“To level out universities’ weaknesses”
“Higher education institutions can co-operate and still be in competition,”
says education researcher Yorck Hener, project manager with the Centre for Higher Education Development
taz: Mr. Hener, on Wednesday the three big universities of the Ruhr area – Bochum, Dortmund and Duisburg-Essen agreed to mutually co-operate. How useful is such co-operation between universities?
Yorck Hener: Higher education institutions can use targeted co-operation to further reinforce their strengths. The significance and relevance of research and teaching can grow. Certain disciplines that are already well developed can be strengthened even further.
So universities should primarily help and support one another?
Exactly. No university is either simply very good or very bad. Each university has stronger and weaker departments, which are perceived differently from outside. However, even successful departments have difficulties today in financing themselves from public funding alone. They must procure outside funding means and co-operation can be a great help in this respect because higher education institutions can organise their respective resources amongst themselves.
But the universities are nevertheless in competition with each other. In the end, they compete for the most capable students as well as third party funds.
That is absolutely clear. Competition continues. However, co-operation and competition are not contradictory. Even in a competitive situation there must be room to change those departments that need to be strengthened or that are no longer competitive. If you want to improve, it is not enough simply to motivate the strong faculties to co-operate more. It would be just as good to level out the weaknesses of one university with the strengths of another.
Is this the way to becoming an elite university?
Size alone is no sufficient basis for taking a top position in the competition for excellence. Research is getting more and more expensive. The large research centres have a very strong bundling of resources and equipment and also personnel input. One single university can no longer carry this alone. In addition, teaching today also needs to be highly innovative. This is the reason why new appointments and new disciplines are important. Higher education institutions that compete with others in an area of teaching where nothing happens are grateful when new areas are added by colleagues from co-operating universities.
And how do you prevent rivalry? How do you want to avoid the fact that single departments or even entire universities are being put at a disadvantage?
In co-operation, it is important to take a close look at whether a situation of equality is established for all those involved because the competitive situation should be improved during co-operation. Otherwise it would not make any sense. Cost saving would also be a good aim but it would not be enough. For universities to have prospects, they must continuously improve their performance.
INTERVIEW: AVA WEIS
taz NRW on 24 Feb 2007, p. 2, 106 l. (Interview), Ava Weis