Opening the Entrance to Job Life: Berlin's Humboldt University Establishes Career Center

Job life is quite different than what you learned at university. Everybody knows this, but Germany's universities have so far made little effort to bridge the considerable chasm that opens up in front of graduates eager to join the "real" work life. However, so called Career Centers at the universities can help students plan their career with professional support. This idea is new to the German academic system and with support from the European Commission, Berlin's Humboldt University is one of the first universities to open such a service for its students.

Starting at the beginning of this academic term, the Career Center at Humboldt University has built up a network of small companies and enterprises where students and graduates get the chance to gain work experience. This approach has several aims. Most importantly: to provide specific vocational guidance that cannot be achieved by one-track scientists and to make the students fit for work life. But at the same time, the center is able to support start-up companies and facilitate the urgently demanded transfer of technology between the university and start-ups.

The idea of a Career Center at German universities is in line with the program to accelerate technology transfer ("Wissen schafft Maerkte") announced by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in November 2000. Together with representatives of business, scientific, and political institutions, Schroeder comments that good research does not automatically mean more innovation and that the main problem lay in the minor transfer of research output into products. One of the largest obstacles to the transfer of research results into valuable goods is the uncertainty over who benefits from the economic exploitation of these results. Therefore, the program also intends to change the patent act for professors and the co-determination of investors regarding research priorities at universities.

Compared to the 105 million DM funding of this government program for the next 3 years, the 3 million DM provided by the EU for the Career Center at Humboldt University appears to be a minor effort for developing competence networks. But whereas most of the earlier funding programs acted countrywide, the Career Center is a more focused approach to bringing together partners with a scientific and industrial background. This should make a successful contact between companies and young innovative scientists much easier, the university hopes.

Of course Humboldt University is not the only one that accepts the challenge of the "bioeconomy market." The science ministry's funding program EXIST supports five regional competence centers that follow a quite similar approach to interconnecting academia and industry. The program's goal is the permanent establishment of a "culture of entrepreneurship" in education, research, and administration. And the beginning looks quite promising. The five regional networks supported around 150 start-ups in their first year. Nevertheless, one has to wait and see if these companies will succeed.

Although the existence of such competence centers is no guarantee of successful teamwork between academic research and industrial partners, they make it much easier for young scientists to take the first steps toward a career in industry and also to find know-how and local support for their ideas. And given the fact that most of the nearly 14,000 knowledge- and technology-based organizations have their roots at the university, the strategy of creating local competence centers appears to be a promising way to bridge gaps and to facilitate the transition into job life after graduation.


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