Ministries of the Federal States Support EU Programmes

Reading time: 7 min.

Various federal state-level ministries in Germany (Landesministerien) support Erasmus+ and EU activities at their universities with both target agreements on internationalisation and additional funding. In this article, two ministries explain their motivation and the benefits they believe such support has for internationalisation processes at their universities and for their federal state. 

Hessian alliances for Europe

The federal state of Hesse helps its universities strengthen their European profiles in transnational European university networks, and in doing so promotes international university and research collaboration. The federal state programme «Hessen Horizon» also supports this goal.

Portrait of Barbara Schöneburg, Hessian Ministry of Science and the Arts
© privat

Barbara Schöneburg
Hessian Ministry of Science and the Arts

No fewer than four universities in Hesse were among the ten German universities to be selected for the Erasmus+ «European University» funding programme in the most recent round – what an achievement! Hesse now ranks third in a nationwide comparison. This means that altogether six Hessian universities are involved in five European Universities alliances.

Technische Universität Darmstadt (TUD) was already successful in 2019 with the «University Network for Innovation, Technology and Engineering» (UNITE!), one of the first 17 European Universities alliances. In the second round of the pilot project, it was joined by Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences (h_da) with the «European University of Technology» (EUt+) alliance. At that time, h_da was one of only two universities of applied sciences (UAS) in Germany to successfully compete in the competition – for Hesse, this was confirmation that its ongoing commitment to the development of its universities of applied sciences is reaping benefits. 

The success story continues. In the most recent call for applications, four more Hessian universities were successful: Justus Liebig University Giessen and Philipps-Universität Marburg in an alliance with the consortium «European University for Peace, Justice, and Inclusive Societies» (EUPeace). It focuses on the internationalisation of institutions of higher education to strengthen peace, solidarity and human rights. Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences in the «Urban Research and Education Knowledge Alliance» (U!REKA SHIFT) aims to establish a sustainable inter-university campus that trains «future-proof urban professionals». And Fulda University of Applied Sciences in the alliance «Engaged and Entrepreneurial European University as Driver for European Smart and Sustainable Regions» (E³UDRES²) is planning to connect rural regions and promote their development into «smart», sustainable regions with such focuses as the circular economy, active aging and well-being and the human contribution to artificial intelligence.

Other EU project funding

Universities in Hesse are continuing to show a commitment to the alliances and are applying to new calls from the EU Commission, for example when they concern the conceptual development of the European Universities. h_da was also successful in this field, and together with 11 other partner universities received the contract for the JEDI project, which aims to develop a seal of quality for joint European university degrees. The Joint European Degrees are designed to supplement existing academic qualifications, which students obtain as part of joint study programmes and which result from transnational collaborations between several institutions of higher education.

The Commission has also called for proposals for projects that support stronger institutional cooperation. h_da with its EUt+ alliance was successful again in this round with the STYX project, which aims to explore the possibility of establishing a European legal status for university alliances. 

Internationalisation and competitiveness

International cooperation in science and research is becoming more and more important not just against the background of global competition, but also in terms of finding solutions to major global challenges such as climate change and migration – challenges we can only address collectively. Universities play a key role in this.In future, they will have to overcome disciplinary and national boundaries and find solutions for the many regulatory hurdles to allow university study, research and teaching to take place internationally. No easy path to follow!

Hesse’s university landscape is shaped by intensive European collaboration and international research contacts: Europe is alive in Hesse, and Europe is alive at our universities.
Hessian Minister of Science Angela Dorn

Federal state programme «Hessen Horizon»

To improve processes of internationalisation, the regional government set up the «Hessen Horizon» programme. The federal state supports the participation of Hessian universities and research institutions in the EU framework programme to increase its share of EU research subsidies. It offers special support to early career researchers: the Marie Skłodowska-Curie-Stipendium Hessen allows highly-qualified European and international researchers to carry out their research projects in Hesse. To qualify, the research project must be based on an application for a European Postdoctoral Fellowship in the context of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie-Actions (MSCA) which is evaluated as outstanding by the European Commission and receive a «Seal of Excellence». 

The selection procedure for the second round of funding has now been completed and the two successful candidates have started their research. Dr Andreas Gross is researching tropical geometry at Goethe University Frankfurt. His project is called: «Vector bundles, tropicalization, and tautological rings in tropical geometry». Dr Biswajit Pradhan is carrying out his project at the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics Frankfurt. Dr Pradhan’s research focus is genetics and he is investigating the molecular mechanism of DNA loop extrusion by SMC complexes: «Safeguarding the DNA with SMC complexes».

