Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Sino-German Presidents Conference

Welcome Speech on October 4th 2007

Dear Professor Xu, Dear State Secretary Husung,
Dear Prof. Han Jianguo,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


last night, I had the honour of welcoming most of you at the opening banquet of the second Sino-German-Presidents Meeting. On this very enjoyable occasion, it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance and I was very grateful for the opportunity to engage in some highly intriguing discussions over the course of the evening – discussions which I very much hope to continue over the next few days. In yesterday’s welcoming speech, I was keen to stress how much importance I attach to the deepening Sino-German relationship, which is a sentiment I would like to reiterate today. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin is proud to jointly host this conference with Peking University. With our joint initiative, we are creating the ground for sustained contacts and fruitful cooperation between the academic spheres of our two countries, which I believe will entail immeasurable benefits for all of us.


Today, I am here to officially commence our conference program. We have among us representatives from eight distinguished universities from different parts of China, carefully selected by the Chinese Ministry of Education and the Sino-German Centre for Research Promotion. I am proud to welcome representatives from Peking University and Tsinghua University, both located in Beijing, from Zhejiang University, situated in the city Hangzhou, from Fudan University, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Tongji University, all of which are located in Shanghai, from Nanjing University and from the University of Science and Technologies China.On the German side, we have invited representatives from Albrecht-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin of course, Universität Karlsruhe, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Technische Universität Berlin, Technische Universität München and Universität Tübingen.It has been possible, as my list has shown, for Peking University and Humboldt-Universität to assemblethe leading research institutions of our respective countries with one mutual purpose: we are here to explore the common questions facing our institutions in the twenty-first century.

The idea for this conference was developed in 2004 in a meeting between the acting President of Humboldt-Universität, Prof. Juergen Mlynek, and the President of PKU, Prof. Xu, when they discussed ways to intensify research cooperation between German and Chinese Universities. The premises for their discussion was the realisation that there is a great deal the higher education and research institutions of our two countries can learn from each other if they jointly reflect on the common problems we face and develop a solid foundation for communication on these questions. The first Sino-German Presidents meeting successfully took place in May, kindly hosted and wonderfully organised by Peking University. The conference turned out to be a great success, not only on terms of the questions it answered and the contacts it established, but also because it transpired that well-established cooperation between Chinese and German universities already existed, which can be built upon in the process of furthering academic collaboration between China and Germany. You may wonder why, if the first conference answered many questions and if fruitful contacts already existed – why are we hosting a second Sino-German Presidents meeting here in Berlin? I believe that there are two answers to this question. Firstly, irrespective of the manifold contacts that already exist between our departments and scientists, it is crucial to cultivate the existing partnerships and to keep all our available channels of communication open if we want to create a sustainable process. For this reason alone, I am proud and honoured that it was decided that Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin should host a second conference. As I have already said, there is a second reason, however. The first conference revealed that both our countries are dealing with similar questions relating to the management of higher education systems in the twenty-first century. In this area, there remained many unanswered questions, which prompted us to consider the organisation of a second occasion where we can meet to continue the discussions that were begun in May. I am, therefore, happy to find so many representatives of the university management among you, and to welcome representatives from the German Research Association as well as the Chinese Embassy and the Berlin Senate, because these questions do not just concern universities, but also our administrative and political bodies.

At the May conference, the representatives of our universities were particularly intrigued by one particular topic, namely the question of creating “excellent” universities. The German representatives were eager to share their experiences of the “Excellence Initiative”, a project designed to fund graduate schools and clusters of excellence at German universities and to name Germany’s leading universities. Among us are representatives from the three universities who already won the title “excellent university” in September last year – I am speaking of the two Munich universities and the University of Karlsruhe. We are eagerly anticipating the results of the second round of the “Excellence Initiative”: on 19th October we will find out which graduate schools and clusters of excellence will receive funding from the German Research Association and which other universities will be able to call themselves “excellent universities”. When our German academics explained this process to their Chinese colleagues in May, they were surprised to learn that our “Excellence Iniative” bears strong resemblance to the 211 and 985 projects in China. It was this realisation that inspired the program of the second Sino-German Presidents meeting, as you will undoubtedly have noticed when studying the conference program. I am very much looking forward to an exchange of views and experiences regarding these projects and hope that we will learn a great deal from each other about the pitfalls and successes of these programs. Both our countries are embarking on entirely new territory in the urge to compete on an international level; the more we communicate about a successful management of this process, the better for research and teaching at our institutions!

But while it is an important focus, the excellence initiative is, of course, not the sole area for our discussion. There are other aspects of university management that desire our attention, and they form part of the second half of our program: One of our sessions will deal with doctoral training in order to highlight the important issue of training young researchers. Another session, part which I very much look forward to chairing tomorrow, will discuss the future of science and training and will deal with the very important issue of scientific misconduct.

Following these sessions, we come to another very interesting part of our discussions, which I hope will provide a lot of ground for future contacts and cooperation between all our universities on an academic level. I am referring to the project work groups, which will focus on the Life Sciences and Medical Sciences, the Natural and Engineering Sciences and the Humanities and Social Sciences. I consider our academic exchange in these areas to be an invaluable aspect of our meeting, and in order to explain what I mean, I would like to refer to one of the greatest German academics, the so-called “greatest Sinologist of his age” – I am speaking of Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz. Freiherr von Leibniz was no specialised scientist, he was a homo universalis, a polymath, simultaneously a philosopher, mathematician, physicist, historian and diplomat. He was also one of the first German academics to show a sustained interest in Chinese cultural history. His writings on China are currently being edited in Berlin at the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. In 1689, he discussed his interest in China with the Jesuit father Grimaldi. In their discussions, Leibniz developed radical new visions of a scientific transfer between Germany and China. Leibniz believed that such exchange of ideas should occur in all areas of academic interest – in culture and the Humanities as much as science. I refer to Leibniz at this point, because I believe that the final session of our conference is directed to fulfil his vision. It is a unique opportunity for knowledge transfer in all the research fields at Chinese and German universities, and we can show each other what we can learn from our respective traditions on the one hand and our innovations on the other.

To conclude, I hope that the next few days will provide us with a chance for interesting debates, for deepening the already existing ties and for opening up the potential ground for future cooperation. Above all, I hope that this conference will uncover many more unanswered questions and will provide the material for another Sino-German Presidents meeting.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Christoph Markschies
President of Humboldt-Universität

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