New Karlsruhe Institute of Technology hopes to compete on a global scale

The planned merger of the University of Karlsruhe and the Karlsruhe Research Centre, aimed at creating Germany’s first global scientific research and academic powerhouse, is moving full speed ahead, with necessary legislative approval expected by July.

The merged university and research centre, to be named the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, or KIT, will include Europe’s biggest energy research centre as well as world-class bases for nano- and microscale research, elementary particle and astroparticle physics, and climate/environment, according to KIT spokesperson Elisabeth Zuber-Knost.

’After our merger, we will be the biggest research centre in Germany,’ she told Chemistry World.

The cabinet of the ruling government of the state of Baden-Württemberg has already prepared a proposed bill for the merger, to be introduced in the state parliament. Approval by July is a near certainty, Zuber-Knost says, adding: ’The political support for KIT is tremendous. They are convinced it will be a model for other [such] mergers in Germany.’

In addition to the four research centres, KIT will also focus on communication and computation, novel and applied materials, mobility systems (auto engineering and energy storage), and optics and photonics, she says.

Uli Lemmer, head of the Light Technology Institute at the University of Karlsruhe, says the merger will give current university-based researchers access to the highly specialised equipment at the Karlsruhe Research Centre, such as the ANKA synchrotron facility. ’We will benefit from technology and infrastructure,’ he says. ’It will certainly give us a boost.’

The university already has a strong reputation. In 2006 it was selected as one of nine so-called ’elite’ German universities as part of a €1.9 billion programme (£1.7 billion) to better compete with the global reputations enjoyed by some US and UK universities. 

Lemmer believes KIT will be the first German university to be able to compete with these top universities for the most talented science students in Asia and other parts of the world. ’How do we get the best scientists to Germany?’ he asks. ’This is probably the most important aim for the future of KIT, that we recruit students and scientists from all over the world.’

Currently, the University of Karlsruhe has 18,000 students, 4,300 staff, and an annual budget of about €300 million. The Karlsruhe Research Centre has 3,700 staff members and a budget of €408 million.

Many research centre scientists already hold teaching positions at the university, says Zuber-Knost, and staff members have been assured there will be no merger-related job cuts.

Zuber-Knost acknowledges that there are scattered concerns amongst staff, but that most are supportive of the merger. The current heads of both entities will remain after the merger as co-heads of KIT until one leaves or retires, at which time KIT will be led by the remaining head. ’The merger is not a takeover by either the University of Karlsruhe or the Karlsruhe Research Centre, it is a coming together,’ says Zuber-Knost.