When the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena celebrates its 450th anniversary in 2008, it can for three reasons confidently look to the future: firstly, the university begins with a rich tradition that has ensured repeated European, or rather worldwide flair; secondly, it is situated in the centre of a technology and innovation region that counts to the most dynamic in Europe and thirdly, it has, since its reconstruction after the German reunification in 1989/1990, consistently followed a quality-oriented appointment policy. This policy has, in the past years, made a concentrated focal-point-education possible without abandoning the wide classic academic subjects in research and teaching. In this way the massive challenges of the past years – the Bologna Process with serious interferences in the fully-grown German educational system, the tightening of the competitive situation through the excellence initiatives as well as the re-alignment of university leadership and management structures through the university legislation – could be successfully counteracted.
At Candlemas in 1558 the academy in Jena, which originated directly from the reformation, was given imperial recognition as university, thus becoming the leading stronghold of the German spiritual locations. The names Herder, Wieland, Goethe, Schiller, Fichte, Hegel and Schelling speak for themselves.
In the 19th century it was the natural scientists that generated “those second blossoms” that stood until the end of the Weimar Republic: Ernst Haeckel unlocked the relationship between organisms and their environment with the term “Ecology” in biological research. The university mechanic Carl Zeiss, the physicist, entrepreneur and social politician Ernst Abbe and the glass chemist Otto Schott laid the foundations for the symbiosis of university basic research, industrially utilizable innovation and quality-oriented production that has since then distinguished the Jena location. The industrial assembly of microscopes, the Carl Zeiss Foundation, constructed in 1902, the planetarium built in 1925, the future-oriented social policies of Abbe were successful milestones, of which more followed: the discovery of the EEG (Hans Berger) and the very-high-frequency radio (UKW-Funk) of Essau, the establishment of a medical technology laboratory by Schott, the industrial Penicillin production made possible by Hans Knöll after the Second World War, and others.
A technology and innovation region
With all its recognition beyond the Thuringian borders, the university has – always understood as a state university in its history – accepted a specific responsibility, in research and teaching in all its faculties, for the development interests of the region. So the university is a crystallization core and the motor for the technology and innovation region Jena, whose vitality found international attention in the recent past. The economist spoke of “reincarnation valley” (2006), the “Der Spiegel” of “The Munich of the East” (2007).
The university primarily makes a contribution to regional development through a wide, qualitative selection of study courses, by which qualified graduates for the whole spectrum of academic professions are educated. In particular, the university thereby attaches high value to teacher training, as becomes clear through the establishment of a centre for teacher training and didactic research. The significance of further education is also increasing. Student internships at companies, authorities and institutions in the region are, like degree dissertations, often the first step towards an occupational appointment. Cooperation takes place in numerous ways: from examination papers about questions addressed to the university by the business world to cooperation projects of individual professorships with commercial enterprises up to cooperation in economically and scientifically connected clusters. Their significance in the modern scientific-based society is rapidly increasing so that the university makes a consistent effort towards regular and intensive contact with the regional economy.
A not to be underestimated contribution towards the interlinking of the university and the region as well as the enhancement of the innovation potential at the location is made by the numerous spin-offs, whether from the university or other research institutions. These are significantly supported by the educational and coaching activities of the Economics Faculty as well as through the agency for research promotion and research transfer that was developed as a “one-stop-agency” for start-up advice for the entire university. Spin-offs are of strategic importance to the Friedrich Schiller University: they strengthen the technology region, increase the demand for qualified graduates, intensify the research association of industry/academy and make the university attractive for new students, postgraduates and professors. Herewith the synthesis of basic research, application-oriented research with leading positions in patent registration and industrial conversion is consistently continued in the tradition of Abbe and Zeiss.
focal point education
After the German reunification the university combined its reorganization with the ambitious objective of again ascending into the premier league of European universities. The restructuring into ten faculties, building sanitation measures, the reconstruction of a lean albeit efficient administration, one of decision-inhibiting rituals of the group university to a free structure of academic self-management, – all these helped to create favourable and stable conditions for a constant upwards development in research and teaching. A further important factor was the settlement of research institutions of the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association and the Fraunhofer Society on the currently booming Beutenberg campus. The most important future-positioning factor is however seen in a quality-oriented appointment policy combined with the targeted promotion of young talent. The best minds for Jena – that is and remains the location strategy of the university.
The university, in cooperation with research institutions in Jena and the region, strives for top positions in Europe in five specific research areas: photonics, new materials, biotechnology, as well as in the research focal points “science and cultural patterns” (humanities and social sciences) as well as “individuals and social change” (social sciences and economics).
These focal points do not constitute a “rigid corset”, but rather a framework for dynamic interaction between the different research fields.
On this basis the university is well-equipped to master the most important present-day challenges:
The realignment of educational structures as intended by the Bologna reform was addressed through the conversion of 80 per cent of the study courses into the Bachelor-Master format. Now the new structures should be moulded so as to be compatible with the academic educational function of the university, the advancement of international agility as well as the relaying of extracurricular key qualifications. For this the university started a teaching initiative in 2007/2008. In the fostering of scientific young talent the university has taken a step in the direction of the European benchmark for excellence by establishing a postgraduate academy (2006) for a structured doctoral education. The concentration of focal points in research enables, in its cross structure, quick building of networks, which strengthen the competitiveness of the university and the triad of inter-faculty, inter-institutional and international cooperation that accentuates the identity-building innovation force of the Friedrich Schiller University.
The realignment of the leadership and management structures strengthens the autonomy of the university through a balanced united stronger body and a strong administration through a leaner structure and flat hierarchy.
The university is on the right track to continue the leadership position beginning in the 20th century.
The author was born in 1953 and studied politics, history, catholic theology and philosophy in Marburg and Tübingen. After his graduation and post doctoral lecture qualification he taught at the Freie Universität Berlin and in Mainz. The professor for “political philosophy” is the rector of the Jena University. Since 2006 he has also been the Vice President of the “German Rectors’ Conference”.