After Bologna: Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz breaks new ground in university teaching

Strategic measures lead to professionalization of learning and teaching as well as study management at Mainz University


The structural reforms initiated by the Bologna Process with the introduction of two-stage degree programs, in addition to the large number of students and the concomitant diversity of the student body, have necessitated a fundamental realignment of the academic formats of teaching and learning at German universities.

"I emphatically welcome today's conference and the considerable commitment that universities, such as Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, are investing in the issue of providing excellent teaching conditions. Given the almost 120,000 students enrolled at universities in Rhineland-Palatinate for the current 2012/2013 winter semester, this is more important than ever," stated Doris Ahnen, the Rhineland-Palatinate Minister of Education, Science, Continuing Education, and Cultural Affairs, on the occasion of the international conference Teaching Is Touching the Future at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). At the conference, some 250 participants will be discussing the future of university teaching.

Ahnen added that the state of Rhineland-Palatinate had also initiated projects designed to improve the quality of teaching. One example is the Rhineland-Palatinate Teaching Award, introduced in 2006 and worth EUR 10,000, which is given every two years to up to twelve academics. Another is the Quality Pact for Teaching, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Universities in Rhineland-Palatinate have been extremely successful in this competition, which was initiated by the federal and state governments and which has the goal of developing the quality of teaching. Almost EUR 43 million will be available to 2016 to the candidate universities that are successful.

Over the past six years, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz has introduced a total of 232 modularized degree programs (127 Bachelor's, 103 Master's, and two modularized religious degree programs) as a result of the Bologna reform. "By moving to these phased degree programs, the university has undergone one of the most fundamental changes since its re-opening after the Second World War," explained Professor Dr. Georg Krausch, President of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. "There is also a consistently large number of students and this number continues to increase. To be able to ensure a high quality of learning and teaching under these conditions, the university has, for many years, subjected the entire field of learning and teaching to an intensive review and reorganization process, which has led to the professionalization of teaching and learning as well as of study management. Foremost among these are the development and implementation of a uniform teaching strategy, the systematic evaluation of learning, teaching, and the examination system, the continuous striving towards system accreditation, as well as the targeted funding of innovative teaching and learning projects. In addition to this, there have been fundamental overall structural and organizational changes in the areas of study and examination administration and targeted augmentations within our academic and non-academic staff."

In 2010, for example, JGU received the Rhineland-Palatinate State Award for Excellence in Learning and Teaching for its strategic concept of learning and its efforts to enhance teaching competence. The establishment of the Gutenberg Teaching Council (GTC) in 2011 was another milestone on the way towards establishing innovative university teaching. The main tasks of this new body include the development of teaching and the promotion of academic teaching competence, while, at the same time, it contributes to the development of course structures and learning conditions at JGU. Designed to function as an expert committee, the Gutenberg Teaching Council is also assuming an advisory role in strategic issues of learning and teaching.

Making students fit for the future: Innovative measures

"'Make people fit for the future' – this is a concept to which our university is committed," stated Professor Dr. Mechthild Dreyer, JGU Vice President for Learning and Teaching. "We see learning and teaching as the areas in which we must convey the knowledge and competence that will ensure that our student body, i.e., a group that is very heterogeneous in terms of origin, educational background, and age, is fit for the future." With regard to the international context, core concepts are research-based learning, employability, and personal development. "In order to ensure that courses offered at JGU meet the consequent requirements, the Gutenberg Teaching Council has initiated appropriate measures to provide for the enhancement of teaching, existing academic teaching competence, and course structures at JGU," said the Vice President. These include, for example:

  • the establishment of appropriate forums and networks at Mainz University for the exchange of experience and the development of systematic teaching models;
  • projects designed to improve teaching competence and for the innovative development of teaching;
  • the promotion of a national and international exchange of information and experience in the field of practical teaching or teaching and learning research.

"In 2011 to 2015, the Rhineland-Palatinate state government will provide us with a total of EUR 8.5 million through the Higher Education Pact, which we will use specifically for projects relating to quality assurance in teaching and the promotion of female academics," added the Vice President. In addition to that, there is another EUR 12 million, which Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz will be receiving in 2012 to 2016 for three sub-projects under the terms of the Quality Pact for Teaching, funded by the German federal and state governments. This will be used to finance, for example, an examination workshop for teaching staff, which should contribute to the improvement of examination practices and also determine their effectiveness. "This extensive funding by the federal and state governments gives us the opportunity to systematically continue the measures initiated in recent years to develop and expand sustainable structures and to improve professional know-how among our teaching staff and our personnel in research support areas," the Vice President for Learning and Teaching emphasized. "And all this despite the considerable problems due to extremely high student numbers."

The initiated personnel and structural changes also include the long-term establishment of student advising offices in all faculties, the adaptation of the departmental advisory services to the requirements of the changing student situation, as well as improvements to the JGU Student Advising and Information Center and its specific Career Service with the goal of providing differentiated advice on all aspects of the 'student life cycle'.

"With regard to the optimization of the structural reforms initiated by the Bologna Process and in the view of the continuing large numbers of students, it is essential for the future of university teaching that we occupy a permanent place on the political and university agenda," said Dreyer. "We are, therefore, very pleased that the conference Teaching Is Touching the Future – Emphasis on Skills in Mainz will be discussing new ways for teaching at German universities."

With approximately 37,000 students from more than 130 countries, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz is the largest university in Rhineland-Palatinate and one of the ten largest universities in the Federal Republic of Germany.