As one of eight universities from Thuringia, TU Ilmenau has successfully participated in the diversity audit "Vielfalt gestalten" ("Shaping Diversity") of the German Donors' Association. Vice President for Teaching and Learning Prof. Anja Geigenmüller and Andrea Krieg, Diversity Officer and Head of the Devision of Equality, Diversity and Health at the university, received the certificate on May 9 at the 5th Diversity Forum in Berlin. The certification, which is valid for three years, certifies that TU Ilmenau sees the diversity of its students and employees as an opportunity and has found ways to use this potential for university development.
Diversity Audit "Shaping Diversity": TU Ilmenau certified for strategies in dealing with diversity
On the occasion of the award of the "Shaping Diversity" certificate, Science Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said: "With this certification, the universities are proving that they not only tolerate diversity, but also actively promote it. This is exactly the right strategy, because it goes hand in hand with the opportunity for more openness, creativity and innovative strength. This turns diversity into a resource that can be used to successfully master the challenges of the future." We spoke with Vice President Prof. Anja Geigenmüller about the certification process, diversity at TU Ilmenau, and the challenges and further measures on the way to becoming a diversity-sensitive university.
Hello Prof. Geigenmüller, what is diversity anyway - and how diverse is TU Ilmenau?
Diversity is an expression for the variety and diversity of people, starting with personal characteristics such as age, origin, gender, social or ethnic background, marital status, sexual identity or ideology, and ending with different life situations, e.g. due to limitations, disabilities or chronic illnesses. The TU Ilmenau is very diverse, as it unites employees with very different characteristics, different professional disciplines and realities of life. In particular, the number of international students and employees has grown strongly in recent years. Currently (as of winter semester 2022/23) 4,752 students, including 2,864 German and 1,888 foreign students from more than 100 countries come together at TU Ilmenau. In order for us to develop the university together, we should be aware of this diversity and see it as an advantage for us.
What is the Diversity Audit "Shaping Diversity"?
As you know, audits are procedures for analyzing and reflecting on standards, processes and routines. The aim of the diversity audit is to look at one's own institution with the help of an external expert, to "learn to see" diversity and to develop measures from this, for example, to better integrate certain groups of people into everyday university life. Prof. Frank Linde from the Technical University of Cologne accompanied us as an auditor. Frank Linde researches and publishes primarily on the topic of diversity in universities and in university teaching. Due to his extensive experience, he was an excellent support for us and for our special profile as a technical university.
The auditing process extends over a period of approximately two and a half years and consists of an internal auditing process and a diversity forum, i.e. a regular exchange between the Thuringian universities and the Stifterverband. Since March 2021, the university has entered the "Shaping Diversity" auditing process together with the Stifterverband.
Why did TU Ilmenau participate in the audit? How can the university benefit from diversity?
Universities like the TU Ilmenau are always places of diversity of personalities, disciplines, perspectives and experiences. We want to use this diversity to further develop ourselves as a national and international teaching and research location. We see the certification as an award, but also as a mandate to consciously shape our university: Our university should be a place of diverse perspectives, where common values such as trust, openness, mutual respect, intercultural tolerance and diversity exist and are lived out
With our work, we would also like to focus on people who cannot participate in university life as a matter of course like everyone else, e.g. due to physical or mental limitations. This requires structures and people who take responsibility for this and are approachable for the concerns of students, researchers and employees.
With the GDG unit, a structural unit was created at the TU Ilmenau that supports the implementation of the mission formulated in the mission statement, creates appropriate framework conditions for implementation and develops needs-oriented measures. In this way, we would like to make a contribution to making existing barriers visible and overcoming them, and to create free spaces for collaborative togetherness at the university.
Which areas at the university were involved in the process?
We involved all areas - the faculties as well as the service and administration areas - from the very beginning. We also attached great importance to the fact that all status groups were involved in the working committees, i.e. students as well as academic staff and professors.
Which topics were the focus?
Since diversity is a very broad topic, we have to focus on selected topics that fit the situation and challenges of the university. We have defined three main areas of focus for us: First, we are concerned with increasing the proportion of female students, especially in the technical disciplines. In the audit, we wanted to investigate which measures help us to convey to female students that the TU Ilmenau is a great place to study and work. Secondly, we set out to do more for barrier-free teaching. We have made great strides in the area of digital teaching. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that digital forms of teaching and materials can also have barriers. One of the results of the audit was to be a collection of tips and recommendations for teachers on how various forms of teaching can be designed to be as barrier-free as possible. Thirdly, in view of the high number of international students, we are called upon to break down barriers there as well. This starts with very simple things like publishing important information at least in German and English and continues with measures against discrimination and exclusion of international students and employees due to their origin, skin color, religion, etc.
Where does the TU Ilmenau stand in these areas compared to other universities?
We were able to exchange ideas very well between the Thuringian universities and provide each other with ideas and impulses. That was very important in order to familiarize ourselves with the topic and take the first steps toward understanding diversity as a field of action with which to shape the university. In a nationwide comparison, we see that other universities have been working on this topic for much longer and have therefore already been able to gain very comprehensive experience with different starting situations, the effectiveness of measures, the acceptance of the topic in the university public, etc. We can learn a lot from these universities in order to pursue our understanding of diversity in a targeted and results-oriented way.
How important is the exchange among universities on this topic?
Very important! After all, we can only learn from each other. The 5th Diversity Forum in Berlin served precisely this exchange among all Thuringian universities, in particular the discussion with so-called "critical friends", i.e. experts on diversity from all over Germany, from universities, vocational training institutions, etc., in order to exchange best practices, to help each other and, if necessary, to initiate joint Thuringia-wide projects.
What challenges still need to be overcome?
The audit was a first step in positioning ourselves in the topic of diversity. The real work probably starts now: We will now translate all that we have learned, shared, understood and reflected on into concrete strategies and measures. Diversity is not an end in itself, but an important building block for the future of our university. It will take many ideas and the participation of all university members. And we need our understanding of diversity - an understanding that reflects our identity as TU Ilmenau. Therefore, raising awareness among the university public remains an important task. Diversity may often be perceived as a "raised index finger". But that is not what it is about. It is about integrating the diversity of people and personalities at TU Ilmenau for the benefit of the university and not excluding, valuing or belittling them.
What are the next steps?
It will be very important to carry the previous findings and perspectives from the auditing process further into the university and to continue the discussion process. In order to work in a goal- and result-oriented manner, a diversity concept is needed as an orientation for the development of diversity-related processes, structures and measures. Such a concept must define goals and measures, name responsible persons, and enable us to examine the extent to which we have achieved our diversity goals. In this context, the three main topics - attracting prospective female students, barrier-free teaching, and supportive measures for international students and employees - will remain in the foreground.
And how do you envision the TU Ilmenau in an ideal situation?
Personally, I would be very happy if we continue to remain true to our university aspirations and understand diversity, the unexpected and new as an opportunity to learn and develop further. I would be happy if we could develop ideas together on how to cultivate our diversity and develop it further for the good of the university. And I believe it is important to proceed in a goal- and result-oriented manner, so that we can take on concrete projects and in this way steadily advance our further development.
About the Diversity Audit "Shaping Diversity
For the past ten years, the Stifterverband has been using the Diversity Audit to help universities develop a specific understanding of diversity that is appropriate for them and a strategy based on this understanding. The goal is: regardless of whether students are part-time, have a migration history, or come from a non-academic home - all students should have the opportunity to participate successfully in education. Equally important is the promotion of diversity among employees, whether in academia or in university administration. Across Germany, 66 universities have now successfully participated in the Diversity Audit for strategic and organizational development.