德國慕尼黑大學 Outstanding University with Urbane Flair

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Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1 in Munich is one of the best addresses in German higher education. It is the home of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University – or simply LMU for short.

The bat is rather clever. It swiftly flutters upwards in the y-shaped labyrinth, taps a small switch, hears a tone and collects its reward almost instantaneously. “Mashed banana,” explains neurobiologist Holger Görlitz, who is observing the experiment in the sound chamber on a monitor screen. For one-and-a-half years the postgraduate student has been training these sensitive little creatures in the basement of the Biocenter in Martinsried near Munich. When an animal responds almost faultlessly, he can modify the experimental setup and simulate background noises. Are bats capable of differentiating between frequencies? This is a question to which the young researcher is seeking an answer in his research. And in the process he is working on one aspect of the fundamental question that will occupy all the scientists at the Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences (GSNLMU) in future: “How does a thought come about?”

The graduate school at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich is part of the “Initiative for Excellence”, a new Federal Government programme to promote cutting-edge university research. From the winter semester of 2007 onwards, the school will accept some 30 postgraduate students and offer them optimal development opportunities in their area as part of a fast-track programme. “We will build very individual modules for each participant,” explains Benedikt Grothe, senior professor of neurobiology, who is coordinating the programme. “It will be possible, for example, for mathematicians to receive additional instruction in neurosciences when necessary and, in the opposite direction, zoologists will be able to improve their knowledge in mathematical areas.” Of course, students also benefit from the concentrated expertise at the department. The professor in Munich became acquainted with the system of graduate schools as a researcher in the United States and has developed the idea jointly with colleagues from the neighbouring Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology and the Technical University (TU) in Munich. “Similar strategies also exist in Berlin, Göttingen and Bochum,” says Grothe. “We are taking a new approach in Germany, however, with the concept of networked teaching.”

The close cooperation between the partner institutions enables particularly intensive support; regular quality controls are mandatory. As a result, students save valuable time and can finish their degrees early. “Until now we have been less interesting for English-speaking countries because the qualifications have not been compatible,” Grothe explains. That will change with the introduction of master’s and bachelor’s degrees. “Nowhere in Europe offers a similar spectrum in the neurosciences.” On the expanding high-tech campus to the south of the city, the new, state-of-the-art biotechnology centre rises out of an ensemble of fields and strawberry plantations – in immediate proximity to numerous related research institutions and the Grosshadern University Hospital. Just a stone’s throw away from the Biocenter, work has already commenced on a biomedical centre of which the LMU life scientists have great expectations. “We can only achieve something by working together,” stresses Grothe and points to the windows of his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute that we can wave to from his office. The rocky peaks of the Kampenwand and Zugspitze glisten invitingly in the background.

Munich is a particularly attractive centre of learning not only for its academic excellence, but also due to its proximity to the mountains and to Italy. Alex Perreault from Canada was immediately enthralled by the Alps – and by German sociologists. “In Montreal I never heard anything about Niklas Luhmann,” says the exchange student from Quebec who has been studying at LMU since October. In any event, during the next two semesters the 29-year-old will be taking a closer look at the founder of systems theory who worked in Bielefeld. “Afterwards I’ll be able to make him known at my own university.” The enthusiastic sociology student finds the lectures particularly good. “It’s not as centralized as in Canada and the professors liven up the seminars with interactive exercises.” At first, however, the German system also demanded a lot of effort. “In Canada you can register online, but here you have to enrol with lecturers in person,” says Alex. It was not easy to adjust, but not because of the German language, in which the guest student has a passionate interest. However, the German course at the University of Montreal had not been enough; he lacked practice. Reason enough to come to Germany for a year.

