When the former American Ambassador to Germany, Richard Bird, was asked to speak about his experiences in Germany, he expressed his astonishment at the Germans’ talent for listening to long speeches. Perhaps the Germans and other European nations have a little more patience and calmness than the rest of the world. Because of our long and rich European history, we need more staying power, but do not worry; I do not intend to deliver a long address.
One of the most important and influential intentions that came into existence in the Middle Ages through European genius was the institution of the university. The character of the European university was formed over hundreds of years. The first European universities came into being in the Middle Ages, in Bologna, Oxford, Prague, Heidelberg, Leiden, Parma and other towns. I think it is a fine coincidence that four of the first university foundations in Europe are represented in the Europaeum network. The university itself is the European Institution for excellence. It is the only European institution whose fundamental structure and social role have not only endured, but been expanded and strengthened over the course of its history. Of the three recognised powers of the Middle Ages in Europe, Imperium, Sacerdotum and Studium, the first – political power – has undergone significant change. The second, religion, has been able to preserve its structure in the Roman Catholic Church, but has lost its monopoly on salvation. The third, the university, in true fulfilment of the promise made in its name, has gained universal acclaim all over the world. It is distinctly European because it generates and distributes scientific insights and methods deeply rooted in the European heritage found in universities all over the world.
Compared to these venerable places of higher education like Bologna, Paris, Prague or Oxford, our university, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn, is quite a young foundation. Founded as an academy by the Cologne-Bonn Archbishop 225 years ago, and re-founded as a reform university by the King of Prussia and his minister Wilhelm von Humboldt in 1818, it should serve the distinct purpose of combining research and teaching, by leading the best students to the research projects of the best researchers. That is exactly what we have been doing successfully for the past 185 years, even under the most difficult circumstances of a mass university with almost 40,000 students. Bonn University’s alumni include famous scholars including a professor awarded the Nobel prize for economics in 1994.
With seven faculties, more than 700 successful PhD candidates, an annual expenditure of approximately €500 million, and more than €75 million in third party research funding, the University of Bonn is at the forefront of German universities. The seven collaborative research centres, 11 postgraduate colleges, and 6 special research and clinical research groups demonstrate that our university meets the requirements we have set for being one of the leading research universities in Germany. Furthermore, the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität is in an international location for studying and research: 14% of our students come from abroad, which is well above the average for German universities.
One of the main ideas behind European universities was to link teaching to research and this should be maintained in future. It is important to adjust European universities to new requirements and new challenges, but it is at least as important to maintain European advantages and achievements. A German writer once said, “Europe undoubtedly is a cradle of culture, but you cannot stay your whole life in a cradle.” We should be confident about strengthening our abilities in order to carry on competing with the best universities around the world and to set the standards and rules for being a top teaching and research university.
In this conference, we will have the opportunity to discuss the future of European universities and to exchange experiences and ideas in order to learn from each other. This conference, with its three core workshops, has again been made possible by the support of DaimlerChrysler Services and, on behalf of the Europaeum network, I would like to express our deep gratitude for their invaluable support.