25. October 2021

“Examples of perfect cooperation” “Examples of perfect cooperation”

President of Max Planck Society highlights cooperation with University of Bonn at opening of the academic year

This year’s ceremonial opening of the academic year 2021/2022 focused on “Excellence in Science and Research” as well as on “Climate Change and Disaster Management”. In an emphatic keynote address, Prof. Dr. Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, drew a connection between the successful cooperation with Bonn’s University of Excellence, the importance of foundational research for Germany as a research hub and the challenges regarding future innovation in German academia.

Stratmann opened his address stating that Bonn’s University of Excellence and the Max Planck Society had been close partners for decades. “Just think about the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, for example, which emerged from the University’s Institute for Astronomy, or the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics. Both are examples of perfect cooperation.” Four Nobel Prizes in the last two years and the Fields Medal for Bonn mathematician Peter Scholze were proof of the international standing German academia had, he said,
adding that this was above all due to excellent foundational research facilitated by universities and institutions such as the Max Planck Society . “The beginning of the Anthropocene era is marked by its very own challenges and approaches, which will require even more foundational research – including in the humanities.” Policy makers and society had high expectations towards academia, Stratmann continued, stressing the importance of mediation and explaining own assumptions.

Agency to drive innovation?
In a panel discussion on “Excellence in Research” following the address, Stratmann was joined by Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Michael Hoch, Rector of the University of Bonn. The panelists agreed on the high importance of promoting innovation in German academia, with issues such as furthering sustainable energies being long-term challenges. “Shouldn’t we establish something like an innovation agency that acts like the DFG in foundational research, promoting innovation with a high degree of professionalism and independent of the political environment?” Driving innovation should be facilitated by reallocating funds, however without taking away resources from foundational research.

Bonn-based mathematician and Fields medalist Prof. Peter Scholze emphasized that from a mathematical perspective, many questions still remained unanswered, with digitalization playing an increasingly important role. “Computers are already capable of formalizing proofs that are relevant in up-to-date research and of verifying all steps included up to the last detail.” He was looking forward to seeing the future developments in this area of mathematical research, Scholze said, adding that he himself still preferred working with paper, pen and blackboard. Professor Dr. Catharina Stroppel of the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics highlighted the special characteristics of Bonn’s Cluster of Excellence, noting that it covered the entire range of mathematical research. “We are now trying to compete with top universities in the US,” she said, adding that this was a new kind of challenge for the Cluster of Excellence compared to the situation right after the launch, when the focus was on creating general visibility for the Cluster. Now it was all about taking a stand, she stated, adding that appointments of researchers, for which the Cluster was already actively approaching female talent, played an important role.

“Each individual counts”
A second panel discussion concentrated on the highly controversial field of climate change and disaster management. Professor Dr. Xiaomeng Shen, Vice-Rector of the United Nations University Europe, pointed out that around 90% of significant disaster risks were due to the weather, adding that respective research was not only about the global context but also about local conditions. “Every country and each individual counts when talking about climate crisies.” Germany had already made a major contribution on a global scale, she said, however it was not only technology that was needed but a new way of thinking.

With regard to the latest flood in the Ahr region, Gerd Friedmann, president of the Technisches Hilfswerk, recounted that his organization had been one of the first responders. Never in his career had he seen a flood of this dimension, he said, adding that in addition to floods, extreme droughts were an increasingly important factor in his work. “Germany has a well-working disaster response with only a few aspects that leave room for improvement.” Germany was already in a good position, he added, even though the number of interventions was expected to increase in the future.

Sustainability is responsibility
With regard to sustainability, Prof. Dr. Annette Scheersoi, Vice Rector for Sustainability, stated that especially in light of its status as University of Excellence, the University of Bonn had a special responsibility to act. Resources needed to be used in a responsible way and societies made future-proof, she said. “We want to take this responsibility seriously by making sustainability an integral part of all areas of the University.” This was not only true for research and teaching, she said, but also for general operations. The University was already well-positioned, she added, citing TRA 6 (Sustainable Futures), the Cluster of Excellence Phenorob, the students’ Green Office and the Fair Trade University status as good examples. “Establishing respective governance structures will now facilitate an even better coordination.”

In a welcome address, Mayor Katja Dörner expressed her joy about the new academic year starting with a much longed-for return to in-person courses and events. “The University of Bonn is offering the best range of courses for students to follow through with their individual plans. For over 200 years, it has been clear that the founding of the University in our city was a very good and wise decision. Excellent academics, innovative research and its many students from Germany and abroad make this evident.” The city was proud to see Bonn among Germany’s Universities of Excellence, she added. “This reinforces Bonn’s position as an international city and strengthens its status as a region of cutting-edge research.”

Outlook for the academic year
“With the return to in-person courses and events picking up speed, students are able to resume university life,” Jonathan Andraczek, chairperson of the AStA in Bonn, stated in the traditional address from the students’ perspective. The pandemic had revealed social disparities, he said, especially regarding persons earning their living under precarious conditions who had to worry about their financial situation during the pandemic, including students. BAföG needed urgent reforms to remain able to fulfill its purpose, he stated. Uncertainties regarding legal regulations during the pandemic had also complicated studying during the pandemic, he continued, adding that it was now important to advance the digital infrastructure as a matter of priority to allow for more flexibility, even after the pandemic.

In the traditional outlook for the coming semester , Rector Hoch thanked Jonathan Andraczek and Kay Alexander Frenken as student representatives for outstanding student accomplishments during the pandemic. “Our students really went through great hardship for all of society – thank you very much for that.” He also expressed his gratitude to all instructors, deans, faculties and University bodies, emphasizing that the Excellence Strategy should remain the focus also amidst the pandemic. “Our goal of retaining all six Clusters of Excellence is, of course, very ambitious.” The Clusters and TRAs were all making good progress and had brought with them an incredible dynamic, Hoch said. “ By recruiting the best minds on all career levels, including students, we want to help talents unfold their full potential and contribute to global developments as a University of Excellence.”

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