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"We must offer first-class research and teaching"

An interview with the future HU President Sabine Kunst

Sabine Kunst
Sabine Kunst
Figure: Mark Wagner

Ms Kunst, the Board of Trustees of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) has confirmed your appointment as the university's new president today. Congratulations. When will you take over your new position?

First of all, I would like to use this opportunity to once again express my thanks for the confidence placed in me – being elected President of the Humboldt-Universität is a great honour! As yet, I can't give you an exact date; however, I will certainly take up my new post for the summer semester.

What appeals to you most about this new challenge?

Tackling these challenges together with the university members, and maintaining and strengthening the already very good position of the Humboldt-Universität in the national and international academic arena even further – I'm really looking forward to that! The Humboldt-Universität, centrally located in Germany's capital, has an impressive history and a huge and fascinating future potential. In a joint effort with the capital's other universities and research institutions, I intend to focus on making Berlin an even more important international science and research location.

Berlin enjoys an excellent reputation globally as a research, development and spin-off location. How much did this fact influence you as a research manager and politician?

Working in and around the German capital is incredibly inspiring. There are always new scientific developments, and plenty of creative and critical thinking. As a science policy-maker and research manager, you can experience the results of your commitment to various issues in many places, and first-hand. This concentration of universities and non-university based research institutions is a magnet for people from all over the world, and it forms the basis for an incredibly dynamic environment. Research networks and the transfer of research to the economy benefit the region. One of my key concerns is to improve the links between these areas and their potential.

What do you particularly associate with the Humboldt-Universität?

The Humboldt-Universität is a unique and fascinating science and research location in the centre of the German capital. Its broad spectrum of disciplines and research that sets international benchmarks are a huge bonus for Berlin. Future knowledge is gained and taught at a highly attractive location with an amazing history.

How are you going to incorporate the experience you have gained over many years in Hanover, Bonn (DAAD) and Potsdam at the HU?

One of the most important jobs of the governing bodies of higher education establishments is to represent their interests in the political arena. In that respect, being familiar with the structures and decision-making procedures is quite useful. Vice versa, there are also aspects which society in general and in particular politicians would maybe like to see addressed, for example the lack of suitable qualified professionals and knowledge transfer, that are possibly not always taken on board to the desired extent by scientific circles. I am capable of doing so and want to act as a mediator between these different worlds.

How will you prepare yourself for your new position over the next few months?

The most important thing for me is to continue the various dialogues I have already initiated with the university members in order to begin as I mean to go on. Usually, a host of practical issues need to be addressed first of all. The next few months will also be a period of transition for me. Until I leave for the HU, I can be expected to and indeed intend to do my job for Brandenburg as well as I possibly can.

The HU is currently discussing three major challenges: the application for the next Excellence Initiative, the administration reform, and the continued reform of the faculties. What objectives and measures will you contribute when you start?

The preparations for the Excellence Initiative have the highest priority. The Humboldt-Universität has made a huge leap forward with its Institutional Strategy, Clusters of Excellence and Graduate Schools. This applies above all to the establishment of interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research opportunities, like the Integrative Research Institutes.

More than just funding and the university's reputation depends on the success of the Excellence Initiative; it also affects the realignment and advancement of research concepts, collaborations and structures. At the same time, the funding negotiations with the Berlin Senate are imminent. We need sensible framework conditions for studying and teaching. Urgent and important challenges such as, for example, study opportunities for refugees or the ongoing implementation of the university-led teacher training reform must have a firm footing. Both of these issues are hugely important for Berlin. The third aspect is digitalisation. This is an issue which affects all disciplines. In this context, I am hoping for close cooperation both within the university and with other higher education establishments.

What are the issues you would like to raise with the HU University Senate's individual commissions?

The Humboldt-Universität is a university with a culture that depends greatly on successful dialogue. If at all possible, everyone should be allowed to have some input when it comes to fundamental decisions; the standing commissions and faculties are given a wide range of opportunities for participation. This is one of the university's strengths; it promotes identification with the institution and the development of a sense of community. I am particularly interested in certain issues, such as quality assurance in teaching or the promotion of young scientists. However, above all I also want to include the input received by the committees. Of course there will always be issues that certain groups are particularly interested in. As the President, I am willing to lend an ear. 

What can the university's largest group, the students, expect from you?

The students are central. An excellent university must strive for research excellence as well as first-class teaching. For me, this includes advising the students as best we can during the various stages of their studies – meaning, at the beginning, support in the form of helping them to acquire additional necessary qualifications; then ensuring that their courses are properly structured and that the teaching is of a high quality as they progress in order to improve their success, and also addressing the question of the various career paths which their studies will permit them to follow. In addition, I am also interested in the further promotion of internationalisation, and helping students to spend some time studying abroad, for example. And not least, I consider the university to be an environment for societal discourse. All of the university's members benefit from that. I also intend to intensify the relationship between the public and the university through this.

Further information

Press release: Sabine Kunst Elected President of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Press contact

Hans-Christoph Keller
Spokesman of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Head of Press and Public Relations Office
Tel.: +49 (0)30 2093-2946