Since January 2022, Prof. Dr. Ralf Dillerup has been elected as the new Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Transport at Heilbronn University and has been in office since March. In this interview, he talks about what it means to him to have been elected dean. He also outlines his plans for the general direction of the faculty as well as in terms of research and teaching - and reveals what would make him satisfied when he takes stock of his time as dean in four years' time.
Professor Dillerup, congratulations on your election as Dean of the Faculty of Business and Transport! You now head the largest faculty at HHN. What does this new position mean for you?
Thank you very much for your congratulations. I am pleased to have received a clear mandate from the faculty and to succeed my predecessor Stefan Wilms. He has led the faculty stably for over 12 years, doubling it in size and taking us to Bildungscampus. In addition, we have developed a very pleasant and collegial culture, so he leaves big shoes to fill. These need to be filled and the opportunities in this middle position as Dean between the Rectorate and the degree programs and research projects to shape a framework in which the faculty can continue to develop. I look forward to helping to ensure that students receive the best possible education in the degree programs and that we can support the strong economic region of Heilbronn-Franken with transfer and research. That is what drives me.
You certainly already have some concrete ideas about where you want to go.
Well, the first thing to do is to take on the current challenges. With the Bildungscampus, we have an outstandingly good infrastructure, but direct competition with other universities on campus. Heilbronn University used to be in a top dog situation in the business sector. Now, it is true that we have the longest tradition in the region and the "mother of all business administration" in Heilbronn with the Business Administration and Management degree program. A beacon for over 50 years with the best ranking results to be had in Germany. With our masters in Heilbronn University Graduate School (HUGS), we are not only at the top of German rankings, but also meet the most demanding criteria of AACSB accreditation. So far, we have not had to worry much about this; the applicants came to us because of the good teaching. Now, however, we have very strong competitors on campus who are also among the very best in their educational sectors. In addition, the growth of recent years has led to overcapacities of student places throughout the country, which are currently no longer countered by special effects such as in 2012 with the double high school graduation or high birth rates. So at the same time, we have a declining applicant potential and a more intense competitive landscape. As a strategist, these are important issues that bring with them potential for change and development. We are proactively facing up to the competitive conditions so that we can continue to build on our good position in four years' time.
What are your plans regarding research in your department?
Research and teaching are indispensably linked. We have already achieved remarkable things here in recent years. I would like to mention, for example, the LOGWERT Institute, which Prof. Dr. Bernecker established and which has gained an excellent reputation through great projects in the logistics and mobility environment. Here we will continue in this way and continue to research with several shoulders and heads in this exciting environment. Prof. Dr. Jens Hujer will be the faculty's next research professor there. In the area of digitalization and artificial intelligence, the faculty is also very strong in research. We participate in the AI School and focus on business application fields - an almost inexhaustible research area in which many colleagues are also active. Here I would like to mention Prof. Dr. Lanquion as a research professor and also Prof. Dr. Beckmann with a very strong transfer focus in the DigiHub of the region. Another example is innovation and entrepreneurship research, where a multi-million research project INDUKO conducts interdisciplinary research. In addition, there are many activities in all kinds of business management areas, related to family businesses, with international partners and often with a strong connection to our region. Application-related research is important for current teaching. Finally, we want to be even more attractive for young researchers with cooperative doctorates and probably soon also our own doctorate path.
The admission of ignorance. Modern science is ready to admit that it does not know everything. Even more, it assumes that everything we think we know can be disproved by new evidence. There is no theory that cannot be questioned. Do you share these theses?
Yes absolutely. The world around us is changing rapidly. Some people talk about the VUKA world. If we only think of digitalization, the changes from the Corona era, the climate challenges or now the Russian crisis, then many things need to be put to the test. If we want to remain relevant, many things need to be rethought, the tried and tested reviewed, and much researched. At the rate the world is changing, it is becoming increasingly impossible to want to know everything. We will also think more in terms of experimental, agile approaches. Clear boundaries between known and unknown, black and white will hardly exist anymore. So we need to learn and teach not only in the realm of the known, but also how to deal with uncertainty and also with crisis.
The acquisition of new skills. Modern science, moreover, is not satisfied with just coming up with theories. It uses these theories to acquire new skills and, above all, to develop new technologies. An important main task of a university of applied sciences, besides research and teaching, is to set accents in the area - Third Mission. Where do you see the focus for your work there? How important is it for you to interact with society?
The Third Mission is rightly included in our specifications. For our master's degree programs, we have specified this in an intensive discussion process in such a way that we develop responsible personalities who are potential leaders. This does not mean exclusively educating "tough" business economists, but we think of mature, critically thinking open minds that reflect themselves and the world around them and change it for the better. This is what we care about intensively. One goal, for example, is to give as many as possible an international experience, which changes their world view and personality. We have also incorporated other personality and team development events into all of our curricula. We also take up social issues and make concrete calls to action. For example, at the beginning of the Corona pandemic, considerable engagement of our students in many projects helped to better manage the crisis. We are currently experiencing the same in dealing with the consequences of the Ukraine tragedy.
It is well known how important your job as a lecturing professor is to you. Doesn't that make it difficult for you to cut back on teaching now that you have new responsibilities as dean?
Yes, that is very difficult for me. First and foremost, I am a passionate university lecturer and would like to remain so. However, I see how there are increasingly conflicting schedules between teaching and function. However, I would like to remain active in teaching at the undergraduate, graduate and master levels in order to see and feel where the shoe pinches. At a university, everyone should also be active in teaching. The responsibility does not lie exclusively with me, but we are a strong team in the extended dean's office in the faculty and a strong team with the rectorate in the role as a member of the extended university management. Currently we have tumultuous times, many things still need to settle in and priorities need to be set. I am working on it, but Rome was not built in a day. It's not always easy, I'm impatient and curious by nature, but I'm also no longer the youthful impetuosity. The task now is to tackle the important things in the right order, while also maintaining the right balance between my professional and private life, which is also very important to me. It is important to live a credible balance and not just talk about work-life balance.
What impulses can your students expect?
You can expect to be encouraged and also challenged. It is important that the study period is a good time in which students grow both professionally and personally. It is important to me that how best to prepare them for the future. If, in a few years after graduation, students say that studying at the faculty has enabled them to develop well, both personally and professionally, then we have done everything right. For this, it can and must also be strenuous at times during studies, it is part of being pushed to the limits, and to grow when limits are overcome.
What would make you satisfied and perhaps happy when you sum up your time as dean four years from now?
I will look back with satisfaction when we can do our work in the best possible way in a collegial environment, and in this way produce many graduates who make their way and in their roles move the world forward. Also when the impact of the faculty is effective in the form of research results in the academic world, but especially in practice. And when we make ourselves even more visible in competition as the "Heilbronn economy" - at Bildungscampus we are, together with our sister faculty, the second largest business unit in "the Länd". We want to stay that way, be perceived as such and maybe even climb one more place on the ladder. In any case, in this competitive situation, don't fall behind!
From the press release of Heilbronn University, 04 October 2022.