"We also want to attract internationally distinguished scientists as teachers"Prof. Dr.-Ing. Liqiu Meng, Vice-President of the Technische Universität München and head of the Department of Cartography

Professor Liqiu Meng from China is the vice-president of a German university. The internationally recognized expert in geoinformatics took on this top position at the Technische Universität München (technical university in Munich) a year ago. One of her key tasks is to further the international character of the acclaimed university of excellence.

When Liqiu Meng first came to Germany over 20 years ago, she was one of just a few Chinese students. Things are different today: there are currently some 189,000 young people from abroad studying at German universities and the majority of them come from China. This development is also evident at the Technische Universität München (TUM). More than 4000 of the university's students come from abroad, that is almost every sixth student, and roughly 800 of them are Chinese. Internationalization is one of TUM's main priorities. The university sees itself as a global player in the scientific landscape. It collaborates with over 150 universities around the globe, has been running a coordination office in Beijing since 2006 and was the first German university to establish its own branch in Singapore, the German Institute of Science and Technology (GIST).

International structures

South America, Africa and the Arab countries: as the university's vice-president, Professor Liqiu Meng travels the world promoting cooperative partnerships. "My aim is not necessarily just to increase the number of foreign students," she says. "I'm more interested in creating an integrative structure." In this respect the 45-year-old professor from China has more in mind than exchange programmes for students and scientists. She considers it TUM's duty as an entrepreneurial university to involve the entire staff in the internationalization strategy, including non-academic staff. For instance, they participate in staff exchange programmes as part of the EU's Erasmus programme and gain experience in the libraries or administration of other European universities. Liqiu Meng regards cooperation in the Asian region as particularly important "because there are many excellent universities in Asia which so far have tended to cooperate with North America or Australia." Many Asians regard those university systems as more familiar and comparable.

Bachelor's and master's programmes

The TUM vice-president very much welcomes the introduction of bachelor's and master's programmes through the Bologna Process because the new degrees are internationally compatible. "They provide us with an effective interface and increase our competitiveness," she says. She also sees the quality of German universities as a major asset: in cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where there are numerous German companies, degrees from German universities have long been recognized as a seal of quality. With over 23,000 students, TUM is one of Germany's largest technical universities. It is also one of the best: TUM was one of nine outstanding German universities to be awarded elite university status within the framework of Germany's Excellence Initiative. Professor Meng is convinced that the added value gained from the deliberate international approach being taken by many German universities will bear fruit in the future: "It might take several years, but we're going to see the positive effects our foreign alumni have on the university," she comments. "They are ambassadors of the university as well as of Germany." Many graduates from Germany are already making an impact in their home countries where they hold top positions in the field of science. They initiate projects together with their former supervisors and send their PhD students to Germany.

Excellent lecturers

Liqiu Meng points out one deficit in the efforts to generate greater international interaction at German universities. In her opinion, there are not enough non-European professors despite the fact that the opportunity to learn from internationally outstanding lecturers is a magnet for attracting students. "That's why we also want to attract internationally distinguished scientists as teachers," she says. She adds that cooperation in research evolves almost automatically: "When two teams with similar research areas meet at an international conference, they naturally find options for potential cooperation." Access to teaching positions, however, is far more difficult for foreign scientists, in part because of the language barrier. For this reason, TUM is increasing its efforts to integrate non-European scientists by first placing them in one of its 17 English-language master's programmes. The TUM's vice-president then enthusiastically encourages people to take advantage of what the university's own language centre has to offer. "Language is essential to integration," she maintains, "in the field of research, but above all in everyday life."

From China to Germany

Liqiu Meng, who was born near Shanghai, feels at home today in Munich. "You develop a kind of 'second-home' feeling," she says. She enjoys Munich's vibrant cultural scene as much as the traditional veal sausages, the cakes and reading the works of German philosophers. Germany was her first choice when she went abroad after completing her studies. As an engineer she stresses that "Germany is still number one worldwide when it comes to geodesy." She came to Germany on a government scholarship to do her PhD at the University of Hanover. Ten years later the results of her post-doctoral thesis at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm created a sensation and resulted in her appointment as head of the Department of Cartography at TUM. Her work is of fundamental significance to things like navigation systems and geoinformation models.

Staying active in research

What does the eye see when it reads a map? And how can we combine navigation systems for both traffic and pedestrians? The four working groups at her institute focus on basic research as well as the possible industrial development of new technological applications. Liqiu Meng doesn't have much leisure time because she is also a dedicated supervisor of PhD students and continues her research. This helps her to remain alert to the problems that might arise in international partnerships. "Each country has its own rules," says Liqiu Meng. "People like me, with an intercultural background, are important when it comes to finding mutual solutions."

Text: Gunda Achterhold

"12 Worlds of Knowledge" is realized in cooperation with the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service)

Last updated 03.05.2011

Im Gespräch mit internationalen Studierenden des Fachbereichs Kartographie

"We also want to attract internationally distinguished scientists as teachers"

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Liqiu Meng, Vice-President of the Technische Universität München and head of the Department of Cartography

Professor Meng in der Cafeteria der TU München

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