History and Significance of the Council of Science and Humanities

The German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) was founded on 5 September 1957 by the Federal Government and the States (Länder); it is Europe’s oldest advisory body for academic policy. To quote the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, on the occasion of the signing of the administrative agreement on the establishment of a Wissenschaftsrat, it was "the first time that an institution has been created that is intended to provide a general overview of academic work in the Federal Republic of Germany and put forward proposals to the Federal and Länder governments for the advancement of science and the humanities."

In retrospect, there have been at least three individual phases of science policy development since the end of the 1950s in which the Wissenschaftsrat has played a decisive role:

In the 1960s and 1970s, the central task was initially the development of the academic system and of higher education in particular. There followed a phase that was dominated by academic and higher education reforms – with a simultaneous reduction in funding.

During the phase of the German Unification, the Wissenschaftsrat laid the foundations for the establishment of a dynamic academic landscape in the new federal states. It evaluated the majority of the non-university establishments of the GDR and produced an extensive catalog of recommendations for the future structure of higher education in the new federal states.

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the importance of research, technology and academic education is undisputed – from an economic, industrial and employment policy perspective as well. Overall, the number of students at German universities has increased eight-fold during the last four decades, with a corresponding increase in the number of professorships. In addition to this, a diversified sector with numerous non-university research establishments has evolved. At the same time the academic community finds itself confronted with a series of demands:

  • to increase the efficiency of research and teaching (whilst having to cope with stagnating resources), amongst other things through the sustainable reform of institutional structures;
  • to strengthen international competitiveness in an environment where knowledge creation and transfer is becoming increasingly globalized;
  • to optimize the innovative capacity of the academic system through improvements in collaboration between publicly financed research and commercial enterprises and through closer international cooperation.

Evaluation of the “Geisenheim Plan” – “A new type of Higher Education Institution (Hochschule)”

In the years 2006 and 2011 the Wissenschaftsrat produced two policy documents on the differentiation of higher education institutions in Germany. Whilst in 2006 the recommendations were limited to the future role of the universities within the academic system and focused mainly on research achievements (excellence initiative) as the key differentiation process, in 2011 it was the diversification of the higher education system as a whole, with all its core functions, which was examined.

In its report, the Wissenschaftsrat notes that, in principle, “the basic typological differentiation between traditional universities and universities of applied sciences which dominates the German higher education sector is still considered appropriate”, but at the same time it calls for the development and creation of new organizational structures and new types of higher education institution.

In 2011 the recommendations of the Wissenschaftsrat were incorporated into the “Geisenheim Masterplan” for the establishment of a “New Type” Hochschule and adjusted to meet the specific local conditions. This development was triggered in 2010 when the State of Rheinland-Pfalz terminated the state agreement for the Geisenheim Research Institute, a move which prompted those involved to question structures and the facility’s orientation and which also called for new strategies.

With its political decision on 05.12.2011 to create Germany’s first “New Type Hochschule” following the recommendations of the Wissenschaftsrat, and at the same time to commission the Wissenschaftsrat to evaluate the plan for the establishment of such an institution, the State of Hessen was entering uncharted territory. The reuniting of research and teaching at Geisenheim through the merger of the Research Institute with the Geisenheim faculty of the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences (something the Wissenschaftsrat had called for as far back as 1982) is only one step on the road to achieving the goal of this “new” type of Hochschule.

The extended plan for the foundation of a new higher education institution, which served as the basis for the evaluation, essentially provides for the creation of a “hybrid institution” combining typical ‘university of applied sciences’ Bachelor’s degree programs (five at present) with university-oriented Master’s degree courses (six at present) and which has the right to confer doctoral degrees. In this new institution the aim will be to achieve parity between research and teaching as well as creating a theme-based type of Hochschule. The areas of expertise of the new Hochschule are, on the one hand, the basics of plant production and processing aspects of special crops (wine, fruit and horticulture), as well as beverage sciences. The other main focus is the planning and design of landscape architecture, landscaping and nature conservation, with particular emphasis on the development of cultural landscapes and urban regions.

