"Overcome rigid dividing lines"

Speech by Michael Meister (MdB), Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research, on the occasion of the conference Strategies Beyond Borders – Transforming Higher Education in a Digital Age in Berlin, 9 December 2019.

Strategies beyond borders
"I am delighted that higher education institutions already take up the biggest share of the first round of applications for consortia in the National Research Data Infrastructure", said Michael Meister. © BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel

Dr. Rüland,

Dr. Meyer-Guckel,

Professor Pellert,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since 2002, more of the world’s data has been stored digitally than in analogue form. As of 2009, more things or objects are connected to the Internet than people.

We live in a time of Big Data, in a time of digital transformation of the economy and society and of science and education.

Higher education is also undergoing this transformation process. You probably notice fairly frequently that this process is not as fast and not as smooth as would be needed for universities to act as the pace-setters of the digitalization of science and society.

Hochschulforum Digitalisierung – the German higher education forum on digitalization or HFD – and the German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, are pace-setters within the German higher education system. They are driving developments in their respective areas of activity.

I am therefore delighted that Hochschulforum Digitalisierung has organized its strategy conference together with the German Academic Exchange Service this year.

The title of the conference, “Strategies Beyond Borders - Transforming Higher Education in a Digital Age”, indicates the importance of strategies for shaping digital change in higher education.

I welcome the fact that the conference will not only discuss the need for higher education strategies but also experiences with using strategies.

Along with Hochschulforum Digitalisierung, my special thanks go to the state of Baden-Württemberg and of course the participating higher education institutions. You have all recognized and made use of the potential of peer-to-peer consultation on digital change in higher education institutions.

The current annual report of the German Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation found that Germany’s higher education institutions do recognize the challenges of digitalization.

But at the same time most of them still have a lot of work to do in order to deal with these challenges. This applies especially to how they deal with digitalization strategically.

The BMBF supports the higher education institutions in shaping digital change and pursues three guiding aims:

  1. to improve the quality of higher education
  2. to improve the capability of the higher education system, and
  3. to promote the internationalization of higher education institutions

In order to achieve these goals, the BMBF has introduced a wide range of measures that help the higher education institutions to shape their future.

With the Quality Pact for Teaching in Higher Education, the BMBF has provided an important stimulus for change in higher education towards a better quality of teaching and for digitally supported teaching and studying.

Well over half of the funded schemes implement measures related to these goals.

In particular, they involve assessment and exams, e-learning and blended learning as well as the organization of teaching and learning.

The funding provided by the BMBF for research into digital higher education has enjoyed ever-increasing demand since our first call for proposals in 2016.

The funding is aimed at promoting innovative digital teaching-and-learning formats and the structural conditions for these to be successful, and thus creates the necessary knowledge for higher education institutions to design formats.

We must make the knowledge gained widely available, so that all higher education institutions can benefit.

We are also currently devoting great efforts to establishing the National Research Data Infrastructure, the NFDI, and strengthening the preconditions for a better quality of higher education.

We are ensuring that we leverage the treasure trove of research data and secure it on a lasting basis, while also rendering it accessible. As such, we are furthering the digitalization of science and raising the quality of higher education.

Consortia that are open in terms of methods and disciplines will bring together existing data collections and services – and establish common, cross-cutting solutions and standards for the management of research data in Germany.

I am delighted that higher education institutions already take up the biggest share of the first round of applications for consortia in the National Research Data Infrastructure.

The Federal Government and Germany’s Länder (its states) are making an important contribution towards increasing the performance capability of the higher education system with the Future Contract for Strengthening Studying and Teaching in Higher Education.

When it comes into effect in 2021 it will be concerned with improving the quality of study, study conditions and teaching right across the higher education landscape.

On top of the basic financing of higher education institutions that is provided by the Länder, we have agreed that the Federal Government and the Länder will make available equal amounts of funds for the “Future Contract”.

This means that around 3.8 billion euros until 2023 and 4.1 billion euros as of 2024 will be available each year to enhance studying and teaching in higher education.

In this way, we are providing universities with long-term planning certainty as well as the basis for greater numbers of permanent contracts. The Federal Government and the Länder see this as an essential factor for improving the quality of studying and teaching.

Further measures to improve quality are possible. Before the start of the Future Contract, each Land will set out in a declaration of commitments what strategic approaches and priorities it will pursue in deploying the funds.

Digital learning programmes are available everywhere. This has consequences for everyday life at higher education institutions.

Students with diverse previous knowledge are making it into universities, and students are beginning to organize their own individual learning paths.

The rising number and the diversity of the digital programmes that are available mean that the quality assurance requirements of higher education institutions are also increasing. The same applies in the international context.

The call for proposals of the German Academic Exchange Service under its new “International Mobility and Cooperation through Digitalisation” programme was announced a year ago. It sent an important signal and reinforces the internationalization of higher education institutions.

Digital teaching and learning formats will be an integral part of transnational study programmes under this funding programme.

It will support teaching and administrative staff and students in higher education by providing them with the skills needed to use digital tools and processes.

The deadline for detailed proposals was two weeks ago. I am looking forward to finding out which innovative ideas will be implemented!

The digital transformation of our entire society poses a highly complex challenge. We don't simply want this change to happen to us. We want to actively shape this change ourselves.

The goal of shaping this transformation is of major importance to the BMBF. It goes far beyond the measures aimed at higher education teaching. This change aims at better administration services for students and higher education institutions!

This is made especially clear by the activities of the Federal Government and the Länder in adopting the Online Access Act and implementing the EU’s “single digital gateway” regulation.

These laws oblige the Federal Government, the Länder and the local authorities to offer their administrative services via citizen-oriented website portals available throughout Europe by the end of 2022. This includes, for example, the processing an international change of university place. This obligation therefore explicitly includes public higher education institutions and their administrations.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has assumed the lead in the field of education together with the state of Saxony-Anhalt.

For a pilot project, we have chosen the application process for financial assistance for students under what is known as the “BAföG” law.

In a ‘digitalization lab’, a digital target vision for a standardized BAföG online application for the whole of Germany has been developed. Now it is a matter of putting this into administrative practice.

Others can make use of the work of the BAföG digitalization lab – that is the point of a pilot project like this.

We have to take this further. Take the example of “digital credentials”, that is to say, the secure management of verifiable education certificates under the control of the user: These certificates include school, vocational training and university qualifications, as well as continuing education certificates and employment references.

Just think what this means for the process of changing universities or jobs. There will be no need for further verification of qualifications and references.

The value of digital certificates becomes even clearer if we consider this in the context of structural change towards digital learning and teaching.

It is clear that the digitalization of higher education institutions and the development of interoperable digital services for the support of teaching and research need our support.

The BMBF is committed to digitalization that serves the people: In the next three years, we will be investing 53 million euros in our flagship initiative “Secure Digital Education Areas”. In this way, we are improving education with innovative digital solutions right across the whole spectrum of education.

Under this flagship initiative we want to achieve secure online management of digital education data on a voluntary basis.

Learner-oriented ease of use, data security and authenticity in terms of protection against forgery should figure just as prominently as interoperability between institutions that issue or store digital credentials at the request of their holders.

Digitalization in the higher education system gives us the possibility to overcome rigid dividing lines between higher education institutions and between higher education institution administrations, as well as between students and lecturers, between teaching and research, and also between the different higher education systems.

The processes which will overcome these dividing lines are complex and will take time. You have a reliable partner in the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to support you in shaping these processes.

I call on you to make good use of the coming two days to network, exchange experience, and to develop new ideas!