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2nd Parliamentary Evening: Focus on Future Development of MERGE and Permanent Establishment of Teacher Training

Under the heading of “TU Chemnitz in Dialogue”, Chemnitz University Management and Senate met and spoke with state politicians on February 26, 2018

“In our dialogue today, we would like to focus on two themes – the future development of the Federal Cluster of Excellence MERGE as well as the permanent establishment of the Teacher Training Program in Chemnitz,” said Prof. Dr. Gerd Strohmeier, President of TU Chemnitz, at the beginning of the 2nd Parliamentary Evening in the “Chiaveri” restaurant at the Saxon State Parliament. “We have set ourselves the goal of transitioning the funding for MERGE, which is about to expire, into bridge financing as well as splitting our Federal Cluster of Excellence into a number of major research projects in order to maintain and continue to grow the outstanding scientific competencies at TU Chemnitz, especially in the field of lightweight construction research,” reported the President. Regarding the Teacher Training Program in Chemnitz, he said: “TU Chemnitz is quite willing to permanently establish the Teacher Training Program. However, as much as we would like for this to happen, this is not possible using our own funds and it cannot be realized at the expense of our other disciplines. Additional funding will be needed. This must be made available on a long-term basis in order to keep the Teacher Training Program active in the long term. This applies to resources and jobs as well as student admissions.”

TU Chemnitz Plays an Important Role in Saxony

The important role that TU Chemnitz plays in Saxony was clearly evident in the four speeches that followed. Andrea Dombois, Vice President of the Saxon State Parliament, emphasized that both fields of action at the TU mentioned by the President are helping to “set the course for the future of the Free State of Saxony”. After that she said that the level of excellence that has been achieved must be secured. The State Secretary in the Saxon State Ministry for Higher Education, Research and the Arts, Uwe Gaul, also praised the image establishment work, international orientation and the close connection between the Federal Cluster of Excellence and the business sector and research institutions outside the university. He underscored that the Ministry was prepared to work together with the university to seek solutions that would increase the chances for TU Chemnitz to remain competitive in the next round of the federal and state governments’ Excellence Strategy. With regard to the Teacher Training Program in Chemnitz, he said that it should be implemented permanently. In order for this to be possible, the Free State of Saxony must make funding for the necessary employment positions available in the next biennial budget. Furthermore, Gaul expressed that conditions at TU Chemnitz should be established in order to keep professors involved in the Teacher Training Program at the university.

Teacher Training in Chemnitz: Finding Common Solutions

Oliver Fritzsche, Chair of the Saxon State Parliament Committee for Science and Higher Education, Culture and Media, also emphasized the importance of addressing the continuation of the Teacher Training Program in Chemnitz and of finding a common solution for the issue at hand. Additionally, he thanked Chemnitz University for looking ahead to the future after MERGE was excluded from the current round of proposals for the Excellence Strategy, because lightweight construction is crucial for industry and the economy in Saxony. Holger Mann, Deputy Chair of the Saxon State Parliament Committee for Science and Higher Education, Culture and Media, highlighted the significance of internationalization in higher education for the Free State’s efforts to secure skilled workers in the region. Moreover, he emphasized the need for broad societal support for the scientific community today.

MERGE Creates Jobs

Following the welcome addresses, parliamentary representatives paid close attention to the research conducted by the Chemnitz-based Federal Cluster of Excellence MERGE. The research is targeted at the fusion of basic technologies suitable for mass-production, comprising plastic, metal, textile and Smart Systems for the development of resource-efficient products and production processes. More than 100 researchers and technicians are working on the implementation of this project, which received more than 40 million Euros in funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) between 2012 and 2018. MERGE-CEO Prof. Dr. Lothar Kroll outlined the economic and social benefits of basic research in the field of lightweight construction, which has led to the creation and protection of many jobs in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). He also pointed out the Cluster’s international network. MERGE is the only one among all 43 current Federal Clusters of Excellence that receives funding via the Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s “Internationalisation of excellence clusters, future projects and comparable networks” program. Developed as a result, the MERGEurope Cluster Concept unites more than 400 scientific and economic partners from Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands in one network. “Under the auspices of the Minister-President of the Free State of Saxony and the Marshals of the Voivodeships of Opole and Lower Silesia, the second Polish-German Bridge Conference will be held on April 19 and 20, 2018,” said Kroll as a further example of international networking. Looking to the future, the MERGE-CEO presented initial ideas about which topics could potentially be used to apply for DFG projects such as Collaborative Research Centres. Kroll called on the politicians present to continue to invest in lightweight construction at TU Chemnitz: “Only excellent basic research can safeguard the technological advantage of SMEs in Saxony.”

Teacher Training Program in Chemnitz is in High Demand

Referring to the large demand for teachers in Saxony, TU Chemnitz Vice President for Academic and International Affairs, Prof. Dr. Maximilian Eibl, once again explained the university’s position on the Teacher Training Program and described its development since its reinstatement in the 2013/14 winter semester. In total, 426 students are currently enrolled in Chemnitz pursuing a career as a teacher. The Teacher Training Program at TU Chemnitz is in high demand: “For the 120 spots available in the current 2017/18 winter semester, we received close to 900 applications,” reported Eibl. Further, he presented the results of a student survey conducted in summer 2017: “Only half of these students would have pursued teaching if it had not been offered in Chemnitz,” said the Vice President. 86.1 percent of students are from Chemnitz, Central Saxony, Zwickau and the Ore Mountain and Vogtland regions. “Many of our students would also like to be employed there,” explained the Vice President. For a permanent establishment of the Teacher Training Program at TU Chemnitz at its current level of 120 new students per year, the annual budget would need to provide for at least 37.5 employment positions. To accomplish this, 1.5 employment positions will be added in 2021. This will, for the first time, enable the program to effectively manage cohorts of 120 in every academic year. Eibl also described the current expenditure at TU Chemnitz for the Teacher Training Program. Currently, the university must commit resources amounting to approximately 1 million euros per year. According to Eibl, this contribution cannot be increased using the university’s own funding.

In the conversations that followed, many of the political representatives present told TU Chemnitz officials they were very satisfied with how the event went and with the organization of the Parliamentary Evening, and that they are looking forward to the next occasion. TU Chemnitz also invited people to join the conversation on social media platforms. Those interested in the discussion between politicians and the university can follow the dialogue on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #TUCPA18.

(Translation: Sarah Wilson)

Matthias Fejes

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