New chairs of the State Rectors’ Conference
Prof Michael Weber and Prof Karla Pollmann take up office in economically challenging times

Ulm University

On 23 February 2024, the rectors and presidents of the nine state universities elected the future Board of the State Rectors’ Conference (Landesrektorenkonferenz, LRK) as scheduled. Michael Weber, president of Ulm University, will be the new chair, and Prof Dr Dr hc (Doshisha) Karla Pollmann, president of the University of Tübingen, will be the deputy chair. Both will take office for a term of two years starting on 1 April 2024. This is the first time a woman has been elected to the LRK Board.

The new Executive Board is getting started in economically challenging times. According to Professor Michael Weber and Professor Karla Pollmann, the focus for the current year will be on university funding, which must be renegotiated with the state. “We are facing major economic and social challenges that can only be overcome on the basis of science and research”, explains Professor Weber. It is essential that graduates receive research training so that they will be able to develop innovative solutions for the economy and society. This applies not only to the areas of natural sciences and technology, but also to education, medicine and all other university subjects, which ultimately, as a whole, generate technical and social innovations for and with our society.

Baden-Württemberg universities are tremendously successful in the area of research, as demonstrated by the preliminary results of the nationwide Excellence Strategy, in which Baden-Württemberg was well ahead. There are, however, also problems to deal with. “As in all other areas of society, inflation and increases in energy costs have forced us to make cuts in recent years”, says Professor Pollmann. But, unlike in a private home, it is not possible to simply reduce electricity consumption for energy-intensive research such as AI. “If we want to catch up with the research being done at American institutions, our universities need more financial flexibility, especially in the form of compensation for inflation”, she explains. According to Professor Weber, this also applies to the digital and structural infrastructure. “For one thing, we lack financial resources here. And secondly, in terms of construction, both outdated structures and excessive bureaucracy prevent us from building the necessary infrastructure for new research areas in a timely fashion”.

The focus must also be on the quality of the study programme

The new Board believes it is essential that the state ensures favourable conditions for students. “The focus must be on the quality of the education; an approach solely based on increasing headcounts is not a satisfactory foundation for a good higher education policy”, emphasises Professor Weber. The economic success in Baden-Württemberg is accompanied by above-average rental fees and living costs in the state’s university cities. “In order to attract more talented students from other states as well as abroad, we need to score points not only with our superb research but also with exceptional student support, in order to justify the increased financial investment”.

Professor Weber and Professor Pollmann are excited about their new positions. The state’s nine universities are very different. Some are many centuries old, others were founded just a few decades ago. Some are large, some are small. Some are more technical, others with more of a focus on humanities, and covering every subject from A for Archaeology to Z for Zoology. “People from almost every country in the world study, research and work at our universities. There is hardly a blank spot on the map. Whether you come from Armenia, Bhutan, Costa Rica or Sudan, anyone who is serious about science is welcome here and should continue to feel welcome. Without our diversity, our fantastic research landscape would not be what it is, and we will firmly oppose any efforts to change this”, the two board members relate, in agreement with all of the state’s university administrations.

Professor Dr-Ing Michael Weber, born in 1959, studied computer science at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern from 1979 to 1985, where he also obtained his doctorate in 1990. After working in industry and non-university research in Freiburg and Saarbrücken, he was appointed professor of distributed systems at Ulm University in 1994 and has held the chair of media informatics since 2000. He has been the president of the university since 2015.

Prof Dr Dr hc (Doshisha) Karla Pollmann, born in 1963, studied Greek, Latin, theology and education at the universities of Tübingen, Munich, Cambridge and Bochum. She obtained her doctorate at the Ruhr University Bochum in 1990 and completed her habilitation (German qualification for becoming a professor) at the University of Constance in 1994. In 2000, she was appointed professor at the University of St Andrews. Before being elected president of the University of Tübingen in 2022, she was executive dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Bristol.

Text: Katharina Kadel / LRK
Translation: Kate Gaugler

Prof. Michael Weber
Prof Michael Weber is the new chair of the State Rectors’ Conference (Photo: Elvira Eberhardt)
Prof Michael Weber and Prof Karla Pollmann
Prof Michael Weber and Prof Karla Pollmann are delighted about their election (Photo: Prof Frauke Melchior)
Prof. Karla Pollmann
Prof Karla Pollmann, new deputy chair (Photo: Friedhelm Albrecht)