Professor Hauke Heekeren took over the office from his predecessor Dieter Lenzen, but that's where the similarities quickly end. The 52-year-old prefers to appear bold and friendly rather than with a slightly awkward, professorial grandeur. In addition to his professional qualifications as a neuroscientist and university manager, this may also have been one of the reasons why a selection committee wooed him from Berlin to Hamburg a year ago, because new forms of communication and behavior were in demand. However, Lenzen has given him an excellent university in terms of content, and it is Heekeren's goal to make even more of it.
WELT AM SONNTAG: How can you tell that you have been in office for a year?
Hauke Heekeren: For example in the culture of discussion within the university. I wanted and still want to get in touch with people and make the university leadership something that can be experienced. These include campaigns such as our “Coffee Bike” format, which is a barista on a bicycle. I stand with him at various campus locations, and the employees and members of the university are then invited to have a coffee with the President. From interns to caretakers, doctoral students to professors, everyone comes - you can discuss the things that really move people.
WELT AM SONNTAG: What is moving you at the moment?
Heekeren: For a long time that was still pandemic management, but of course also the attack on Ukraine and the consequences that we are feeling here, for example in the energy sector. We have developed what is known as scenario-based planning for saving energy, but we also involved the various departments of the university directly in the development. Local expertise is very helpful in this regard. But there are also topics that influence and change the university in the long term, such as the so-called "twin transformation": We want to become more digital and more sustainable in equal measure, and very often these are linked. You already reported in WELT AM SONNTAG about our CSO, Laura Marie Edinger-Schons, the university's first female sustainability manager.
WELT AM SONNTAG: The commercial city of Hamburg and the university did not always work well together. How did you perceive that?
Heekeren: I heard about that, but that's no longer an issue today. At least since the many events around the 100th anniversary of the University of Hamburg in 2019, the city and the university are even more closely connected, that's my impression. The Uni is very visible in the city. We are now picking up on this phase again after the pandemic and want to have an impact on the city with great formats, such as the "Lecture for everyone" in unusual places or the "Knowledge on tap" series in Hamburg's bars and pubs.
WELT AM SONNTAG: You sound so positive. When you used to talk to university management, it was really only about money and underfunding.
Heekeren: That will always be an issue. We are very stable at the moment. But it is also clear that the issues will come to us. There are the energy costs, but there is also inflation, which in turn is linked to the development of wages among our employees. We are in good discussions with the responsible authorities. I have the word from politics that we will not be left hanging.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Some students feel the situation is very different.
Heekeren: Yes, and that moves me a lot, because I get some of the students' descriptions very directly. Unfortunately, as university management, we cannot directly influence many things. Student housing is part of it, as is BAföG. In my view, something needs to be done urgently. There are promises from the federal government. And the 200 euros in compensation for the increased costs have not yet been paid out either. Hopefully that will happen soon.
WELT AM SONNTAG: You took over a university of excellence from your predecessor Dieter Lenzen, four clusters were classified as excellent. This is valid for six years, half of the time has passed. What do you have to do now to defend or even expand this award?
Heekeren: That's right, in May this year is half-time. We are currently concerned specifically with how we will further position ourselves with regard to the clusters of excellence. We have positioned ourselves with applications for three new clusters. On the one hand, there is infection research with a very interdisciplinary approach. Then we have an initiative for kidney research, a cooperation between UKE and medicine at RWTH Aachen University. And the third cluster is in the field of neuroscience, dealing with the topic of how we make decisions and what happens in the brain.
WELT AM SONNTAG: They would then be added to the four clusters that already exist. What opportunities do you see for this?
Heekeren: It's a highly competitive competition. There are currently 57 clusters of excellence running across Germany. The German Research Foundation assumes that maybe 15 to 20 percent of them will not get through if they face the extension. There will be a total of around 70 clusters in the future, which means around 20 will have to be reassigned. Should we ultimately be successful with more than four clusters of excellence, that would be a great success for us and the metropolitan region
WELT AM SONNTAG: How important would that be for the entire university?
Heekeren: We want to show that Hamburg is a strong and diverse science metropolis. That must be our claim as Universität Hamburg, which is why we face up to the strong competition. It is important to me that we anchor a broad understanding at the university, that we are overall excellence and that this spirit is transferred to all areas.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Earlier you addressed the topic of digitization. Does this mean that the way universities work is about to undergo a major upheaval?
Heekeren: We are already noticing that, reinforced by the effects of the pandemic. Studies and the tools that students work with have become more digital. The way of teaching and learning has also changed. You see, for example, how the nature of libraries has changed. They have become places of learning where you can also work digitally or participate in hybrid events.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Nevertheless, the university is building in many places, in Bahrenfeld a completely new district is being created with Science City. Do you still need so many buildings?
Heekeren: Yes, the building projects are very important. My impression is that, especially in politics, there is sometimes a misunderstanding that we might need fewer rooms if teaching were more digitized. I see it differently. We sometimes need different rooms and sometimes even more rooms, but they are different than before and more flexible in use. These rooms can be used at any time for analogue, hybrid and digital lectures and seminars, but also for group or individual work. A large “Learning Center” will be built for this purpose in Science City.
