UAlberta seeks to expand engagement with Germany

(Edmonton) Enhanced engagement between governments is needed for the University of Alberta to deliver on its commitment to work with institutions worldwide toward solving global challenges such as climate change, energy and cultural understanding.

The university’s latest effort to foster such interactions came as it hosted a high-level government delegation from North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s industrial powerhouse. Carl Amrhein, U of A provost (currently on professional leave), says universities need governments to create the enabling space within which universities can succeed internationally. Amrhein says such support could come from the Government of Alberta connecting at many levels in Germany.

“If there were, in advance, all the frameworks for collaborations in existence that permit us to get professors here together with professors in Germany, we would have a fantastic opportunity. We’re close to that type of integration with respect to Saxony and Bavaria and their universities. Having that kind of government-to-government framework with North Rhine-Westphalia would allow us to move seamlessly into a much more comprehensive form of engagement.”

Amrhein describes the official meetings with the delegation, which included one with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, as state-to-state at the sub-national level of Canadian province and German länder. “Our deputy premier is going to Bavaria next week, so there’s probably a next step with Bavaria forthcoming,” says Amrhein.

“It will be interesting to see what kind of opportunity there is, province to länder, with North Rhine-Westphalia. Our visitors, I think, discovered activities here that they did not know in advance. They didn’t know how deeply engaged the U of A is with many parts of Germany.”

Franz-Josef Lersch-Mense, cabinet secretary and head of the chancellery of North Rhine-Westphalia, says the members of the delegation were very pleased with what they saw. Lersch-Mense says “we have a high-grade internationalization at this university, and that’s very good for the future for international co-operation in research and development.”

Thomas Breustedt, cabinet secretary and speaker of the government of North Rhine-Westphalia, was equally impressed. “I was really astonished when I found in your fact sheet that there are more international undergraduates and graduate students at your university than those coming from around Canada. It’s really an opening of the U of A to the rest of the world; we’re part of it and we want to be more a part of it.”

“We’re ready for major interaction”

Energy, carbon-capture technologies and clean coal are among possible areas Lersch-Mense says universities in his region could consider to enhance the relationship.

“There’s a great imperative for both of us to pursue these areas,” Amrhein says. “And that’s already been successful for the U of A with the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative and our partners in China. So we have a sense of how to move forward. The new landscape for us out of this meeting is not Germany at large, because we already work in Saxony, Brandenburg, Bavaria and Berlin. North Rhine-Westphalia is new, and there are great opportunities here from a part of Germany that we have had small interactions with in the past. It looks like now we’re ready for major interaction.”

Research relationships: From clean energy to socioeconomic studies

Hannelore Kraft, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and leader of the delegation, gave a lecture for U of A students and researchers on May 28. She talked about Energiewende—an ambitious clean-energy project being undertaken in Germany.

“After the incident at Fukushima, we decided to phase out nuclear energy by 2022, completely and irreversibly, while continuing to work towards national and international climate targets. We intend to convert our supply of electricity to renewable resources by 2050, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions in line with European Union goals. And we want to do all that while keeping our international competitiveness,” Kraft says.

Kraft included social scientists in her delegation. One of them, Peter Strohmeier, professor of sociology and director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Regional Studies at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, says he will pursue collaborative research on an opportunity he saw during his visit.

“In my country, there’s a correlation between being an immigrant child and being a poor child, and having problems achieving the proper school qualifications and finding a job. This government that invited me to join this delegation is seriously interested in fighting these problems. And my impressions are that we’re reinventing wheels that are already running in other countries. It would be good if we could learn from positive experiences in Canada,” says Strohmeier.

Amrhein says this latest effort builds on a relationship that will grow over time.

Lorne Babiuk and I have been working with German organizations for many years; Britta Baron has been working on both sides for her entire career. I’m not sure what the capstone would look like for me in Germany, because their system is evolving and our system is evolving. And every time either side evolves, new opportunities arise.”