The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology – KIT for short – was formed in a merger of the Karlsruhe Research Centre and the University of Karlsruhe on 1 October 2009. As the result of the merger, one of the biggest scientific institutions in Europe came into being with the potential to occupy a top international position in selected fields of research over the long term. The KIT has caused something of an uproar in Germany’s research scene. The merger of a state university with a federally financed research centre has opened up completely new prospects.
The KIT’s first successes are already demonstrating its great potential. In late 2009 the KIT was voted one of Europe’s three “Knowledge and Information Communities (KICs)” by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). As a result, the European Union will provide funding of some 150 million euros till 2014. In addition, the KIT participates in two of the five top nationwide clusters announced by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in early 2010. The micro-system-cluster “MicroTec Südwest” (“MicroTec Southwest”) and the cluster “Softwareinnovationen für das digitale Unternehmen” (“Software Innovations for Digital Companies”) will each receive 40 million euros over the next five years.
The genesis of the KIT. In October 2006, the University of Karlsruhe won all three sponsoring lines (Graduate School, Excellence Clusters and Future Concepts) of the first round of the Excellence Initiative supported by the federal and state governments and was one of three universities to receive its status as an élite university. Its concept for its future development contributed to this success to a large extent. The central element of this future concept was the formation of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology together with the Karlsruhe Research Centre.
After the Karlsruhe Research Centre and University of Karlsruhe created the legal prerequisites for cooperation at the KIT in a cooperation agreement in December 2007, the federal and state governments gave the green light for the complete merger of both institutions into a corporate body in public law pursuant to Baden-Württemberg’s state law in February 2008. The basic legal conditions were
codified in its own KIT Merger Act, which the Baden-Württemberg State Legislature approved unanimously on 8 July 2009.
An administrative agreement signed by Federal Minister of Education and Research, Annette Schavan, and
the former Baden-Württemberg State Minister of Science, Peter Frankenberg, governs the inner functioning of the KIT in its relationships with the federal and state governments and in its future development.
This opened the way for the formation of the KIT on 1 October 2009. The KIT was formed as an institution with two missions – a state university involved in teaching and research and a research centre of the Helmholtz Society with a preventive research programme – and three tasks: research, teaching and innovation.
Research. Research at the KIT is based particularly on the abilities and knowledge of its scientific and technical staff. At the KIT the scientific staff have divided themselves into various fields of competence according to their specialities, which, in turn, have been combined into competence areas. This competence portfolio of the KIT is dynamic and will develop and take up new scientific questions (see Table 1).
While the competence portfolio is the basis of research at the KIT, the KIT centres constitute organizational units for combining research projects. They serve the thematic profile of research and strategic research planning at the KIT (see Table 2).
Teaching. At the KIT much importance is placed on teaching and encouraging new scientific blood. The joint competence portfolio expands the store of scientists and engineers available for teaching duties. Supporting new scientific blood at the KIT begins while students are completing their degrees when they are introduced early on to research and application-driven teaching modules in (major) research projects. Even doctoral students receive special support; they are integrated in an attractive and competent environment characterized by excellent research in small working groups through to research with large equipment.
Together with Prof. Dr. Horst Hippler, the author is one of the heads of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. As vice-president of the Helmholtz Association he has been responsible for energy research since June 2007. He was chairman of the executive board of the Karlsruhe Research Centre from May 2007 until the formation of the KIT on 1 October 2009.