Going forward – Strategic Partnerships as a Driver for Internationalization

Welcoming address by Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research,  on the occasion of the DAAD conference “Going forward – Strategic Partnerships as a Driver for Internationalization”

Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, Staatssekretärin im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
Cornelia Quennet-Thielen © Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung

Professor Wintermantel,

Professor PEI Gang (President of Tongji University)

Ladies and Gentlemen,


In an age of conflict and violence we easily lose sight of the fact that it is not only the international exchange of goods that is gaining speed, but also that of ideas. Mobility and exchange are on the rise. Knowledge is being shared globally. The necessity of joint solutions to global challenges is becoming ever more evident. This means that only those who engage in international cooperation can stay at the top of the science communities and economies.

The internationalization of German universities has made much progress in the past years. But much remains yet to be done. We have to go beyond the impressive dedication of a number of individual people. Frau Wintermantel has so aptly put it: We have to move from “incidental partnerships” to “intentional partnerships”.

That is why my Ministry, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, firmly believes in funding strategic partnerships and thematic university networks.

How can international exchange and international networking ensure the long-term success of higher education institutions and society as a whole?

The answer to this question lies in three key conditions.


The first and fundamental precondition is a strong science community and an appealing science system. The German science landscape is one of the world’s strongest research communities. The constantly rising number of foreign students and scientists is evidence of the attractiveness of the German science system.

Germany’s science and research policy is a major factor in this.

With the Higher Education Pact, the Federal Government and the Länder have enabled German universities to respond to the increasing number of students which has been on the rise for many years.

The Excellence Initiative is a programme of international renown and has injected new vigour into the German   science community. This is also the recent conclusion of the International Expert Commission for the Evaluation of the Excellence Initiative chaired by Professor Imboden. The programme has moreover stimulated international cooperation with German universities.

As you will all be aware, the Federal Government and the Länder are about to adopt a follow-up programme to the Excellence Initiative. Funding for cutting-edge university research will continue to take priority. The amount of funding will also be maintained. The agreement between the Federal Government and the Länder is tabled for approval at the Joint Science Conference (GWK) on 22 April, after which it will be referred to the Federal Chancellor and the Minister-Presidents (of the Länder) for adoption.

The non-university research institutions are a uniquely German feature. Max Planck Society, Helmholtz Association, Leibniz Association and Fraunhofer are internationally sought-after partners. With the Pact for Research and Innovation we guarantee these institutions an annual increase in funding and thus provide them with planning security. This is a prerequisite for excellent research.

Programmes for the promotion of research excellence can only have a long-term effect if higher education institutions and research institutions succeed in committing the brightest minds. We can help them do so by enhancing career opportunities and planning security for young researchers. My Ministry has subscribed to this very objective.

One important step was to amend German legislation on fixed-term employment of young academics. The amendment to the Fixed-term Academic Contracts Act came into force last month. The term of a contract will now depend either on the time it takes to gain the relevant qualification or on the funding period. This will put an end to the high numbers of short-term contracts.

In a next step, we will launch another joint programme between the Federal Government and the Länder in an effort to ensure the structural integration of tenure track positions as a reliable career option for professors in Germany. An agreement with the Länder will be reached shortly.

Now it is up to the universities to transfer these new measures into good practice. This is in their very own interest. Organisations that do not offer good conditions of employment will not be able to attract excellent staff.


The second prerequisite is the consistent promotion for the internationalization of research and science.

We aim to build bridges instead of unilaterally exporting our educational system and importing fee-paying students. We want to reach a win-win situation. This stance is appreciated around the globe. We rely on mutual trust, fruitful cooperation in research and teaching, and strong personal networks. We have to do everything in our power to bring the people and the institutions even closer together. Exchange can inspire change. This is true also in times of conflict and hardship.

Exchanging knowledge is one of the keys to Germany’s innovativeness and prosperity. Studies with scientists have shown that higher international mobility leads to more and better publications. The resulting international networks of excellent researchers are essential for creative and high-quality research.

Since 2005, my ministry has more than doubled funding for the DAAD and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH). Students and researchers now enjoy a greater degree of mobility than ever before. About one third of university graduates benefits from a stay abroad. That’s a fair number of students! At the same time, the Federal Government and the Länder want to ensure that even more people have this opportunity. Our goal is that 50 percent of German higher education graduates spend some time abroad in connection with their studies. And we aim to increase the number of foreign students to 350,000 by 2020. This target is part of the 2009 Strategy of the Federal and Länder Ministers of Science for the Internationalisation of the Higher Education Institutions in Germany. We have already come close to achieving this goal: The number of foreign students now stands at 320,000. It has doubled since the late 1990s.

Foreign students are an asset to German higher education and Germany in general. Many of them want to go on living and working in Germany once they have graduated. They are very welcome, in particular in the light of current demographic developments and the shortage of skilled workers. This is also true for well-qualified refugees and migrants. My Ministry assists them in the recognition process of their educational qualifications and supports them as they prepare for studying in Germany.

At the same time, international cooperation is becoming increasingly important for higher education institutions and science organizations. Cooperation ranges through to the establishment of transnational course programmes and universities: The German-Jordanian University is THE example of practical university education in the Middle East. The German-Turkish University continues to be an ambitious, yet worthwhile project. And the German University in Cairo is developing in the right direction. These universities are not only part of the solid foundation of German science & technology cooperation around the globe, but – as we can currently observe in the Middle East – also offer local students prospects for a future in their own country and take in foreign students who have had to flee their country.

Our commitment to internationalization at various levels is also aimed at kicking off reform processes in our higher education institutions. This is also the purpose of the German Rectors’ Conference’s (HRK) audit “Internationalization of Universities” which advises universities on the development of their own internationalization strategy. This way we help to give rise to a culture of welcome at German universities. A total of 80 higher education institutions have been audited since 2009.


The third requirement is an easy one to call: We need excellent intermediary organizations like the German Academic Exchange Service which not only promotes exchange but also keeps in touch and builds bridges in difficult times. The DAAD has been doing so for decades. “Brain circulation” is the buzzword under which we are now discussing the global circulation of good ideas, thought-provoking interpretations and new insights.

The recipe for success of the DAAD is its strong network which was the starting point for the “Strategic partnerships and thematic networks” programme. This programme comes at exactly the right moment. We are keen to see which ones out of the 21 projects in the first funding phase will be selected tomorrow to enter a second funding period until 2018.

One thing is for certain: We are not funding partnerships for the sake of the partnerships but to support the higher education institutions in advancing their work through international exchange and the researchers in gaining new scientific insights.

Alexander von Humboldt once said:

“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.”

Let us work together to enable as many people as possible to view the world and draw the right conclusions.

Thank you very much.