In the framework of the project “Clusters of Scientific Innovation in the Middle East and North Africa” (COSIMENA), the DAAD Regional Office Cairo conducted one of its annual highlights, the German Science Week 2021, from July 11th until July 15th. For five days, Egyptian doctoral and postdoctoral candidates were invited on a journey through the German higher education and research landscape. By facilitating a chance for promising scholars to network with high-profile professors, scientists, experts, policymakers and DAAD-Alumni from Egypt, the virtual event consolidated the DAAD motto “Change by Exchange”.
Introducing the event’s scope, the DAAD staff presented the its institution, strategy as well as its contribution to scientific collaboration and its funding mechanisms, while broadening the scope of the DAAD specifically towards the the German study and research landscape in general.
In the spirit of the slogan: “Sustainability: A call for action in our daily life”, ten scientific talks catered to this global challenge across the COSIMENA issue-driven clusters. Dr Tim Kunkowski, Researcher at the Technical University of Munich, stated: “In face of social, environmental challenges, the fantasy of problem solving with mere technology is paramount. However, society research is needed to not risk repeating past mistakes that brought us here in the first place”. In this respect, the scientific talks unanimously raised awareness for the importance of interdisciplinary approaches. However, sustainable usage and life cycle assessments remain mostly a blind spot within research, noted Dr Samira Iran, Technical University of Berlin, and Prof. Dr Björn Vollan, Philipps-University of Marburg. By presenting inspirational research open for further engagement, the researchers offered scientific advising.
Eight presentations by high-ranking German universities and foundations addressed the different study programmes, foci, strategic goals and funding mechanisms. While the Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin), the Technical University of Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt), the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) focus areas are predominantly within engineering fields, interdisciplinary and holistic approaches were foregrounded. TU Berlin highlighted the alliance between technology and social sciences, sciences and industry. The Philipps-Universität Marburg (UMR) key fields of study are Life and Natural Sciences and Humanities and Social Sciences. Regarding the latter, Freie Universität Berlin (FU Berlin) has gained an outstanding reputation, while Kühne Logistics University (KLU) leads in Logistics and Management. TUtor International at TU-Darmstadt offers academic, social, and cultural support. For postdocs, the supportive TUM Talent Factory was recommended. Prof. Dr Moemen Hanafy, Ambassador Scientist of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) to Egypt, presented the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In how to “Become Part of a Worldwide Network”, the Humboldtian outlined the foundation’s reputable fellowships and awards for postdoctoral and experienced researchers.
In addition, four DAAD Alumni reported on their scientific, intercultural, social, and living experiences within Germany. Dr Peter Riad, Associate Professor at Ain Shams University in Cairo and DAAD Alumnus of the University of Hannover, related how the “DAAD programmes are not just funding mechanisms. The DAAD is also a supporting entity for its beneficiaries. Together with the other DAAD selected candidates, we became like a family”. The alumni recounted the challenges and opportunities, while they unanimously agreed on the German language as a core facilitator for networking. “I recommend Egyptian doctoral and postdoctoral candidates to become ambassadors of Egypt in Germany”, added Dr Riad.
Prof. Dr. Lars Gaiser, Director of the Orient Institute for Intercultural Studies at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, connected the reports through an “Introduction to Intercultural Competence for Egyptian Graduates at German Universities”. “Success in the academic career does not only depend on technical or specialized knowledge but as well on awareness of the intercultural map”, he stated.
This awareness was raised through practical soft skills mini modules in networking, proactive “Communication Skills”, “Self-Marketing”, and “Problem Solving & Critical Thinking”, provided by the DAAD Kairo Akademie (DKA). The main question throughout the GSW by numerous participants was addressed during the mini module: “How to contact a Supervisor/Professor in Germany?”. In this regard, DKA Trainer Dr Mona El Tobgui unpacked the ‘FITTER-Model’: “Follow-up. Introduce yourself with impact and enthusiasm. Target specific researchers and professors. Turn a social conversation into a professional chat. Engage and Research”. DKA Trainer for “Self-Marketing”, Dr Heba Salama, underlined that “the cover letter is by far the most decisive in attracting a supervisor”. However, communication is not just about the message but also about active listening and audiovisual, bodily, and vocal ways of expression, informed DKA Trainer Heba Selim during the module of “Communication Skills”. In regard to effective communication and decision-making problems, DKA Trainer, Dr Mohamed Taha, offered the participants the following skillset: “First define the problem and then prove the data. Find the causes. Predict the future. List possible solutions. Select the best. Render the solution. Evaluate and archive the process”.
Although these skill sets are rarely found in universities and research institutions, skill enhancement and capacity building are prerequisite personal assets for junior researchers. Besides their academic expertise, the DAAD Alumni presented best-practice examples of intercultural knowledge. During his “Greeting Words”, Mr. Philippe Maupai, Head of Science and Protocol at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Cairo, celebrated the DAAD Alumni as core facilitators of binational relations, vitalising the Embassy’s mission.
The German Science Week concluded with the highlight of the week: the Panel Discussion entitled “The Impact of the Corona Pandemic on Higher Education”, moderated by Ms. Isabell Mering, Director of the DAAD Regional Office Cairo. A group of experts from the German Embassy in Cairo and German universities discussed digitalization and quality education in relation to the impact of the pandemic on higher education. Mobility and internationalisation were considered pressing issues.
Despite physical distancing, the panellists observed how technological assets and both hybrid and virtual formats allowed for internationalisation and even benefited international cooperation. “Internationalisation is also digitalization. We need to redefine internationalisation into global reach”, stated Ms. Evelina Skurski of the Office of International Affairs at TU Berlin. “In changing the gears in shifting to online tools, accessibility is far greater and the environmental impact far less”, agreed Dr Michael Groll, Project Coordinator at the International Office of PUM. However, virtuality can never fully substitute real-life university experiences, he added. Prof. Dr Fritz Kühn, Dean of Internationalisation at TUM, underlined the importance of student feedback in regard to assessing the quality of digitalized teaching. “Surprisingly, their feedback was more positive than before, but for newcomers the digital formats proved more challenging”.
The panel discussed also how funding mechanisms and resources have been affected due to the pandemic. The overall need for global efforts in facing global challenges was expressed. Mr. Maupai of the German Embassy in Cairo concluded the panel with a positive note of hope regarding the vaccines, a product of international collaboration.
The virtual German Science Week with five different formats proved the potential of fostering international exchange across physical borders. Insights into the German higher education and research landscape facilitated capacity building for prospective Egyptian doctoral and postdoctoral candidates to pursue their future academic careers in Germany. Through skill enhancement, scientific advising, networking, and a window into challenges, opportunities, and the state of the art of interdisciplinary research on sustainability, promising scholars could make a well-informed assessment of their future career choices. While the German Science Week planted the seeds for internationalisation, the DAAD Regional Office Cairo is looking forward to witnessing the harvest of this growing strategic network between Egypt and Germany.