Federal funding to boost university diversity initiatives

Thirty-three German universities are to receive federal government funding to run institutional projects over the coming winter semester in a bid to boost holistic diversity concepts. The German Rectors’ Conference is supporting the scheme.

Launched last September by the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK – German Rectors’ Conference) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the initiative “Diversity at German Universities” seeks to support institutions in the development of holistic diversity concepts. Universities selected in the independent review of concepts they submitted are to be provided with €25,000 (US$26,800) or €50,000 for individual projects.

In addition to the individual projects, cross-project dialogue and exchange is to promote diversity in higher education, with the HRK supporting networking among individual institutions. Funding lasts until August 2024, and in the following month, results from the projects will be presented to a larger audience at a final conference.

The initiative goes back to a web seminar on equality and diversity to which the HRK invited university heads in April 2022. Agreement was reached on the need for an institutional process of change leading to a new culture promoting quality in higher education and research and centring on the aspect of access free from discrimination and multi-perspective knowledge production being key to excellence.

Rather than slamming equality over diversity, emphasis in the change process had to be on simultaneously promoting anti-discrimination and special expertise.

Diversity sensitive onboarding

Individual projects in the initiative cover a wide range of aspects and activities. The University of Bielefeld’s “Variety right from the start – diversity-sensitive onboarding” scheme centres on welcoming and orientation events for new students and staff, stressing the point of arrival at the institution as a particularly important phase to make use of in sensitising against discrimination and enhancing diversity.

“Not only are we creating an improved welcome culture with this project, but, right from the start, we are also implementing an anti-discriminatory approach with which we seek to develop a new concept of being together at the university,” said Bielefeld’s pro-rector for science and society Alexandra Kaasch. “Beyond this, we hope that it will result in our students and staff also being able to take and transfer this attitude to other areas of social interaction.”

RWTH Aachen University has developed a diversity strategy titled “University in Transition: Equal Opportunity and Diversity as a Prerequisite for Excellence” which seeks to create a flexible and inclusive working environment and the achievement of a comprehensive level of equal opportunities in research, teaching and management.

Here, the RWTH Aachen is pursuing a multidimensional approach centring on activities in the fields of “opening up the university”, “continuing cultural change”, “developing a staff policy oriented on life phases” and “boosting gender and diversity skills” to analyse the status quo and formulate the need for immediate and future action.

Anti-discrimination directive

The University of Bremen has received support for its efforts in the field of equal opportunities/anti-discrimination and its concept for the introduction of a progressive anti-discrimination directive.

“Discrimination may be forbidden legally, but it continues to be a reality,” says Nele Kuhn, who heads the diversity section of the equal opportunities and anti-discrimination department at the university. “It makes people ill and is an obstacle to sustainable organisational development.”

The University of Bremen’s project “Approaches towards a discrimination-sensitive higher education culture” seeks to develop an anti-discrimination directive which is to have a preventive effect and, alongside official complaints procedures, provides low-threshold intervention options.

The University of Music Würzburg intends to focus the coming winter semester on diversity and variety. With its five “Diversity Days”, it seeks to create spaces for discourse, run pilot projects to test new ways to promote diversity and experience it in music.

The “Diversity Days” are to provide scope for communication and dialogue and encourage a musical and artistic handling of the topic of diversity. The overall aim is to sensitise teachers, students and administrative staff to diversity and variety and hone their awareness of the potential which diversity holds.