The interest in the scheme highlights Hesse’s appeal as a research location. The successful combination of EU and Hessian funding has gained considerable recognition nationally. The successful outcomes already emerging from Hessen Horizon also confirm that the programme is working and that the federal state has taken the right approach to boost and promote its position as an attractive location for top-level international research.

Author: Barbara Schöneburg/Hessian Ministry of Science and the Arts

Barbara Schöneburg
EU Coordinator in the Hessian Ministry of Science and the Arts

Making internationalisation work. To support universities in Thuringia

Internationalising universities is a cross-sectional task that requires strategic organisation. The organisational expertise and responsibility for sustainable implementation lie primarily with the universities themselves. However, the regional government departments of science can also contribute towards the success of internationalisation endeavours. The Thuringian Ministry of Economics, Science and Digital Society (TMWWDG) sees itself first and foremost as a supporter and constructive companion, and occasionally also as an initiator of ideas. 

Strategic networking and innovative projects

With its three Key Actions, Erasmus+ covers the majority of international activities at universities in Thuringia, too. It is therefore logical that it supports the universities in these tasks and sets appropriate priorities. The TMWWDG considers the participation of Thuringian universities in the European Universities alliances to be one such focus. It supports the participation of three universities in a variety of ways and, in particular, in the run-up to the application procedure. In the case of Friedrich Schiller University Jena, a member of the EC2U alliance, this was achieved with a state bonus. Bauhaus-Universität Weimar and TU Ilmenau are currently being supported with targeted preparatory actions. 

European Universities alliances are also one of the focuses of delegation trips to Brussels, which the TMWWDG has been organising for universities with the Thuringian representation to the EU since 2022. Key priorities here are networking with partner organisations, making direct contact with relevant players in Brussels and discussing current developments at EU level. Another delegation trip with presidents of the universities and interested research institutions is planned for spring 2024. 

A separate funding programme for innovative teaching projects was set up in 2021 with the title «Hochschulen Internationaler». Universities were invited to submit proposals for innovative projects which aim to implement their university’s internationalisation strategies. By the end of 2023, six universities in Thuringia will receive funding amounting to 2.5 million euros. The common objective of all stakeholders is to permanently enshrine the new measures and therefore achieve structural improvements for international students and also for internationalisation at home. 

Portrait of Michael Edinger,  Thuringian Ministry of Economics, Science and Digital Society
© privat

Michael Edinger
Thuringian Ministry of Economics, Science and Digital Society

Favourable environment

A favourable environment that encourages successful internationalisation is even more important than the support of individual measures. One of the key goals is therefore to help universities tackle this cross-sectional task on an ongoing basis. Regular institutionalised exchanges with International Offices makes it possible to both discuss structural challenges and address current challenges. For example, the TMWWDG is taking action to  

  • expedite visa application procedures for international students and case reviews by the individual immigration offices, 
  • promote initiatives that support persecuted researchers and 
  • offer universities practical advice on drafting cooperation agreements with international partner institutions.

Incentives for internationalisation

The TMWWDG also considers it as its duty to propose ways to strategically internationalise teaching and research. For years, it has called for all universities to adopt and implement a meaningful internationalisation strategy and to update this strategy regularly on the basis of an evaluation.These strategies have been in place throughout the region since the end of 2021. Even the Duale Hochschule Gera-Eisenach with its strongly regional profile has prepared an appropriate concept. 

Universities are also expected to develop their activities systematically and in line with global changes. The federal state’s current framework agreement with universities places a focus on intensifying collaborations, increasing outgoing mobilities and enhancing their attractiveness for international students and researchers. In its target and performance agreements, Thuringia focuses on an agreement on individual strategic targets for internationalisation. For example, the 2021–2025 target and performance agreement with Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences proposes developing a comprehensive strategy to integrate international graduates as skilled workers into the labour market.

Closing ranks with universities

The TMWWDG’s credo and experience is that far-reaching internationalisation is best achieved in close coordination with the universities. This involves dialogue on relevant subjects and joint events. In 2022, for example, a symposium on the internationalisation of universities and the benefits for the region was held with three universities – Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Friedrich Schiller University Jena and Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences – headlined by top-class keynote speakers. Key findings and new perspectives on recruiting, integrating and retaining international students were documented in an evaluation report.

The TMWWDG and universities recently continued this joint approach during discussions about higher education development until 2030. They produced a catalogue of goals and measures covering the entire spectrum of internationalisation strategies. The TMWWDG presented these visions for the future to a working group with the other states and contributed to discussions about the new strategy of the federal and state governments’ science departments for the internationalisation of universities.

Author: Michael Edinger, Thuringian Ministry of Economics, Science and Digital Society

Dr. Michael Edinger
Head of Department 42 (University Support) at the Thuringian Ministry of Economics, Science and Digital Society