Alex Perreault is one of approximately 7,700 young foreigners who are currently studying at the LMU. “Simply the fact that we have so many foreign students has a vitalizing effect on the university and makes the city as a whole more cosmopolitan,” says Rector Bernd Huber. The professor has every reason to be proud of his university. “The LMU is one of Germany’s best universities,” he says. Nonetheless, he tends to avoid using the label “elite university”. “Conditions can’t be perfect everywhere in such a large institution of higher education with 47,000 students.” Above all, the natural sciences did remarkably well within the Initiative for Excellence process – a nationwide phenomenon. In addition to the Graduate School, three of the LMU’s so-called Excellence Clusters were selected. “LMUexzellent”, the so-called Future Concept submitted by the university that among other things envisages active recruiting strategies and the establishment of guest and research professorships, was also able to convince the expert judges. “The idea behind the Initiative for Excellence was to foster existing excellence at universities and raise it to an international level,” explains Huber. Today the LMU already recruits some 15% of professors directly from abroad. The university expects the new excellence instruments to make it even more attractive. Above all, the programme will improve the conditions for research. However, new professorships, additional posts for young researchers and fast-track programmes that enable young students to begin research more rapidly are also directly improving students’ career prospects. An additional total of roughly 190 million euros is flowing into the coffers of the top Munich university following the first round of higher education assessment.

However, Munich does not only shine with one centre of academic excellence – it actually has two. The Technical University (TU) also secured a top ranking. This success is based on cooperation that has steadily grown over the years between interdisciplinary research groups beyond the confines of individual higher education institutions. “In Munich we find it easy to form clusters of this kind because there is a critical mass of outstanding scientists,” says quantum researcher Theodor Hänsch, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2005. For a long time, in Munich physics was automatically associated with the TU. This view has meanwhile changed. “The brains involved are more important than the funding,” says Hänsch. “The LMU has succeeded in keeping good people over decades. That is the most important prerequisite for forming internationally competitive teams.”

A good example of this is nanotechnology: Jonathan Finley from Britain already had contacts with the group working under Jörg P. Kotthaus while he was doing postdoctoral research at the TU in Munich. The latter’s Center for Nanoscience (CeNS) is located in the expansive LMU main building with a view of the glass facade of the Historicum. Where the professor today thinks about quantum computing and “lab-on-a-chip” applications was once the office of radiation researcher and Nobel laureate Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen 100 years ago. “Our work is complementary,” says Finley in his tiny room on the TU campus in Garching. “We make wonderful samples here and they have the appropriate nanotechnology there.”

Three years ago, the 34-year-old, who is considered a rising star in the field of semiconductor research, exchanged his post in Sheffield for a professorship at TU Munich. “It’s very unusual to find all the competences for nanotechnology available in one spot,” he emphasizes. “The research conditions are undoubtedly comparable with those at top universities in England.” The researchers aim to create interconnected and interactive networks of artificial nanomodules that are becoming increasingly important, for example, in cancer medicine. Communication between the groups of researchers has been close for many years. Both are growing stronger as a result of cooperation within the Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM), an excellence cluster that also involves participation from other research institutions such as the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Institutes for Biochemistry and Quantum Optics. “Enquiries from abroad, also from Canada and the United States, have increased dramatically,” says Finley. That is precisely what NIM speaker Jörg P. Kotthaus is seeking to achieve: “We are supporting young scientists in a very targeted way with this highly interdisciplinary programme.”

Nevertheless, the physics professor, whose research projects have already formed the basis for countless successful business startups, warns against overestimating the impact of funding to promote academic excellence. “An annual sum of six-and-a-half million euros for more than 200 people is very soon spent in the field of high-technology.” Nonetheless, unlike conventional advanced research programmes, the new financial support for top research facilitates flexible funding: “We can give reasonable allocations to talented scientists with convincing ideas and simply allow them to get on with it,” says Kotthaus. “That stimulates structural changes and helps attract outstanding researchers from outside Germany.”

Initiative for Excellence
In summer 2005 the Federal Government and the German Länder announced the Initiative for Excellence. Its goal is to foster cutting-edge university research and to create internationally recognized “beacons of science”. The results of the first round of appraisals were announced in autumn 2006: 18 graduate schools, 17 excellence clusters and 3 “future concepts” were selected. The only universities that were able to win in all the three areas covered by the Initiative were the LMU, the Technical University of Munich and the University of Karlsruhe. In all, 1.9 billion euros of funding is being made available. Decisions on the second round of the Initiative for Excellence will be made in autumn 2007. www.bmbf.de/en/1321.php