This makes this particular Hochschule uniquely qualified to provide a holistic approach to planning, production, processing and marketing and to facilitate the integration of its products in culture and landscape.
On the teaching side, our goal is the development and differentiation of degree programs that will help us become even more attractive in the “green” academic fields. As far as research is concerned, through the institutional consolidation of larger units it will be possible to work on highly interdisciplinary key research areas.

Report on Geisenheim by the Wissenschaftsrat

In its “Report on the plan for the start-up Higher Education Institution Geisenheim” the Wissenschaftsrat states that, through the consolidation of research and teaching at the Geisenheim site, the State of Hessen is giving an appropriate institutional form to a close cooperation that has long been practiced by the predecessor establishments. Furthermore, the plan provides a good basis for the realization of new development opportunities.

The Wissenschaftsrat acknowledges that at its location, the institution has excellent personnel and material resources at its disposal, which allow it to undertake research commissions, research projects and applied research doctoral projects in all areas. The submitted research concept, in combination with the outstanding overall research infrastructure, is considered an excellent basis for the creation of an institution with a theme-based focus, which should gain a far-reaching reputation.

The report emphasizes that the overall plan, with its orientation towards the key areas “special crops” and “landscape”, goes clearly beyond the profile of a specialist Hochschule for viticulture. It is thus in line with the objectives of a “green university” which views the principles of sustainable development, from land use, through all the production stages, up to and including consumption, as closed cycles. The report goes on to note that cooperative doctorates completed in collaboration with traditional universities is already established practice at Geisenheim and therefore the conferral to the new Hochschule of the right to award doctoral degrees in collaboration with a traditional university builds on a successful existing networking system and is therefore to be recommended.

Furthermore, the Wissenschaftsrat supports the plan for a teaching staff with different individual teaching commitments (9-18 hours per semester week), but also calls for the development of a system for internal performance evaluation based on the equal status of research and teaching. In addition, opportunities for raising research profiles must be created for the holders of previously teaching-oriented Fachhochschule professorial positions, something that will place demands on financial resources and research infrastructure.

The report emphasizes the well-developed network of national and international cooperations in the areas of research and teaching. The Wissenschaftsrat encourages the new Hochschule to continue to further expand these cooperations and to place particular emphasis on improving the international mobility of students and teaching staff.

It is particularly gratifying that the Wissenschaftsrat calls for the establishment of six new professorships (there are currently 32 professorial positions) for the new Hochschule. This exceeds the four professorships requested in the self-evaluation report of the Hochschule and shows that the Wissenschaftsrat sees good development prospects for Geisenheim, which it deems worthy of support.

The Chairman of the Wissenschaftsrat, Professor Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Marquardt concluded that: “the establishment of Hochschule Geisenheim University is an example of experimentation with new university types and formats which are neither conventional Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences) nor traditional universities, and thus it follows the recommendations of the Wissenschaftsrat on differentiation in higher education”.

And now it’s up to us!

The fundamentally favourable assessment of the basic concept for the establishment of a teaching and research facility at Geisenheim is however merely a starting signal for the continuing evolution and profile development of the Hochschule. This is where the challenges lie for the staff of the new Hochschule.

In specific terms, it means the creation of research structures in areas where, up to now, research has been of low intensity, the integration of professorships with widely varying basic prerequisites and the creation of so-called “key professorships” as profile-building content areas for the future. We will also have to develop new courses and directions of study, as well as a thriving graduate school. In addition, the existing quality management systems in teaching and research need to be enhanced and the eligibility for external funding in the area of fundamental research must be improved. Last, but not least, our personnel structures will also need to be adjusted.

During the start-up phase these tasks will require a considerable degree of internal integration and reorganization in order to continue the specialization and strengthening of the institution’s academic foundation. Now it’s up to the staff of the new Hochschule to play an active part in shaping their own future, working together to make the “Geisenheim Plan” a real success story.