To mark the first Humboldt Day on 30 January at the University of Münster, Prof Hans-Christian Pape, president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and researcher at Münster University, talks in this interview about international academic mobility, the University’s Research Alumni Strategy and the importance of the financial support provided by the Humboldt Foundation.
Why is international academic mobility and cooperation important in today’s world?
Dialogue and exchange are more important than ever today in a world which has many conflicts but which at the same time is moving ever closer together. Personal relationships and networks such as those promoted by the Humboldt Foundation can play a significant role in this process. One consequence is that scientific exchange becomes a means of diplomacy and ‘soft power’. Trust, freedom, peace and good livelihoods for everyone: these are the aims to which ‘Humboldtians’ all over the world are committed. They have an impact not only through the research they do, but also through the key positions they hold in other fields. In this way, they can make a difference as facilitators not only for progress of a scientific nature, but for political and social progress too. In our network, the awareness of the responsibility of this role is very widespread and is an integral part of people’s lives in a great number of international collaborations. Academic work enables people to experience just how worthwhile cross-border collaboration is. In addition, you can better understand other people’s point of view. That’s always worthwhile.
To what extent can the University’s Research Alumni Strategy (RE.Al) boost Münster as a location for research marketing? How would you assess the role played by Humboldt alumni?
The RE.Al Strategy is an important component in Münster University’s research marketing. It has implemented some outstanding measures supporting Münster’s international visibility as an excellent location for research and thereby enhancing its reputation. It all begins with good advisory services for visiting academics. The University’s Welcome Centre provides information and support, during all stages of their stay here. The aim is to provide optimal working conditions for top-level researchers, and to make them and their families feel home in their new environment. Research alumni can return to Münster at a later date, and also bring junior researchers with them, through so-called reunion grants and ‘Senior brings Junior’ programmes. This results in long-term ties and long-lasting cooperation. All over the world, selected RE.Al Münster University Ambassadors promote Münster as a research location, which represents valuable networking on behalf of the University. Setting up the RE.Al Strategy was made possible not only by means of a project on, but also through the decisive role played by individual Humboldt alumni in putting the strategy into practice. Currently, four out of the five Münster University Alumni Ambassadors are Humboldtians.
How important is funding provided by the Humboldt Foundation in a university’s overall third-party funding portfolio?
The value of the funding programmes of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is not simply measured as a percentage of the total third-party funding portfolio of a university. At Münster, for example, this is in the range of five percent. The young academic talents and junior researchers coming to German universities from all over the world as Humboldt scholarship holders make an enormous contribution to internationalization. They will be part of the international network of the University all their lives. Experienced researchers and award-holders from the Foundation also bring contacts with them from their large global networks. The Alexander von Humboldt professorship attracts international top researchers to the universities. They bring international research teams, they attract excellent researchers from all over the world, and, in the process, they often cross traditional borders between disciplines and challenge entrenched structures within faculty organizations. In other words, they provide stimuli of inestimable value at whatever university they are at, and they contribute not only to further developments in top-level research, but also to internationalization. Also Münster University profits from this promotion of excellence. It succeeded in attracting to Münster the world’s leading Jewish Studies scholar, Prof Katrin Kogmann-Appel, as an Alexander von Humboldt professor. The mathematician Michael Weiss accepted an Alexander von Humboldt professorship at Münster University in 2012. He stayed as planned, and his internationally renowned expertise in algebraic and differential topology is indispensable for the excellence cluster in mathematics. Among the junior researchers, there are currently no fewer than three Sofia Kovalenskaya award-winners at Münster, all contributing to the University’s reputation with their international research teams.
Researchers at Münster University can register for the first Humboldt Day on January 30 at support.academics [at] uni-muenster (p) de