With its philosophy “Responsibility is Key”, the University of Vechta puts questions about the future of society at the centre of academic discourse, summarised under the general topic of transformation processes in rural areas. The close connection of research, academic teaching and transfer of knowledge in combination with specific key profiles in the fields of teacher training, social and human services, agriculture and food, and cultural studies at the University of Vechta aims to prepare future generations to cope with complex challenges in rural areas in a globalised world (major societal challenges). With the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations presented such a system of goals in 2015. The University of Vechta is guided by this universal framework. The university meets the challenge to sensitise and educate all affiliates of the university for transformation processes toward sustainable development and qualify them to contribute to shaping a social and democratic society that is viable for the future. The university’s intention to contribute to a future-oriented, sustainable society is reflected in its determined actions with regard to higher education policies and society as a whole.
Due to its origins, genesis and regional background, one of the most important key profiles of the University of Vechta is teacher training for primary schools and Haupt- and Realschulen (lower secondary schools). For almost 200 years, the University of Vechta has represented high-quality teacher training. In this context, the further development of the content and strategy of teacher training at the University of Vechta and its consolidation in terms of staff play an important role. The University of Vechta is a central pillar for teacher training in Lower Saxony. With the establishment of the School of Education (ZfLB) in 2012, the central position of teacher training at the University of Vechta has been significantly expanded and given a more specific profile. The university supports this development by focussing on interdisciplinary tasks of teacher training and strengthening the ZfLB as a driving force for research-based further development in the fields of university didactics and competence orientation.
Social and human services
The area of social and human services is a central, innovative key profile in teaching, research and transfer. Social and human services cover a wide range of social, social pedagogical, educational, health- and care-related fields and facilities and relate to different personal social and/or immaterial problem situations, especially in the areas of education, advisory services, treatment, support and care. The focus of this key profile is on the different perspectives on the social aspect as a political construct of human coexistence. Coping with risks and problems related to social aspects, life situations or the course of life as well as the associated social and human services are objects of high social relevance. The University of Vechta meets the challenges in this field by taking into account individual, family-related, social, spatial and socio-political aspects of ageing in an interdisciplinary manner with regard to the course of life and by meeting the growing demand for research-related/analytical, planning, organisational and socio-political competence.
Agriculture and food
The University of Vechta, with its philosophy “Responsibility is Key”, considers this key profile vital for facing further central challenges of the region, in which the agriculture and food industry represents the most important economic branch. With system-oriented approaches and transdisciplinary concepts in the field of research, education and knowledge transfer, projects are to be planned along the various value chains. The aim is to develop interdisciplinary solution and action concepts for an innovation-oriented, resilient as well as ecologically and socially sustainable development of the region. In terms of current requirements for transformation research projects, close cooperation with stakeholders from the economy, politics and civil society is particularly important. At the University of Vechta, the Coordination Centre for Sustainability Transformation Research on Intensive Agricultural Regions in Northwest Lower Saxony was established in 2017. It addresses environmental, social and economic challenges of the agriculture and food industry in the region in a research-based and participative manner, involving the economy and civil society. In this way, the third-mission approach is particularly taken into account.
As a key profile, cultural studies combine several distinctive disciplines of the humanities, social sciences and cultural studies. Due to its interdisciplinary approach to issues concerning cultural change, this key profile is suited for a profound and cross-linked examination of cultural and social change and transformation processes. The diversity of disciplinary approaches in cultural studies allows different approaches to questions concerning cultural change and the corresponding transformation processes and thus meets the necessary plurality for a differentiated view. Cultural studies promote the superordinate normative goal “Responsibility is Key” at the university by responding to the immediate surrounding social, economic, and environmental changes as well. Overall, the academic discipline deals with aspects that contribute directly to further developing the key profiles and cross-cutting issues digitalisation, internationalisation, diversity and sustainability. Cultural studies in particular can contribute to dealing with current challenges through their interdisciplinary approach and ultimately contribute to understanding ongoing processes of change and transformation.
With our cross-cutting issues digitalisation, internationalisation, sustainability and gender and diversity, we are facing up to the challenges of the present. We are striving to create a discrimination-free and diversity-sensitive space that offers fair development opportunities for all and recognises, values and takes into account diverse lifestyles.
In the context of application-oriented digitalisation, the University of Vechta is successfully engaged in national and international research projects. The university deals with digital cultures of innovation in administration, digital media in the field of local cultural heritage, digital methods for creating potential for civil society engagement, digital networking platforms for older people or, more generally, with the idea of a Smart Region. For many years, the University of Vechta has successfully been participating in the joint project eCULT (2011–2020), to which universities in Lower Saxony contribute their experience and expertise in the use of digital learning technologies to improve teaching. As part of the Qualitätsoffensive Lehrer*innenbildung (quality initiative for teacher training), the University of Vechta has created an electronic competence development portfolio that serves as a model for further digital teaching and learning formats. Thanks to the establishment of a research data management, the University of Vechta offers interdisciplinary, institutional research data management that is based on subject-specific as well as national and international standards and serves as a standard of academic research documentation.
Internationalisation as a topic relevant to the key profiles is part of the strategic planning at the University of Vechta. It is understood as a cross-cutting task and therefore affects all areas of the university. An important goal is to further internationalise studies, teaching and research. The University of Vechta was amongst the first educational institutions in Germany to lead the way towards internationalisation by establishing a mobility window and by successfully acquiring external funding for Erasmus programmes. Internationalisation is considered a central element for allowing all affiliates of the university to gain international and intercultural experiences “at home” as well. Especially for students that do not spend part of their studies abroad, international experiences, knowledge of foreign languages, and intercultural competence are important for entering a job market that becomes increasingly international.
Sustainability is firmly established at the University of Vechta in all its areas – teaching, research and campus – through the university’s own sustainability guidelines. The University of Vechta promotes research on issues relevant to sustainability that serves to generate system knowledge (knowledge about relations and mechanisms in environmental and socio-economic systems), target knowledge (knowledge about desirable targets), and transformation knowledge (knowledge about triggering specific change processes). In addition, research projects are to be based on aspects of sustainable development regarding their objectives and execution.
The University of Vechta considers diversity and heterogeneity as a potential for social development that is to be appreciated. The University of Vechta has participated in the Diversity Audit (“Vielfalt gestalten”) of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft e.V. (Donors’ association for the promotion of humanities and sciences in Germany). It has developed its own diversity strategy to increase equal opportunities in higher education and to ensure that access to higher education and academic success do not depend on the students’ cultural, social, educational or experiential background or their life circumstances. In addition, the University of Vechta has been successfully participating in the audit family-friendly university by the “berufundfamilie Service GmbH” since 2013. The University of Vechta supports the students’ diversity. The aim of complementary learning offers is that the students are able to meet their individual challenges and, with this, to be able to successfully organise all phases of their studies. The university promotes gender and diversity competences among lecturers and students as well as pedagogical and (subject-)didactical competences among students with the perspective of becoming teachers for creating inclusive classrooms/schools.
Photo credits: Teacher training (contrastwerkstatt/AdobeStock), Social and human services (runrun2/AdobeStock), Agriculture and food (areebarbar/AdobeStock), Cultural studies (University of Vechta/Meckel)