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29 June 2017 - Thomas Joppig

Jacobs University in Bremen – home to students of 106 nationalities


A community without borders

For over 15 years, Jacobs University in Bremen has attracted young, talented individuals from all over the world. Students from 106 countries make up a community that contributes to academic achievement and produces graduates that are highly sought after by companies.

Antonius Hegyes, a student of computer science at Jacobs University
Antonius Hegyes, a student of computer science at Jacobs University, has been recognised by the German Academic Exchange Service for his community work. © Thomas Joppig

Antonius ‘Tony’ Hegyes, originally from Romania, has been studying computer science at Jacobs University in Bremen for four semesters. During this time, he has also been managing the PR activities of Aspire, a Romanian organisation that aims to bring together young managerial talent from different countries. He passes on his IT knowledge to students in their first semesters, is actively involved in the university branches of Amnesty International and the Rotary youth organisation Rotaract, and has helped to organise a variety of events on campus that range from a blood drive to a programming competition. His work in the community has already earned him the recognition of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

I just enjoy doing what I can to champion meaningful causes.

Antonius Hegyes, student at Jacobs University

“And by the same token, you also get the feeling here that the lecturers enjoy passing on their knowledge and are passionate about their subjects,” Tony remarks.
A private university providing tuition in English, Jacobs University has attracted students from all over the world for more than 15 years. Its campus, housed in a former barracks, is something of an international village, with around 1,200 students living in small apartments across the site.

Students come from a wide range of backgrounds

Tony’s accommodation consists of just a few functionally arranged square metres, with a bed, a desk, a drying rack, and a bathroom that he shares with a fellow student from India. It’s enough for him, though, since he doesn’t spend much time here anyway. Whether it’s a sporting activity or an evening spent cooking and sharing dishes from each other’s home countries, there’s always something going on. As Tony puts it: “No one ever has to be alone here.” There are plenty of parties, too, as the students introduce one another to festivals from their own home country. Celebrations have included a traditional American Thanksgiving and Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

Professor Michael Hülsmann, the managing director of the university, also views the lively international scene as part of the learning concept. “We see ourselves as a place of intercultural understanding. Everyday life on our campus shows that people with very different backgrounds can live together in peace and see diversity as something that enriches their lives.” And it’s not only the home countries of the students that differ, but their economic backgrounds as well:

At our institution, students from wealthy families in the USA meet classmates who have grown up in a hut in Nepal.

Professor Michael Hülsmann, Managing Director and Member of the Executive Board

Scholarship programmes ensure that access to education is not hindered by a lack of financial resources. Three out of four students come from families that can’t afford to pay the annual tuition fees of €20,000 in full, or in some cases at all. Tony Hegyes is one of those who receives a grant.

One professor for every 15 students

The private university opened in 2001 under the name of the International University Bremen. It was established with the support of the state of Bremen, the University of Bremen, Rice University in Houston, Texas and a wide range of private and corporate donors. In 2006, the Bremen-born businessman Klaus J. Jacobs donated €200 million to ensure the university’s continued existence, and the institution was subsequently renamed after him. Attendees receive a high level of supervision, with one professor for every 15 students – a ratio most state universities can only dream of.

Despite its international reputation, the university has faced major financial challenges over the years. Hülsmann says this has made it all the more important for the institution to establish an effective organisational structure and clear focuses with regard to subject areas, and is optimistic about the university’s future:

We have left the experimental phase of the early years behind and are now looking to make sure we are economically sustainable.

Professor Michael Hülsmann, Managing Director and Member of the Executive Boar

Tony’s future could include a role in a large IT corporation – and the chances of this happening are good. “Last year, for example, 60 per cent of our information technology graduates were taken on by Microsoft,” says Hülsmann. Tony is particularly interested in web applications, online programmes that can be used without having to install software on an individual computer.

Students are admitted to the entire university, rather than a specific department

Excellent grades and references are not the only things required to gain a place at Jacobs University. “It’s important to us that our students are in a position to use their knowledge in a wider context. So during the selection process, we also look at whether the applicants are committed to social causes and whether their personal statement makes it clear that they can think outside the box,” explains the managing director.

Graduation Jacobs University Bremen 2017
Bremen’s Jacobs University celebrated its 15-year anniversary in 2016 © Jacobs University Bremen

Hülsmann likes to describe the university as a community without borders – not just because of its international nature, but also since there no rigid borders drawn between departments here. There are three broadly defined and interlinked subject areas – Mobility, Health and Diversity. Computer science, for example, comes under the area of Mobility, since it encompasses the movement of people, goods and information. Another unique feature is that successful applicants are effectively admitted to the institution as a whole, rather than being limited to a particular department or a specific subject area. Students gradually narrow their focus to a subject to specialise in, but for the first couple of weeks they can opt for a different subject area altogether, and they have until the end of the second semester to determine a specific focus within their chosen field.

One student’s mother flew over from Nepal to thank the professors in person

Subject-specific classes and lectures only make up two-thirds of the study programme, however – the remaining third is devoted to cross-disciplinary learning. “Regardless of where our students end up working later in life, we work on the premise that there are three things that are absolutely necessary: knowledge of IT, a business mindset and interpersonal skills,” says Hülsmann. “Therefore, everyone at our institution learns the basics of programming and accounting, while our ethics courses raise the students’ awareness of social issues.”

Many of the students come from developing nations, and the scholarship programme opens up career prospects for them that would have otherwise remained closed. Hülsmann and his colleagues have witnessed extraordinary changes in some of their students, and receive plenty of gratitude for what they do as well: “One young student who came here with just a T-shirt, a pair of shorts and sandals ended up being our first graduate in logistics,” he recalls. “I’ll always remember a mother from Nepal who had scraped together all her savings so that she could fly out to visit her daughter in Bremen and personally thank all her professors. When you experience things like this, you don’t doubt that you’re doing the right job in the right place.”

More information on Jacobs University: www.jacobs-university.de

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