Germany Seeks International Talent

An estimated 2 million students and young scientists around the world are actively mobile and considering a move to another country for work or study. After years of hibernation, Germany's science base is waking up to the importance of internationalization, as Next Wave has reported, and the potential of these young researchers to enhance science in German universities. Mobile scientists bring cultural enrichment and excellent skills, with long-term political and economic benefits for the country.

In other parts of the scientific world--especially the English-speaking countries, but also France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia--marketing of university activities is not new. Now German universities are realizing the importance of joint marketing in order to compete on an equal footing with their international rivals in the "recruiting competition."

"The jobs of the future will be created by science, and science only works based on an international dialogue," says Professor Klaus Landfried, the president of the Association of Universities and Other Higher Education Institutions in Germany ( HRK).

To focus their efforts, in early 2000 the German Academic Exchange Service ( DAAD) and the HRK, in association with Germany's scientific organizations, founded a consortium for international university marketing called GATE Germany (GATE stands for Guide to Academic Training and Education). The consortium is carrying out a number of services for its members, such as going on promotional tours ("road shows") and participating in relevant career and technology fairs around the world, with a special focus on Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Synergy effects are derived from other DAAD initiatives, including the promotion of scholarships, German language programs (with the objective of introducing a TOEFL-test equivalent for proficiency in German as a foreign language), and guest professor programs.

Meanwhile, the "Hi! Potentials" campaign is targeted directly at young, mobile scientists. Its Web site, aimed at foreign students and researchers, provides information about studying, doing research, and living in Germany.

It is not just the science base that benefits from increased internationalism. The university sector too has much to gain, according to the DAAD's general secretary Dr. Christian Bode. "The main advantage of these activities is that universities in Germany start to define their products and critically evaluate them," he says, pointing to the restructuring of degree programs and the number of programs now awarding a master's degree on completion, rather than the traditional German Diplom. Furthermore, "many of the problems we are talking about in Germany's academic sector are problems of mentality. The system is not as bad as people sometimes tend to say." The explanation for this is clear, Bode says: "Most people compare German universities to 'the American universities'--this is misleading. When we are talking about the U.S. universities, we mean only its top 10 or 20 institutions and forget about the several thousand other universities and colleges there."

Although Germany certainly wants to attract the elite, Landfried is anxious to point out that "we do not want to support brain drain effects from emerging countries." Indeed, while it's certainly true that Germany profits from the work of foreign scientists while they are here, their native countries profit later on when they return home. In fact, it is in Germany's interests for them to do so, because young scientists who have been trained in Germany are well placed to act as ambassadors for Germany's scientific reputation, he suggests. Thus a two-pronged strategy is being adopted: not only attracting foreigners to Germany, but also importing German programs to other countries (see this week's European Science Bytes).

So, the future looks bright, but Landfried sounds a note of caution: "Besides university efforts, we need support on the political and financial level to further improve the universities." So far, the Länder (states) have only paid "lip service" to international marketing efforts, he suggests. And he urges politicians to think carefully before introducing restrictions on student visas and work permits for foreign scientists: "Especially with the recent terrible events in mind, we need to keep the current level of internationalism in Germany and have to improve it constantly."

On 29 and 30 October 2001, GATE Germany is holding a conference on university marketing. Information can be obtained from the GATE Web site, but the conference is already fully booked at this time--indicating there's a lot of interest in Germany. German universities and research institutions are invited to join the GATE consortium if they seek to raise their profiles on an international level.

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