A holistic, interdisciplinary approach


Prof. Dr. Monika Jungbauer-Gans has been scientific director of the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW) since 1 September 2015. The DZHW studies the higher education and science system from a holistic perspective that takes account of all aspects of the system – including teaching, studies, doctoral degrees, continuing scientific education, research, knowledge transfer and innovation. Analysis of socially relevant topics is central to the Centre's profile.

WiHo editorial team (the editorial team for the BMBF's "research on higher education and science" website): How would you describe your institute's mission?
Jungbauer-Gans: The DZHW is a competence centre that operates both nationally and internationally. It maintains a clear research orientation, along with a balanced range of research and service programmes that complement and reinforce each other.  The institute pursues application-oriented, empirical research, consistently focusing on issues of relevance to society and to higher education and science policy. We also consider questions arising in national and international research-related discussion. In keeping with recommendations of the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat), we are committed to carrying out holistic, interdisciplinary research on the structures and processes of the higher education and science system.

The DZHW's range of services is aimed at policymakers in the science and education sectors, at the scientific community and at universities and research institutions. It includes provision of analyses and expert opinions, and of consulting services, for decision-makers and stakeholders in the science, policymaking and science-administration sectors. We seek to offer high-quality services that, methodologically, are in keeping with the latest research standards. The DZHW's employees are actively committed to the Centre's goals. Via their commitment, they help to generate and publish findings about the higher education and science sectors, and to make such findings available to science-sector policymakers and to the general public.

WiHo editorial team: What challenges do you think the Centre will face in the coming years, and what sort of profile do you think it will have 10 years from now?
Jungbauer-Gans: The DZHW's research is of course based on empirical evidence and state-of-the-art analytical methods. We continually seek to address new, and innovative, types of questions, and to enhance and refine our thematic emphases. This is because we at the DZHW want to continue, on an ongoing basis, meeting the needs of policymakers, the higher education sector and society for reliable information resulting from long-term monitoring of processes and developments in the higher education and science sectors. This includes monitoring that addresses transparency issues.

WiHo editorial team: Regarding the status quo of research on higher education and science in Germany: In what areas is such research especially strong? In what ways does it still need to improve?
Jungbauer-Gans: Research on higher education and science consistently serves basic information requirements, such as requirements for information emerging from monitoring of higher education. The resources it still lacks include a good database for panel analyses of the educational and career biographies of scientists and researchers. It would also profit from additional international comparative studies on such aspects as courses of studies, transition into the labour market, governance in higher education and research, and mechanisms and developmental dynamics in science and research.

WiHo editorial team: What topics do you think will be central in research on higher education and science in the coming years?
Jungbauer-Gans: I can think of an entire range of research topics, such as governance structures and their impacts on the performance of higher education institutions, research institutions and research consortia; and unintended impacts of higher-education and science policy. Another interesting topic area involves the connections between academic and vocational qualifications – for example, with regard to "non-traditional" groups of students and their academic success, to dual-degree university programmes and to academically based further training and education for persons with vocational qualifications. Recruiting of young scientists and researchers will also be a centrally important topic in the coming years. The issues involved in this connection include identification and motivation of excellent young scientists and researchers; emphasising collaboration versus emphasising reliance on individual reputation; and key interactions between institutional frameworks and individual careers. 

WiHo editorial team: Currently, we are seeing a strong trend in which more and more people are enrolling in higher education programmes. In addition, the numbers of study programmes being offered have grown rapidly in the past few years.  Can you explain these trends from your perspective as a researcher who studies the higher education and science sectors?
Jungbauer-Gans: There are many reason why the numbers of students are growing. One reason is that growing numbers of grammar school students have been obtaining higher education entrance qualifications, and that more and more persons without such qualifications are being admitted – under certain conditions – to higher education programmes. In addition, persons with higher levels of qualifications now face lower unemployment risks than they have in the past. In this connection, researchers speak of "monetary and non-monetary returns on education" that enhance motivation to participate in higher education.

The numbers of study programmes have increased sharply especially in connection with the introduction of the two-tier study system. And this connection results not only from the system itself, with its division of studies into two phases, but also from the options – and even pressures – it provides for developing organisational profiles and for competing for excellent students. Furthermore, the growing numbers of study programmes are politically desired, because this growth leads to creative new combinations of programmes and to study programmes with an interdisciplinary orientation. And such developments enhance academic flexibility, as well as sub-disciplines' political options for establishing themselves professionally in their own right.