Universities as Cultural Institutions: German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) adopts Recommendation on the Cultural Dimension of Universities

“Universities are cultural actors: They document, research, develop and communicate diverse cultural phenomena, concepts and skills. They communicate with each other and with society in theory and practice about art, design and culture. In this way, they make a significant contribution to the preservation of humanity’s cultural heritage and to making cultural diversity possible,” said Professor Dr. Walter Rosenthal, President of the German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz – HRK), outlining the core ideas of a paper on the cultural dimension of universities, which was adopted yesterday by the HRK General Assembly.

The recommendation consistently emphasizes universities in their entirety, not only as institutions of education, research and innovation, but also explicitly as cultural institutions. Rosenthal explains that this completes the image of the university in society. To this end, the perspectives and expertise of a wide range of disciplines and all types of higher education institutions have been brought together in a concise manner. The adoption was preceded by intensive consultations with an interdisciplinary group of experts and various committees within the HRK.

HRK President Walter Rosenthal: “I am delighted that this forward-looking paper is now available. Universities are truly cultural institutions. It is very important to us to emphasise the central role of universities as actors in the cultural processes of modern societies and to provide impetus for a further examination of the potential of the cultural dimension of universities. With their open spaces for discourse, especially in art, design and culture, universities are guarantors of critical thinking and creativity, and thus of living democracy and civil liberties.”

Urgent social challenges such as maintaining social cohesion, securing peace, combating poverty or the ecological crisis require more than just social or technological innovations, adds Professor Dr. Susanne Rode-Breymann, HRK Vice President for Cooperation and Diversity in Higher Education and the Interests of the Universities of the Arts: “Cultural knowledge and cultural practices, which give people different interpretations of their living environment, are also central to promoting responsible action and initiating new social structures or technological developments.

On the one hand, the Recommendation adopted today is intended to encourage universities to formulate and further develop cultural aspects in their governance and university strategies according to their respective profiles and needs. On the other hand, it is intended as an invitation to higher education policy and funding organizations to take better account of the cultural dimension of universities in existing funding formats and to develop new funding formats, for example in the area of artistic research.

To the Recommendation “The Cultural Dimension of Universities”

Image: Simon Meienberg,
Colliding Circulation, Exhibition in Glasmoog, Cologne, 2023. Foto: Philip Lehmann