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Looking to the future, learning from the past


A long academic tradition is one of the qualities that unites the 39 member universities of the Coimbra Group. At this most recent meeting in Salamanca it was also clear that the group’s gaze is directed towards the future.

The JMU team at the meeting of the Coimbra Group in Salamanca (from left): Nicola Seitz, Stephan Schröder-Köhne, Marcus Holtz, Annette Retsch, Florian Evenbye und Kristina Förster. Not pictured: Alois Palmetshofer. (Photo: Diana Afrashteh, University o
The JMU team at the meeting of the Coimbra Group in Salamanca (from left): Nicola Seitz, Stephan Schröder-Köhne, Marcus Holtz, Annette Retsch, Florian Evenbye und Kristina Förster. Not pictured: Alois Palmetshofer. (Photo: Diana Afrashteh, University of Graz).

In such company, even Julius-Maximilians-University of Würzburg (JMU), first founded in 1402, seems young: The University of Bologna traces its origins back to the year 1088, while Charles University in Prague was founded in 1348 by Charles IV. And the roots of the University of Salamanca date back to 1218, meaning that the oldest university in Spain had the opportunity to celebrate its 800th anniversary this year.

The anniversary was one of the reasons why the Coimbra Group’s annual conference was held in Salamanca this year. The group sees itself as a union of traditional European and multidisciplinary universities of highly international character – 39 universities from 22 countries have come together under one roof with the goal of sharing perspectives and influencing educational policy at both a national and European level.

JMU delegation in Salamanca

Six JMU representatives traveled to Salamanca for the Coimbra meeting this year. In various working groups, each with one of three main foci “Research”, “Education”, or “Outreach”, they discussed current topics in education and began work on new projects.

Besides,  there was also occasion to celebrate a success: Nicola Seitz, a doctoral student at the Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, had in early April qualified for participation in the finals of the European competition “3 Minute Thesis” (3MT). In 3MT, competitors must explain their research project to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes. In Salamanca, Nicola Seitz presented her dissertation project on the study of ideal habitats for wild bees and reached third place.

Research developments and projects

The “3MT” competition was launched and organized by the Doctoral Studies Working Group of the Coimbra Group. Dr. Stephan Schröder-Köhne, Head of Graduate Schools at JMU, is its Würzburg representative. The focus of this group is the early phases of scientific careers. Among other activities, the members develop basic principles for good doctoral student supervision and discuss measures that can be used to assess and ensure the high quality of doctoral studies.

Dr. Alois Palmetshofer, associate professor at the Faculty of Biology at JMU, is a member and vice chairman of the Life Sciences Working Group. Its members contribute significantly to the internationalization of study programs. They have the further goal of promoting young European scientists in the fields of biological and medical science. They are responsible, for example, for organizing joint study programs and providing special services for students from newly industrializing countries, who may possess strong theoretical background skills but limited laboratory experience and who would like to apply for a master’s program at a European university after completing their bachelor’s degree.

Innovation and exchange in the field of education

The usage of new technologies and promotion of accompanying research to shape good teaching are central concerns of the Education and Innovation Working Group. Its Würzburg representative is Kristina Förster from ProfiLehre at the Service Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (ZILS). One of the group’s current projects is to establish a Europe-wide good practice database in which teachers present examples of innovative teaching practices. Together with the  Academic Exchange and Mobility Working Group and the EU-policy officer José Diez Verdejo, Förster and the other group members also discussed the potential benefits of the program “Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange” for students, teachers, and universities. ProfiLehre will soon be providing lecturers with information on both of the aforementioned topics.

The Academic Exchange and Mobility Working Group deals with diverse topics dealing with the mobility of students, teaching staff, and employees at universities. Florian Evenbye of the International Office of JMU, who also served as the delegation leader for the Würzburg participants, is also involved in the group. The areas of focus at the most recent meeting in Salamanca were a handbook for dealing with emergencies, intended to facilitate appropriate interaction with students in the case of disasters, terrorist attacks, or suicides, as well as the optimization of Erasmus internships, joint training for university employees, and the further digitalization of student exchange programs.

The Employability Working Group, of which Dr. Annette Retsch of the JMU Career Center is a member, is also involved in addressing these issues. With the goal of strengthening the personal development of students in order to prepare them for rapidly changing labor market conditions and societal issues, the group is currently working to bring together the digitization strategies of European Career Center institutions. It is also involved in comparing “digital tools” in actual practice. Their goal is to both identify the best way to reach students and to critically examine the often postulated added economic and social value of such tools. Their findings will be used in a joint application for the financing of a subsequent digitization project using EU funds.

Outreach and perspectives

In accordance with the long academic tradition and the highly international approach of the Coimbra universities, the Heritage Working Group looks at a wide spectrum of subject-specific examples of good practice in the tradition of education, culminating in examination of the far-reaching importance of universities for cultural, social, and political development in Europe. Here, JMU is represented by Dr. Marcus Holtz, Head of the University Archives.

Those who are interested in this topic should take a look at the “Treasury of University Collections”.

More information on the Coimbra Group can be found here.

If you have any questions, please contact the representatives of the individual working groups.