As an educational centre, Hessen has an established system of state tertiary education institutions and numerous efficient non-university research centres. In addition, private universities contribute to the variety in Hessen’s tertiary education landscape. The promotion of education, research and science as major investments in the future is one of the focal points of the work of Hessen’s state government.
The State Legislature has taken important steps to increase the autonomy of its universities and colleges by strengthening their academic and commercial independence. By making Hessen’s educational profile more distinct, emphasizing the differences in performance and developing areas of specialization, their ability to compete within Germany and internationally will be further enhanced and assured over the long term. Non-university research centres have been included to a large extent with a view to a strategic partnership.With the introduction of Hessen’s State Tertiary Education Act, Hessen is continuing the modernization process and improving the quality of its universities and colleges. It is giving its twelve state universities and colleges considerably more freedom and, at the same time, is offering a stable and transparent framework for them all to flourish. The guiding principle is regulate only that which requires decisions by the state government. For example, the universities and colleges are to be given the right to make their own promotions and to establish teaching and research professorships. The Tertiary Education Council is to be included in electing the Presidium and give its consent to structural and developmental planning.
The so-called “TUD Act”, which in 2005 gave the Technical University of Darmstadt more freedom and independence than any other university in Germany had ever had before, was extended by a further five years following positive evaluation as from 1 January 2010. Goethe-University in Frankfurt am Main was converted into a legally capable foundation under public law in 1 January 2008.
The second Tertiary Education Agreement, which was concluded in August 2005, gives universities and colleges planning security until 2010 and linked up with the first tertiary pact, which was in force from 2002 to 2005. Since the 2007 budget year, the trend in the state subsidy for tertiary education is linked to the development in tax revenues by means of state financial equalization. Negotiations on Hessen’s third Tertiary Education Agreement for 2011 to 2015 was concluded on much the same basis.
Besides the reinforced formation of strategic partnerships, the universities and colleges have undertaken to adhere to coordinated development planning as part of the Tertiary Education Agreement which are to give each university or college a specific profile which will make them more attractive in competing for students and funding. Further undertakings by the universities and colleges concern the full implementation of the Bologna Process and, at the same time, the conversion of the degree course systems to consecutive structures as well as the modularization of courses and examinations – not least in the interests of shortening the time taken to obtain a degree. A further essential aim is the even further-reaching implementation of internal and external performance review and evaluation processes with which the quality of education and research can be reliably assessed.
In 2009 expenditure on tertiary education in Hessen had reached a record 1.4 billion euros; the historic low was 1998 at 963 million euros. In 2007 the state government also approved the HEUREKA tertiary education development and conversion programme, covering complete physical refurbishment and concentration and extension of teaching and research in Hessen, according to which 250 million euros annually – a total of three billion euros – will be provided from 2008 to 2020 for the modernization of the physical infrastructure of the state universities and colleges. In a special state investment programme, projects costing 354 million euros between 2009 and 2012 will be given priority. In addition, other projects costing 187 million euros from the Konjunkturprogramm (economic stimulus plan) II, a renovation programme designed to improve energy consumption financed by the federal and state governments, will be implemented.
The annual investment rates will thus temporarily increase to 380 to 390 million euros. To implement the Lisbon Strategy, Hessen also started its own research promotion programme in 2008. The state programme LOEWE (State Plan for Developing Academic Economic Excellence) pursues the goal of permanently increasing expenditure on research and development over the long term, thereby bolstering Hessen’s research and innovative abilities over the long term. Due to its competitive concept and the volume of finance, this programme is unique in Germany. In the current legislative period up until 2013, the state will provide a total of 410 million euros for LOEWE with its three promotional areas. The selection process will be carried out according to the principles of academic excellence by a programme advisory council consisting of top academics and an administration board. One special feature of LOEWE is its permanent anchoring of initiated projects in the programme. State funding is to assist start-up financing to set sustainable emphases and to make the universities and colleges and the non-university research centres in Hessen better known. In the process, state political interests are not ignored. This also means cooperative projects between universities and the commercial sector in order to reinforce companies’ innovative strength and thereby to especially create future-oriented jobs.
To promote the transfer of knowledge and technology, the state government has initiated the TechnologieTransferNetwork Hessen (TTN-Hessen). In this programme, universities and colleges, business associations and technology and business start-up centres work closely together in order to support the transfer of technological know-how from the tertiary education sector to the commercial sector. The network will thus help reinforce the innovative strength of small and medium-sized companies.
And finally, the link between theory and practice also applies to entry to university or college. Through the dual study programme, in combination of tertiary studies at a college or vocational academy with a practical vocational apprenticeship or traineeship in a company, the state is giving to young people with university or college entrance diploma an excellent opportunity to take that important first step into a future working life.
The author was born in 1962 and has been Hessen’s State Minister of Science and the Arts since 2009. She studied law in Würzburg and Göttingen and after passing the Second State Teaching Examination, she worked as a lecturer and in Thuringia’s state public service. She was office manager for Kassel’s Lord Mayor from 1993 to 1995 and has been a member of Hessen’s state parliament since 1995.