Experiencing and Shaping Dialog

Interview with Holger Hanselka, President of KIT
Professor Holger Hanselka KIT, Markus Breig

Professor Holger Hanselka has been President of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) since 2013. In the past eight years, he  successfully led the university through a fundamental transformation process and the  Germany-wide competition of all universities for excellence. In addition to top-class research and an authentic university culture, he  relies on intensive exchange between science and society, which will now be fostered by the KIT Science Week.    

Professor Hanselka, KIT is considered to be unique in the German science system. How did that come about?

As "The Research University in the Helmholtz Association,", KIT is indeed something special. This slogan stands for the merger of the former Technical University of Karlsruhe with its more than 195-years tradition and the Karlsruhe Research Center, the predecessor institution of which was founded in 1956. The goal was to jointly use the great potential and synergy effects. Since I took office, we have subjected the KIT, which was founded in 2009, to a comprehensive change process and have turned it into a research and education institution that is authentic and strategically competitive. Thanks to our large-scale research mission, we have fifty percent more scientific capacity than other universities. At the same time, we have the right to appoint professors and award doctorates. This is of relevance to academic education and studies. And this unique combination makes us predestined for contributing to solving major future tasks in dialog with society.

You have committed to the leitmotif "Living the Change". What do you associate with that?

When we started preparing for the Excellence Competition, we asked ourselves: What can we do that others can't? And what do we want to achieve? This is how our leitmotif was developed. It comprises three dimensions. First of all, we are an excellent technical university. Since its foundation in Karlsruhe in 1825, it has always contributed to progress and change in the region and in the world with its innovations. However, each of these technological innovations always had and have an impact on society. This is the second dimension: Today, we are asking ourselves : Could society also have an impact on us? Because society increasingly expresses its needs and confronts science with them. We want to give this exchange a new quality. And not least, KIT stands for an institution that may serve as an example of how change can be shaped at eye level.

How do you plan to further expand the dialog with society?

We have developed various instruments and forms of events for this particular purpose. An example is the so-called Real World Lab Professorship. For a lab, we will invite applications for two professorships at the same time, one in engineering and natural sciences and one in the humanities. Both professors will then direct the lab as a tandem. In this way, we will ensure that research on a topic like autonomous driving is conducted from both the technical and the ethical and legal perspective. The underlying idea is that of real-world laboratories, which also are a strength of Karlsruhe. Via these labs, we offer citizens to speak with us about a scientific topic, such as AI and robotics, and to participate in shaping it. The KIT Science Week is a completely new participatory type of event that brings the science community together with the interested public.

Can an event like the Science Week also enhance KIT’s international visibility?

We expect scientists from all over the world. Different social models and cultures will meet. For many, this week with new types of participatory events and experiences will be unusual and for some, it may be an eye-opener. I would be very proud, if we could provide new impetus to transfer to and dialog with the world.

What are you particularly looking forward to during this week of events?

To be honest, the evening events. They will give me the opportunity to convey to the interested public and our stakeholders what the scientists have worked on during the day, to experience the dialog first-hand, and to play an active role in it. That is why I have already saved the dates.