zu "The Future of Higher Education in Agriculture and Related Sciences
3rd Conference for Agricultural and Related Sciences in Europe, Berlin, 7. May 1999
Sehr geehrter Herr Minister Fritsch,
President Karssen, Herr Präsident Meyer,
Magnifizenzen, Spektabilitäten, liebe Kolleginnen und Kollegen,
meine sehr verehrten Damen und Herren,
it is a great pleasure and honour for me to welcome you here on behalf of the Senate of Berlin and the governing major in the German Capital. I would like to wish you a very interesting and stimulating meeting. We are very happy that you have chosen the Humboldt-University at Berlin to arrange this conference. Such type of acknowledgement belongs to the important signals which publicly document in an evident manner that science and tertiary education in this city, and here in particular the Humboldt University, have now - after a very complex but highly successful process of restructuring as a consequence of the German unification - achieved a high world wide reputation in all important areas of studies and research - even in agricultural and related sciences: Since the casual observer may of course be slightly surprised that a city of 3.6 Million inhabitants, a completely urban installation, which at the same time is also one of the 16 German states (Länder) and thus constitutionally fully responsible for the structure and financing of its universities has such a renowned agricultural faculty.
You may want to see this from several perspectives: from a historical one connected with the development and former role of the Humboldt University. From a geographical perspective: here we have to view the two states Berlin and Brandenburg (which is essentially a rural state with all related problems and benefits) really as one unity - even though the people of Brandenburg when asked 4 years ago insisted on their independence and thus on two separate governments. The most important reason is of course scientific excellence: even if the public financial resources are very limited, we are convinced that there should always be sufficient financial support for truly excellent research and teaching - provided that we find ourselves able to opt for a rigorous way of evaluation and quality control in research and academic teaching and refrain from funding merely mediocre performance - even in fields which may be considered important (or rather: in particular in such cases). There is one more reason why the agricultural and horticultural faculty of Humboldt University is important for Berlin: the German capital needs scientific expertise and must be able to provide solidly based political advice to the federal government in all important areas which are of relevance in politics.
And there is no doubt that agriculture plays a key role in European politics. As you know, the political leaders of the EU-member states conveyed here in Berlin just some weeks ago and moved many important issues, agricultural politics being among those which are most difficult, most problematic and at the same time most important. Depending on whom one asks you can hear things have been moved but not really brought forward - that only very little - or some say even a lot has been achieved considering all aspects and difficulties by finally deciding on the Agenda 2000. Of course we cannot expect your meeting to solve all the open problems in European agriculture - especially so since most problems are really of financial nature and are deeply linked to national egotism which unfortunately has not fully been overcome in Europe at the turn of the 20th century.
But I am deeply convinced that science and academic teaching can play a major role in the process of growing together in Europe and in completing the European unity. I am thus not surprised but very pleased to see in your list of memberships that universities from almost all future member states of the EU are already an integral part of your organisation. Science and scientists have in the past always played a role as pacemaker in international co-operation and will continue to do so in the future. Consequently the lead-themes of your meeting are the important issues to be discussed. And clearly "Harmonisation of curricula in an integrated Europe" or "Post graduate studies and academic career" are presently themes of utmost current interest in all academic fields and constitute the essential basis of the reform process which is currently under way in all German universities and other institutions of tertiary education.
Among the key goals of reform which we want to promote in the sector of tertiary education (so called "Studienreform") and which the government of Berlin pursues together with its 3 universities, its 8 technical colleges and 4 art schools, internationalisation is one of the most important aspects. This involves several issues which have to be moved forward:
1. Further enhancement of international exchange of students, young scientists and academic staff, world wide but specifically so within Europe and in particular with the new democracies in the East.
2. Modularisation i.e. introduction or development of generally accepted standard teaching units in the spirit of the "European Credit Point Transfer System, ECTS".
3. Cultivation of foreign languages, not only by improving the language capacities of our students and that of foreign students studying in Berlin, but also by offering individual courses or whole modules of curricula in foreign language, typically but not necessarily in English.
4. Internationalisation of the academic degrees by introducing a transparent set of Bachelor and Masters Degrees which comply with typical standards established over the past decades in the Anglo-Saxon system - which also have become the basis of international standardisation of higher education (if one may speak of such a thing).
5. We do not at once want to fully give up our well established and - I am proud to say so - in many subjects highly esteemed systems of degrees and diplomas. But we want to open our system and support novel, more flexible and international compatible structures in our tertiary education system.
6. Gradual replacement of the traditional German system where academic studies and degrees have to be examined and approved by the state governments. Instead we will introduce accreditation of curricula and degrees through national or international agencies with the state only supervising this process - thus introducing a set of guaranteeing minimal standards which supports the mobility of students while at the same time flexibility and competition is stimulated.
7. Bilateral and multilateral co-operation between our universities with universities world wide is supported in order to establish specific curricula and to agree upon mutual acknowledgement of degrees or even issuing joint degrees in courses shared among the co-operation partners.
Ladies and Gentlemen, agricultural sciences are by their very nature interdisciplinary and of internationally orientation. The themes of your conference very clearly indicate that you will attack the issues which I could only briefly touch upon in an open and thorough manner. International, interuniversity faculty meetings such as this one are essential co-operative actors in the process of internationalisation of tertiary education in general. I trust that your meeting will make an important contribution to further promote the necessary evolution of the European education system and thus contribute to the completion of European unity and academic prosperity in the field of agricultural sciences.
I wish you every success and thank you for your attention.