Offering a world-class welcome in the Duchy

March 10, 2006

A world-class research university cannot be set up overnight - it is the work of generations, according to Rolf Tarrach, rector of the year-old University of Luxembourg.

"It would be marvellous for us to become a centre of excellence for research in Europe but that will take a long, long time," he told The Times Higher .

"You've had 800 years of tradition in the UK. I hope that in some 40 years we will start being known worldwide for some research subjects and in a shorter time we will begin to attract masters students who will come because research is relatively good in some disciplines.

"It is hardly possible we will be a leading European research university in ten years' time; there are too many other good universities. But in the time I'm here I hope we will set the basis so ultimately it will not be impossible."

These are the words of an ambitious and dynamic man whose speeches on financing and autonomy are already making him known in European academic circles, including the European University Association. Just as important for Dr Tarrach, however, is that his desire to make the university international in character, rather than focused on Luxembourg itself, chimes exactly with the views of the Government and the university governing board.

This was not always the case. Dr Tarrach came close to walking out a year ago because, he said, "the governing board was used to deciding everything, very likely because there was no rector at the time". Now his relations with both the board and the Government are "excellent - I think the country has now really accepted the importance of the university".

Two recent developments underline this. The board recently formally approved Dr Tarrach's far-reaching strategic framework document for the future four-year and ten-year periods, and the Government has agreed a budget of E44 million (£30 million) for 2006 - a jump of 38 per cent over 2005.

"I had asked for E49 million but in truth I'm very happy with the (agreed) figure because this is a public university and there are relatively strict rules about how to spend money. I will likely not get another 38 per cent increase, but over the next four years I propose increases of 19 per cent a year."

Until 2005, Luxembourg had no university, with residents of the Grand Duchy traditionally sending their children abroad to study. Rather than persuading those abroad to return home to study, Dr Tarrach wants to drive up numbers entering university.

He also wants to enhance the university's international character by increasing the number of foreign students.

"There are many good universities abroad. But a university that is just starting, that will be very centred on research, that uses three languages and is located in a country where 39 per cent of the population is foreign - this gives it a very special character and, I hope, makes it attractive to foreign students."

LUXEMBOURG

  • Population: 455,000 (2005)
  • Number of students enrolled when university is in full operation: 9,000
  • Percentage of students from Luxembourg: 58
  • Percentage of Luxembourg's population attending university: 30
  • www.uni.lu

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