediately goes into industry” when the students graduate, Ressel explained.

About 22 per cent of students at Stuttgart are international, and the institution aims to expand that figure as universities around the world become more globalised in their approach to learning and employment skills.

The University of Stuttgart’s problem, according to Ressel, is that “our undergraduate programme is totally in German”, making language a barrier to diversity in the student population.

In this sense, the rectors agreed that different higher education cultures have much to learn from one another. “Internationalisation is very important for us, and we all have to find ways to [diversify],” Ressel said. “We are looking to Asia and the US as examples.”

The University of Stuttgart works closely with industry partners and suppliers, one example being an initiative called ARENA2036, a new university department set up in Stuttgart as the first cooperative research campus in Germany. 

“German universities are known for promoting interdisciplinary research specifically,” said Kuo, commenting that he believes Germany is “the most successful” at integrating engineering with humanities and social sciences, for example.

“The main problems of this world, like mobility, climate change, health…cannot be solved only on the edges of disciplines,” Ressel concluded. “We need multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research projects to find new solutions. This is what we are doing in Germany and what we know as the Stuttgart way.”

Find out more about CityU’s Beyond Boundaries series.

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