UMass Expands Ties With German Universities

Gintautas Dumcius

Higher education representatives from the German state of Hessen will be coming next week to sign an exchange agreement with the University of Massachusetts.

Udo Corts, the German state of Hessen’s minister of higher education, research and the arts, will arrive September 20 to sign a faculty and student exchange agreement with UMass President Jack Wilson, bringing the total number of German universities UMass has a relationship with to over two dozen.

Before President Wilson and Cort sign the agreement, the minister will get introduced to the Boston campus. The minister is coming the weekend before on business with Harvard University. After UMass, he heads to New Jersey’s Princeton University, for a talk sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The minister’s arrival kicks off back-to-back visits to UMass Boston by foreign dignitaries, the other being Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Corts’ visit also highlights UMass’ current agreement with another state in Germany, Baden-Wuerttemberg.

“There are any number of opportunities for UMass Boston and University of Massachusetts system students to study at those universities, and not just language-based,” said Kenneth Lemanski, UMass Boston associate chancellor.

Lemanski was one of several university officials from the various campuses and the UMass President’s Office who took a whirlwind trip in July around Baden-Wuerttemberg, located in southeastern Germany near the Swiss and French boarders. University officials visited seven cities in six days, getting tours of each campus. “What became very obvious was that if you wanted to study, for instance, international business at the Mannheim University in Mannheim, Germany, you could do so, overseas,” Lemanski said. “You could get an alternative viewpoint of international business by attending a foreign university.”

For UMass Amherst students, Hohenheim University has an extensive agricultural program, with gardens on its rooftops. The University of Heidelberg has a large medical facility, with emphasis on health care and research, which UMass Boston and UMass Worcester students may find interesting. At one of the universities, three master’s degree students conceptualized, built, and launched a satellite.

Seeing the different universities and what they specialize in will be beneficial for future exchanges, officials say. “It was getting stale, in that we were having a hard time getting students to go there,” said Lurlene van Buren, UMass Boston’s study abroad coordinator. “If we get two per semester, we’re doing good.”

The number is higher than the Lowell campus’s, where involvement has been minimal. “They are trying to get on board now to do some of the exchanges,” said van Buren. “So I see Lowell coming on in the future.”

In over forty years, there have been more German students coming over to UMass than American students going over to Germany. Officials attribute this to financial and language barriers.

While German students learn English in grade school, American students often start languages, usually French or Spanish, in middle school. Nor is UMass as financially supportive of students’ living arrangements as Germany is. Germany remains an expensive country, with an economy much like the U.S., and a high standard of living. Currently, the euro is worth more than the dollar.

But the language barrier may not seem so high any more. Up until now, if a UMass Boston student wanted to study in Germany, some rudimentary knowledge of the language was needed. “That’s less necessary now and in the future,” said Lemanski.

More and more German universities have started teaching their introductory courses in English. For advanced-level courses, a good understanding of German is still needed.

“So you could go to those universities and take introductory-level courses in English, and management, and health, and history, and culture, et cetera,” said Lemanski. “Hopefully, the result of our visit has emphasized the need for more courses in English, more flexible course scheduling so that summer opportunities, intersession opportunities should be more available to our students in Germany.”

Lemanski said the trip solidified the forty-year relationship with Baden-Wuerttemberg, and established a new relationship with the state of Hessen. He noted the benefits of the foreign exchange.

“There are still tremendous advantages to studying at a foreign institution of higher ed, even for a semester,” said the UMass Amherst graduate, who went on to represent Chicopee in the state Legislature. “I’m sorry I never took advantage of that when I was in college.”