WELT AM SONNTAG: And how will the content change when artificial intelligence and existing programs like ChatGTP take over the accumulation of knowledge?
Heekeren: This has long been discussed at the university, the discussion is actually very active. We have a center for university teaching and learning that discusses these questions on an evidence-based basis: Which skills will be even more important in the future? What about curricula and examination regulations? In any case, it is the university's aim to promote critical thinking, assessment and evaluation as well as contextualisation. These are all things that ChatGPT or comparable models cannot do. That means it will be even more important in the future. With pure knowledge reproduction, on the other hand, one does not get any further, but one develops other approaches.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Have you ever had ChatGPT write you a speech?
Heekeren: I've already experimented with it and tried out ChatGPT: As a scientist, I've dealt intensively with the interface between psychology, economics and neuroscience. And that's where language and computer models, which we're talking about now, played a big role. It was quite an inspiration what came out of my experiments. But of course you have to be able to judge what ChatGPT offers you.
WELT AM SONNTAG: These opportunities will also play an increasing role in schools. They, in turn, train the teachers, and there are already too few of them - and the problem will increase dramatically. How will the university deal with this?
Heekeren: We want to assume social responsibility for the metropolitan region and we also talk a lot about knowledge transfer, i.e. knowledge exchange. It often works through the heads. The teachers are crucial for this. Teacher training is one of the fields of study with our largest number of graduates: We train people for a profession who convey scientific and critical thinking. We take this very, very seriously. And to answer your question specifically: We are also talking to the responsible authorities about what other efforts we can make together to improve this situation. There is already an ongoing growth program, but we definitely need to do more.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Or society must be open to the fact that the teaching profession can be obtained in different ways.
Heekeren: Yes, we are also open to other academic approaches and that is one of the points that we discuss with the school board and also with the science board. For example, there is a model that is being discussed: Can't students who have completed their bachelor's degree without the educational science component also be given the opportunity to then complete a master's degree that leads to teaching?
WORLD ON SUNDAY: What else could happen?
Heekeren: So far, you have had to study at least two subjects to become a teacher. One possibility would therefore also be the "single-subject teacher". There is currently a lot of discussion about whether this could be a way of closing gaps. Hamburg is currently still in a good position in terms of supply, but you can also see that other federal states are going into the recruitment offensive. Hamburg cannot rest here.
WELT AM SONNTAG: You will soon be able to respond to this as chairman of the state university conference, so you will then be the liaison between the state universities and the universities in the Hanseatic city. How have you experienced the collaboration so far?
Heekeren: I will take on the role of spokesman for the LHK from May onwards. So far, I have perceived the cooperation as very cooperative, collegial and also very trusting. At the University of Hamburg, for example, we have just concluded a cooperation agreement with the Hamburg University of Technology because we are very complementary when it comes to the range of subjects. There are already a lot of collaborations. We have the University of Music and Theater in the neighborhood, with which we offer the Theater Studies course together.
WELT AM SONNTAG: What other impulses can you then set in your spokesman's office?
Heekeren: We will also see how we as universities can make progress together in digitization. I think that's something where we can benefit a lot from each other. Not every institution has to solve this on its own. In addition, I am also concerned with the joint positioning as scientific institutions in the metropolitan region. Here we can emphasize even more what we can achieve together. And finally, we have a joint project: we call it PIER - that's the Partnership for Innovation, Education and Research. In the extended form: PIER PLUS. We want to make the already established research profiles even more visible. Let's take climate research - there you can see which institutions are already working well together. Or with the change in mobility. Here input comes from us, but also from the TUHH, HafenCity University Hamburg and others. And all of this in cooperation with powerful non-university institutions such as DESY and the Max Planck Institutes
WELT AM SONNTAG: The University of Hamburg is striving more strongly than in previous decades for cutting-edge research. Is this your way of continuing to try to get top scientists from all over the world here? Is Hamburg on the map, on the mind map of these people?
Heekeren: Hamburg is on the international map in many scientific fields. I would particularly emphasize physics with the two excellence clusters and climate research. If you come from Berlin and want to recruit international researchers, you don't have to explain much. In Hamburg it is still different in some areas. That means we have to step up and get even better.
WELT AM SONNTAG: As a Berliner, you first had to be enthusiastic about Hamburg.
Heekeren: It wasn't difficult though. I think Hamburg is very beautiful and worth living in. And I also found out that as soon as you have managed to bring colleagues from abroad to have a look around here, it is easy to convince them too. The point is what comes before. To increase the likelihood that top researchers will say: Hamburg is a hub for international science. And I think there is still room for improvement.
In his scientific work, Hauke Heekeren, born in Herford in 1971, combines several spheres. He studied medicine at the universities of Münster, Munich, Berlin and Essen, later specializing in biological psychology and cognitive neuroscience and becoming Dean of Education at the Freie Universität Berlin. As Vice President with a focus on studies and teaching, he became known to the professional public - which ultimately led to his appointment to Hamburg.