Prof. Dr. Eberhard Umbach: Six areas of competence – six fields of top research at international level

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.


Foto_E_UmbachTogether 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.