WIESBADEN--Last week, the rectors of Germany's universities met in Wiesbaden to debate the alma mater's responsibility for their graduates' success in the professional world. To emphasize their desire to foster interaction between higher education and industry, this year's meeting of Germany's Association of Universities (HRK) took place at a University of Applied Science (Fachhochschule Wiesbaden). Also, representatives from industry where invited. "We want to stimulate the dialogue between universities and industry about structural improvements of our mutual coordination," says Klaus Landfried, the HRK's president.

During the 2-day meeting, representatives from both industry and academia explored new bridges between the two communities. In his speech to the rectors, Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder demanded a new spirit of collaboration between science and the economy: "A rigid separation of industry and universities harms economic and technical--and hence social--development in Germany." The chancellor also explicitly welcomed a new program to introduce bachelor's and master's degrees at German universities, Next Wave reported. "Shorter studies, international mobility, and up-to-date curricula are essential preconditions for the competitiveness of our universities," said Schröder. Landfried agrees that reducing the graduation age would improve the international career prospects of German academics.

Landfried also asked the universities to offer more assistance to graduates making the transition from study to work. "I see an obligation for the universities to prepare their graduates early and actively for the job market," he said. He noted that there is still a considerable need for alumni networks that can foster dialogue about the curricula's practical use and also establish and cultivate industry contacts.

Industry representatives welcomed the suggestions and encouraged the academics to implement them quickly. "Universities create industry's most valuable resource, i.e., broadly educated people," said Lothar Späth, CEO of Jenoptik Corp. Although capital and labor are available everywhere, highly qualified management is scarce, said Späth: "In future, industry will look more than ever for creative people with social, educational, and psychological skills." To meet that need, he argues that universities should complement strong basic education with intensive industry contacts.

Although the dialogue is now open, Germany's entrepreneurial rectors will have to spread the word at home. They do not expect it to be easy to change the entrenched practices of academia, but they are hopeful. "One man with courage is a majority for himself," said Späth.