Prof. Dr. Jörg Rüpke: The University of Erfurt – Reformist university with international orientation

The University of Erfurt is the youngest German University and simultaneously possesses a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. It was founded in 1392 as the third university in the territory which is now Germany. Closed in 1816, it was reopened in 1994. Since the be­­ginning of lectures in the winter term from 1999 to 2000, it has become a centre for university reform in Ger­many. Internationalization, multi-­disciplinarity, an intensive mentoring sys­­tem, new curriculum content and con­­cepts characterize its profile. The Uni­versity of Erfurt has built nu­­merous contacts with universities in other countries. For its “mentoring and integration concepts” for foreign students, the university (as the only German university) re­­ceived the German Employ­ers Associa­tion’s prize in 2001. Around 200 foreign students are currently en­­rolled at the Uni­­versity of Erfurt. Par­ticularly at­­tractive for these students are the internationally usual bachelor and master degrees with their accompanying course examinations. Also, the ad­­vantages of the campus university with its student hos­­tels, cafeterias and a modern, well-equipped library, six com­­puter pools and a language and self-study centre are all good reasons for deciding on an education in the Thuringian state capital. Further advan­­tages are the wide selection of courses in German as a foreign language, a three week preparation course for ex­­change students as well as a mentoring programme that en­­sures contact with Ger­man and international people outside the university. Added to this are manageable living expenses in a centrally located, culturally attractive and historically interesting city. The University of Erfurt maintains partnership relationships with universities in 35 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.


Unique humanities profile
Currently around 4,500 students are enrolled in the four faculties of the uni­versity. As the foundation faculty, the Faculty of Philosophy has the task of testing new paths of the cultural-scientific-orientation of the humanities and social science studies. This is reflected as regards to content and organizatio­n­­al design of the study courses in the offered fields of study: history, commu­ni­­cation, religious, literature, linguistics as well as philosophy. The fields of stu­dies law, economics, sociology and po­­li­tical science (the last two combined as social sciences) are offered in integrated courses in the Fa­culty of Econo­mics, Law and Social Sciences. The discipli­nes are so inter-related under the faculty umbrella that instead of the simple addition of specialist knowledge, a comprehensive knowledge can occur. The third faculty, the Educational Sci­en­­ce Faculty, is the integrated Er­­furt Uni­versity of Pedagogy. It offers the pedagogical fields of study with dif­­fe­rent focal points as well as the field of teaching/learning and training psycho­­l­­ogy.
The fourth faculty is the Roman Cath­olic Theology Faculty. The only training centre for Catholic theology in the new federal states looks back at a more than 50-years of tradition as an in­­dependent university. The currently a­­­round 200 students are enrolled for the diploma study course or a teaching-related course of study. A portion of these diploma students strive to­­wards priesthood.
The Max Weber College for Cultural and Social Sciences represents a distinctive feature of the University of Erfurt. The college, which is similar to a faculty, is a central facility for teaching and re­­search. It distinguishes itself through a special organization form that consists of the interlinking of the Centre for Ad­­vanced Study, research institute and graduation college.
Since 2002 the University of Erfurt is the first German university to offer scientific further education at the Erfurt School of Public Policy (ESPP) in the field of public policy. The study course, which is subject to charges, takes two years to complete with the Master of Public Policy degree (MPP) or with a certificate in public policy.
The Erfurt School of Education (ESE), as a central facility of the university, has since 2006 been responsible for the further development of teacher education, for school research and te­­aching research as well as further ed­­u­­cation and training.


Attractive study conditions
According to the ranking of the Centre for University Development and the we­­ek­­ly newspaper “Die Zeit” (The Times), the University of Erfurt received numerous top grades in different subjects.
The University of Erfurt is a campus-uni­­versity that was erected in the imme­diate vicinity of and at a favourable traffic connection to the city centre through the integration of the available building stock of the former Erfurt University of Pedagogy. The newly built modern library currently contains around 1,000,000 volumes. The “Amploniana” – the famous manuscript collection of the University of Erfurt of the Middle Ages – complements the mo­­d­ern book inventory of the university library. Since 1999 the Gotha Research Library with its 530,000 volumes also belongs to the University of Erfurt. At the end of 2002 the collection of the Jus­tus Per­thes Gotha Publishers was ac­­qui­red by Thuringia with the help of The Cultural Foundation of the Federal States. It is looked after in Gotha.
In 2005 the University of Erfurt was the first university in Thuringia to receive the “family-friendly university” certificate, which is a Hertie Foundation initiative. Through the certificate, the cre­­­ation of a family-friendly atmosphere on campus was given recognition. This includes, for example, flexible working hours, on-campus childcare possibilities, meals for children in the cafeteria, part-time study courses as well as the establishment of the only German “endowed professorship” in Family Scien­c­­es.


