’We can hold our heads up high’

In this interview with Kathrin Kottke and Norbert Robers, Michael Quante, Vice-RIn this interview with Kathrin Kottke and Norbert Robers, Michael Quante, Vice-Rector for International Affairs and Transfer, describes the close interconnection between Münster University’s Internationalisation Strategy and the other aims which the Rectorate has. © WWU - Peter Leßmann
The Rectorate of the University of Münster recently approved the new Internationalisation Strategy. The Strategy’s five central fields of action are "Research", "Teaching", "Partnerships", "Visibility and Profiling" and "Administration, Services and Infrastructure". Kathrin Kottke and Norbert Robers spoke to Prof. Michael Quante, Vice-Rector for International Affairs and Transfer, about the importance and the role of internationalisation for Münster University and about challenges and aims.

Why was a new Internationalisation Strategy actually necessary? Is Münster University lagging behind in this area?

No, certainly not. For one thing, there was already an Internationalisation Strategy in place when this Rectorate started its official business. That Strategy’s validity expired soon afterwards, so we took the opportunity of updating it. Also, we saw it as an occasion to coordinate the University’s Internationalisation Strategy with the other strategic aims which the Rectorate has.

Everyone would probably agree that internationalisation should not be an end in itself. So what is its function in your opinion?

On the one hand it is an instrument for increasing the competitiveness of this University - for example, in recruiting the ’best brains’ or in seeking third-party funding. On the other hand, we understand internationalisation to have an intrinsic value. The academic world is a networked world of international collaboration. The Erasmus exchange programme for students and staff, for example, serves this principle, and this possibility of intercultural exchange is a value in itself.

And what if the intrinsic motivation is not equally pronounced in all parts of the University? Or, to put it another way: how can we ensure that the Internationalisation Strategy is lived out everywhere?

None of us is naïve: we know that we’ll never have a 100 percent success rate. Practical experience shows us, though, that the majority of our researchers are very motivated and undertake a lot of international projects. Also, the different cultures pertaining to different subjects need to be taken into account. The lawyers, for example, will rightly emphasise that their main concern is to teach the German legal system. For this reason, our Strategy expresses a common understanding of Internationalisation and, at the same time, creates space for different activities. Internationalisation lives from the periphery.

Talking of the periphery: Cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Munich are enormously attractive for internationally sought-after researchers as well as for students. How can Münster compensate for what might be seen as a disadvantage in this respect?

By showing that it needn’t be a disadvantage at all. Münster University offers a wide range of subjects, and collaboration between the subjects is a living thing in our everyday life which is held in high regard - with both the Humanities and the Natural Sciences having excellent courses on offer. Last but not least, Münster is seen, with good reason, as one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. So we have no reason not to hold our heads up high.

Are these all arguments which can attract top international researchers to Münster?

What counts especially for researchers is the quality to be found among colleagues - and in this respect Münster is able to score in many areas. Whether we’re talking about Chemistry, Physics, Battery Research, the Theological Faculties, Planetology, our Clusters of Excellence or Collaborative Research Centres - here at Münster University we have a lot of big and small subjects, as well as research alliances with international visibility. From many trips abroad I know how well-known our University is, and the prestige it enjoys, in many parts of the world.

What are the greatest obstacles on the path to even stronger internationalisation?

Even though it’s not our responsibility, the University must - and will - make every effort in future to see that more affordable accommodation is created, especially for international guests, who often have even greater difficulties in the housing market than German people do. Secondly, we want to increase as quickly as possible the number of English-language courses we offer. But I’d like to point some more good things about Münster University...

... please do!

The International Office, the Graduate Centre and the Career Service provide an excellent infrastructure. Or just think of the ’Women in Research’ scholarship programme for international women researchers from the postdoc level upwards, or trial grants for undergraduates and PhD students - and these offers are very popular. For us, these programmes are very important because people taking part in them are highly suitable to act as ambassadors for our University in their home countries and make publicity for us.

Are there any regions which the University will be concentrating on in its ongoing process of internationalisation?

Let me say one thing first: Münster University has around 550 partnerships with scientific institutions on all continents. In other words, our internationalisation is global, in the truest sense of the word. Having said that, we do have focuses which will continue to be focuses on the future. For example, we have had a strategic partnership with the University of Twente in Enschede for many years now. The managements of both universities have now successfully implemented the Collaboration Grants funding instrument as an internal way of financing start-ups for the purpose of research collaborations between the two universities. At the same time, in this way we create potential for acquiring third-party funding. Another example of an internationalisation focus is Brazil. For more than ten years now, our Brazil Centre has been providing support for students and researchers in organizing stays and collaborations. As far as scientific activities are concerned, Münster is the most active university in what is, after all, the sixth-biggest country in the world.

Does internationalisation play any role in the University’s administration?

It certainly does. Step by step we’re increasing the role of English in the administration - for example with forms and service offers in both German and English. Also, all our administrative staff have the opportunity to take up internationalisation offers - for example in the form of internships at universities abroad. Last but not least, the International Office offers further training on intercultural communication and cooperation.

The Internationalisation Strategy is now down in black and white. Is that the end of the task?

This process will never be finished. The aims set out in the paper apply to the University as whole. The relevant catalogue of measures will continue long-term and be adapted to the requirements of the decentralized units such as faculties and research alliances. In my view, through the process involved in drawing up the Strategy we have developed a feeling of belonging together, being as one - a shared understanding of internationalisation. But in the case of internationalisation we need to think of progress in terms of periods of ten years, not ten months. We’re banking on careful progress everywhere through a long-term commitment.

This interview is from the university newspaper wissen leben No. 3, 19 May 2021

Many students dream of spending one or two semesters abroad. For academics, too, international exchanges are an important aspect for their careers and their personal development. Physical mobility is currently subject to severe restrictions. The International Office at Münster University nevertheless provides support to anyone who still wants to go abroad, or who wants to come to Münster University from another country.

Students who go abroad have to be well informed, because under the current corona conditions there are many rules which vary from host country to host country. Equally, at almost all universities abroad studies take place predominantly online. The International Office assists Münster University students in their preparations and offers an advisory service for stays abroad. The "Erasmus" and "PROMOS" scholarship programmes also allow individual planning, subject to special pandemic-related rules. For international students coming to Münster University, either for an exchange semester or for a complete study programme, the International Office provides bilingual information on the internet - for example on quarantine regulations and testing facilities. To help students network amongst one another, there are regular online chat cafés or joint "digital excursions", for example to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. In the so-called Buddy Programme, Münster University students provide support for all international students. This means that, even while they are still in their homeland, they can still learn more about Münster and their host university.

The Welcome Centre provides support for the faculties and departments hosting visitors from abroad, and it informs academics about Münster University’s regulations during the pandemic before they arrive. Since July 2020 the Welcome Centre has given international academics the opportunity to spend their quarantine in the guest houses. Onboarding takes place through individual Welcome Talks and online offers. So-called remote scholarships enable academics who are unable to come to Münster to undertake research in their home country and establish online contact with colleagues at Münster University.