Welcome to the Conference
In light of the continuing pandemic and its day-to-day impact on teaching and university operations, the choice of theme for this year's Annual Chancellors Conference is a logical one. The conference theme also offers excellent connections with the two previous annual conferences in Saarbrücken and Bayreuth.
Ideas and perceptions about the digitization of study programs and future work have found their way into universities much earlier and to a much greater extent than anticipated. Instead of being a distant dream of the future, the comprehensive digitization and flexibilization of study programs is now a reality. A differentiated review of the requirements, framework conditions, and effects of remote working has become necessary faster and with even greater vehemence.
As chancellors, we are responsible for providing optimal conditions for academic operations, but at the same time, we must act according to a tight legal and financial framework. Dealing with this tension and the perspective of how we want to deal with such crises in the future form an ideal starting point for a successful conference.
Dieter Kaufmann, Chancellor of Ulm University
Federal Spokesman of the Association of Chancellors of German Universities
What have we learned from the coronavirus pandemic? What will change in the future? What will stay the same? These are the questions the chancellors of German universities are addressing at their annual conference – this time a virtual event. There is much to talk about here: the role of science in the pandemic and about how advances in digitization have changed, and will continue to change, teaching, research, and administration. Another relevant topic is how research and teaching and the university system as a whole, as well as science itself, have had to prove themselves and continue to do so.
One answer is already clear to me: you, the chancellors and the universities, have reacted quickly and wisely in the pandemic. You took advantage of the huge digitization push by converting almost everything to virtual formats ad hoc and providing the necessary technical infrastructure and equipment. With this rapid response, the universities have fulfilled their mission for teaching and research in an exemplary manner despite this unprecedented challenge. You can be proud of this.
Equally, it is now important to draw the right conclusions from what has been achieved. Digitization must not stop at quick emergency solutions but must be consistently developed and strengthened. It will be a matter of thinking in both digital and non-digital manners at the same time in order to link virtual formats and in-person offerings in a meaningful way that is also of a high quality. Cross-university structures in the areas of study and teaching, research support, administration, and digital infrastructure, as well as in IT, particularly when it comes to joint resources, can create valuable synergies here. Last but not least, this change also gives rise to a greater responsibility toward all members of the universities, who must be prepared and supported on this path with their respective digital competencies.
I am sure that the conference will provide valuable impetus on these and other topics.
Minister for Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia
Coronavirus is clearly showing us: Many new things are possible that previously seemed unattainable. Serious changes are possible in a short time if everyone participates constructively. We have more possibilities. Virtual participation formats have been created and tested. A mix of virtual and face-to-face interactions is the concept for the future. The aim is to combine the best of both worlds and redesign learning.
Studying is not just about imparting knowledge; students also perceive their university as a social and individual living space. Campus life is awakening – contact with fellow students, lecturers, joint events, meetings with friends – everything that makes up a student's life.
Teaching is adapting to the new circumstances with virtual offerings and often innovative approaches. This also has positive effects. Students are developing a higher level of self-organization more than ever before. Teaching concepts are being revised. Not everything, but many things need to be put to the test. We are all learning from coronavirus and this flows into university teaching.
The chancellors of Germany's universities are meeting in Aachen this year. We are proud of this and hope this event will be one of deep, constructive exchanges.
Lord Mayor Sybille Keupen
This 63rd annual conference should actually have opened new horizons for the developments of our universities with the theme of research landscapes, and we were really looking forward to personally welcoming you to Aachen on the occasion of RWTH's 150th anniversary.
Then the pandemic came, and COVID-19 created a ghostly void where thousands of students and employees usually contribute to a very lively atmosphere on campus. Research activities were able to continue under difficult conditions, but the campus in Aachen – like everywhere else in the country – was largely deserted. Most teaching was in front of a camera, while most learning was at home in front of a computer. At best, not in quarantine.
With many vaccinated, life will return to our colleges and universities. And that is a good thing. But what will be different? What will be the same as before and what has already changed for good? These are the questions we will discuss with you at this – now virtual – conference.
The new normal has begun, we will shape it. We look forward to the impetus we will develop together with you in Aachen.
Univ. Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Dr. h. c. mult. Ulrich Rüdiger