New graduate degrees for ­the European employment market
The University of Erfurt is a humanistic university with a cultural-scientific orientation and a reform mission for te­­ach­­­ing, the development of young tal­­­ent, continuous education and administration. The study of textual criticism and the action sciences are not always or­­ganized in separate areas, but rather combined together as cultural sciences. The reform mission forms a central part of the concept of the University of Erfurt, whose establishment and deve­l­­­opment consequently represents a con­­tribution to the reform of the German university system. The most important structural improvement in the course of this reform is the implementation and gradual development of a stepped study system, the core of which is a Bachelor of Arts (BA). The struc­­tural improvement goes along with a redefinition, as regards to content, of all the subjects taught in Erfurt. The objective of such a study programme is the pre­­paration of numerous non-specific professional possibilities through a scientifically based education. The BA de­gree provides the graduate the possibility of a profession beyond the scientific career. The Bachelor-Master system is shorter and contains numerous qualification possibilities, for the deepening of individual focal points and for further education – also after the BA graduate has first accumulated some work ex­­perience.
The subsequent first pillar of the Master degree (MA) after completion of the BA degree consists of study courses that deepen a discipline and/or al­­low for specialization in a particular scientific issue. These MA study courses are research-oriented. Only at this level does the professional specialization take place. These MA study courses are independent study courses as well as being the first part of the full postgraduate/doctorate study courses. The notion of employability is also found in the second pillar of the MA degree level. There are to be numerous scientific, but also application-oriented study courses offered with the objective of professional employment in a specific or wide-ranging business field. In the second pillar of the MA study course, practical training represents an integral part of the student’s education. The accompanying course examination system and individual mentoring gives structure to the BA-MA system and contributes towards the achievement of study goals. Both represent an important advantage of the stepped study system over the previous Dip­lo­ma and Magister courses.


In its thirteenth year of existence the University of Erfurt is now the only Ger­­­man university that has converted virtually all its study courses into the BA/MA model. In this regard the University of Erfurt is the leading university in the Bologna Process. The University of Erfurt is the first German university to integrate the traditional state exam courses into its consecutive study mo­­d­­­­­el according to the BA/MA example. This reform performs a structural im­­provement, but above all an improvement as regards content, of the education of the teachers. It also keeps the options for alternative professions open for the BA course students. The Univer­sity of Erfurt is going along a new course, and this is necessary, as is experienced almost daily in the general education discussion. The recently published re­­commendations of the commission of experts for “Science State of Thuringia”, insistently support this reform course: “Of all the universities of Thuringia, the University of Erfurt promises to be able to give the most notable contribution towards the development of Ger­man universities. For this the university requires the continued and sustainable support of the state” – as per the recommendations of the commission.

Strengthening of the research potential
Strengthening the university-based human sciences was a central concern of the University of Erfurt foundation. The therefore suggested establishment of institutionally supported organizational units for the promotion of long-term research focal points as well as the Max Weber College for Cultural and Social Sciences (as the central permanent institution with stimulus capacity for project-related research institutions and inter-university research cooperation) should from the outset be closely connected to the promotion of the new generation of academics. The structural prerequisites for the implementation of an interdisciplinary, focus-oriented research concept is particularly favourable at the relatively small Uni­versity of Erfurt with its concentrated range of disciplines. As the originally envisaged focus programme of the uni­­versity in various faculties has globalized and thematically developed, the preservation of existing and the creation of new temporary or permanent structures for research cooperation is es­­sential for profile construction and the competitiveness of the university.



In the face of ever-decreasing government grants, the task of the University of Erfurt of “university re-integration of re­­search” (Hermann Lübbe) is threatened and therewith also the teaching and scholastic excellence. Great significance is attached to the development of applicable internal university promotion ins­­truments and structures, in particu­lar with a view to third-party fundraising, if different units of the university want to build and strengthen the teaming up of focus program­mes, networks and other multi and trans-disciplinary research pro­jects or the co­­operation with other scien­­tific institutions. The focus of research struc­­tures and programmes is the promotion of individuals as the basis of university re­­search activity. The University of Erfurt especially (as the humanistic university of excellent individual re­­search) wants to develop the best possible or­­ganizational and ad­­ministrati­­ve develop­­ment platform. Pro­­file focal points are teaching research and teacher edu­­ca­tion; religion and cul­­ture as well as communication and media. The promotion of the new generation of academics is an indispensible element of development strategy in teaching and research.


Prof.-DrThe author studied in Bonn, Lancaster (Great Britain) and Tü­­bingen, where he also received his doctorate and did a postdoctoral lecture qualification. Since 1999 he has been professor of Compa­ritive Reli­gious Studies at the Uni­­ver­­sity of Erfurt. He was dean of the Faculty of Philosophy from 2004 until 2007. The Erfurt historian of religion has been en­­trusted with the interim leadership of the university as from 1 January 2008.