October 18
Opening of the academic year 2023/24

The opening of the academic year 2023/2024 at the University of Bonn

Tremendous successes, major challenges

A status quo and outlook report on the University of Excellence as the 2023/2024 academic year begins

 The University of Bonn started the academic year 2023/2024 with the traditional ceremony, as the members of the Rectorate and the deans of the seven faculties greeted several hundred staff and students and numerous guests from the academic and business communities as well as policymakers and influential figures in local government in the main auditorium of the University’s Main Building. Eight Bonn University Ambassadors were on hand for the event as well, whose role is to represent Bonn as their alma mater vis-a-vis other universities around the world.

 The University of Bonn traditionally opens each academic year on October 18—the date of the institution’s founding. Alongside the ceremonial entrance and other traditional elements, the program included edifying academic talks and musical performances around the look taken at where the University of Excellence is right now, what its goals are and what challenges await.

 Solidarity with Israel

Rector Professor Michael Hoch commenced his remarks by considering crisis hotspots affecting the world: “The Russian Federation continues to wage a war of aggression against Ukraine, in violation of international law. And today we stand stunned by the attack on Israel by Hamas, in a deliberate and strategic use of terroristic violence against a civilian population.” Under the University Constitution, the institution was bound to work toward the aims of worldwide peace and democracy, he noted, which was why the University immediately took a public stand condemning the attacks in the strongest possible terms. The University had reached out by phone and in writing to its many friends in Israel, expressing its concern and solidarity. “We stand against anti-Semitism, terror, hatred, violence and war; we stand for peace, freedom and democracy. This is at the core of our identity today, and will remain so throughout the future.”


Record event attendance

 Professor Hoch talked about how event attendance was now vibrant again in the wake of the pandemic, observing how several thousand first-year students took part in the First-Semester Students Welcome event two weeks ago—record attendance, both on-site in the palace and live streaming. And in early July another record was set as 1,700 graduates from 70 different nations attended the Universitätsfest. The new Science Festival premiered the next day, which was attended by thousands despite the heat, featuring presentations, “hands-on science” and other insights into the work done by the TRAs, Clusters of Excellence and Vice Rectorates.[ST1] 

In his speech, Professor Hoch emphasized the importance of curiosity and a love of science and learning. Persistence, he noted, was also an essential trait for researchers, citing Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissmann as examples, who will be receiving a Nobel Prize in the field of Medicine for their contributions to the development of mRNA biotechnology as the basis for new coronavirus vaccines. It has been a rocky road for the two to receiving such recognition with the scientific community, as Professor Hoch commented: “It was ultimately due to the perseverance of these two researchers, who never gave up despite encountering resistance, that a way out of the global coronavirus pandemic was found, as the fruit of their crucial labors. Theirs is an incredible story,” he proclaimed, as a professional developmental biologist himself, underscoring the importance of basic research: “Scientific knowledge is not exclusively acquired in connection with a particular applied purpose. Often, it is not at all apparent initially what the practical benefit may be of newly acquired insights.” Research universities like Bonn played a key systemic role in science, conducting their day-to-day operations with this role ever in mind.

Rector Hoch noted a host of successes and awards earned by University of Bonn researchers, including securing third-party funded projects, top placements in rankings and prizes and funding received for outstanding research work. Addressing the development of the Cologne-Bonn Innovation Park, backed by the respective neighboring universities on the Rhine, Professor Hoch called it a “project of the century” in terms of its importance for the scientific stature of the region. “The vision here is to develop an innovation landscape, in collaboration with strong business and industrial partners. As an expression of excellence in science, innovative teaching and transfer through start-ups and entrepreneurialism.” The two universities, backed by the state government, had made great progress on this project in recent months.


Major progress on the Excellence Strategy

 Major progress had been made with regard to the University’s Excellence Strategy, as corresponding ‘excellence professorship’ positions had been filled, and the faculties and transdisciplinary research areas (TRAs) were exhibiting dynamic growth. In 2023 Bonn’s six Clusters of Excellence had again demonstrated splendid performance, which had continuing good prospects of landing funding despite tough competition. Additionally, outlines had been submitted for the formation of new clusters, the Rector noted, and confidence was high that the requirement for submission of full applications in February 2024 would be met. Cooperation with non-university partners had been institutionally ensconced, and further progress made in expanding the University’s international network.

Rector Hoch reported that considerable progress had furthermore been made on a matter close to his heart, namely that the official goal per the excellence proposal of reaching 30% female representation in the professorate by the year 2026 appeared to be within reach: “I am pleased to say that as of October 1, 2023 we are now at 29.2%! Attaining such a level used to be unthinkable for many, seeing how back in 2018 we were at only 19.2%. We are making such astounding gains in the area of equal opportunity and diversity; we are truly on track!” said Rector Hoch, concluding his remarks.


Funding studies still the biggest concern

 General Students’ Committee chair Janna Reif presented the students’ perspective on developments, noting how the problems students were struggling with were not new ones. Their biggest concern—now as in previous years—was financing their studies. A mere eleven percent of students received BAFöG student aid, which even at the maximum benefit level was insufficient for funding studies at Bonn, she explained. The one-time €200 defrayment for increased energy costs had quickly “evaporated” into nothing in terms of its impact, she continued, pointing out on the other hand how relevant communications processes had functioned smoothly at the University of Bonn, much better than at other universities. Reif called for rapid clarification of what the future of the student transit pass was now that the nationwide Deutschlandticket existed, as government and the transportation authorities had been playing “ping-pong” with the issue in terms of taking charge and making a decision. Reif then expressly thanked University management for their support, saying: “Student concerns are always a high priority for the members of our Rectorate!”


The “Wonders of Science”

 Carlotta Grünjes and Tristan Peña Hoffmann of campus radio bonnFM hosted the event, which included a panel discussion on the topic “The Wonders of Science,” including the use of high-tech equipment in exploring the past. Five researchers from different fields at the University talked about their methods in relation to research objects they brought along for the presentation, like skulls and a virtual 3D model of the crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Professor Birgit Ulrike Münch, Vice Rector for International Affairs, introduced the eight Bonn University Ambassadors in attendance, whose role is to represent the University of Bonn in their respective countries around the world as individuals with close academic and personal ties with the institution. The ambassadors’ remarks made clear the importance of international cooperation and networking for science in general, and for the University of Bonn in particular.

The event atmosphere was buoyant thanks to performances by the Jazz Choir, the International Choir, the Collegium musicum and the Campus Brass ensemble of the University of Bonn Music Forum. The event was simultaneously interpreted into sign language and into English.

Event recording

Rectorate and Deans 2023
Rectorate and Deans 2023 © Barbara Frommann / Universität Bonn

History and tradition

The gown, beret, chain of office and scepter have always played a central role in the formal opening ceremony.

student moderation of bonnFM
student moderation of bonnFM © Barbara Frommann / Universität Bonn


Here you find the program schedule for the opening of the Academic Year 2023/24.

Vice Rector for International Affairs, Prof. Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch
Vice Rector for International Affairs, Prof. Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch © Barbara Frommann / Universität Bonn

Award honors

The winners of the State Prize and the DAAD Prize will be honored this year during the International Days.

Rektor, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Michael Hoch
Rector, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Michael Hoch © Barbara Frommann / Universität Bonn

Review - Image gallery and event recording

On October 18, 2022, the University of Bonn kicked off the academic year 2022/23 with the traditional ceremony marking its foundation day. You can find the recordings here.


Team Eventmanagement

Mail: akadjahr@uni-bonn.de

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Daniela Hüll

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Sandra Gesell

The opening of the academic year is supported by:

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