About us
University from A-Z
Bielefeld University > University > Overview > About us

Transcending Boundaries

This title describes the successful Bielefeld approach with its targeted strengthening of innovative top-level research: applying multiperspective methods and solving problems by transcending boundaries between disciplines, between scientific cultures, between research and teaching, and between science and society. Such processes enable us to not only identify potentials through a culture of openness but also move quickly to promote them.

Bielefeld University - Transcending Boundaries

Interdisciplinary - Communicative - Innovative

Bielefeld University was founded in 1969 with an explicit research assignment and a mission to provide high-quality research-oriented teaching. Today it encompasses 13 faculties covering a broad spectrum of disciplines in the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and technology. With about 21,500 students in 105 degree courses and about 2,750 staff members (including 264 professors and lecturers as well as 1,380 academic staff) it is one of Germany's medium-sized universities.

+ read more

Teaching Profile

Only universities which combine strong research and teaching can hope to remain excellent in the long term. Teaching at Bielefeld University - like its research - is characterised by a highly networked interdisciplinary profile: a transparent course structure with great permeability between subjects, flexibility of study combinations, and an elective element in all courses allow students to create an individual profile. Students also have the option of spending a term abroad or focusing at an early stage on research.

In teaching, too, the University has repeatedly made a name for itself through innovative projects (early adoption of Bachelor's and Master's degrees, polyvalent teacher training). We are always working to improve our course structure and organisation, at present in the framework of an externally supported study of the organisation of our study and teaching services. In developing teaching and studies we are guided by the idea of "learning through research", a central aspect of our overall concept: "On the Way towards a New Culture of Teaching and Study" with which Bielefeld University became one of only six German universities successful in the national "Excellence in Teaching" competition in 2009.

Teaching and study - A Choice of Combinations and Individual Profiles

Bielefeld University is one of the first institutes of higher education in Germany to have switched all its degree programmes (apart from those in law) to the consecutive study structure. Its guiding principle and hallmark has been a standardized and transparent study structure designed to offer a consistent framework delivering a very broad choice of combinations, polyvalent degree courses, and open interfaces between the various degree programmes.

The university exploits the advantages of a modular and consecutive study structure that - given the university's flexible but standardized framework - offers a whole range of options for designing different degree programme profiles and types of degree programme.

Bielefeld University has developed this model even further while implementing the new teacher training law (LABG). It takes full advantage of the consecutive modular study structure that offers a variety of ways to shape different study course profiles and study types based on a flexible but standardized framework. Alongside its strong research profile, Bielefeld University also offers excellent teaching facilities through its specific, transdisciplinary, and highly networked profile. This offers students numerous potential combinations of study courses and a great opportunity to develop their own profiles.

Organizing Studies and Teaching

Bielefeld University is convinced that excellent teaching cannot be achieved without excellent study conditions. Therefore, it assigns a central role to the organization of studies and teaching and is working on a series of organizational measures to continuously improve its study conditions. One special feature here is the elektronische Kommentierte Vorlesungsverzeichnis (eKVV) [electronic course catalogue] published in the Internet since 2002. This grants students, teachers, and administrators a clear plan of all the courses available at the university and facilitates and supports numerous processes involved in planning study courses, organizing events, and running examinations. Continuous improvements to the organization of studies and teaching take a key role in plans for the further development of the university.

Therefore in 2010, the Rektor's Office commissioned the HIS Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH to evaluate the current structures and procedures used to organize studies in the Faculties and central institutes of Bielefeld University. This analysis will serve as a basis recommendations on how the University should best organize studies and examinations to ensure that they will continuously deliver excellent study conditions for both students and teachers.

Study and teaching. Students in centre

Bielefeld University's mission is to give its students a first-class training and the best possible preparation for whatever careers they wish to pursue. It adopts a broad understanding of education encompassing not only training for an academic career but also training for (academically based) professions along with the promotion of personality development. Experience has shown that students learn best when they can become actively involved in the contents of their subject.

Bielefeld University is investing in a multi-level approach focusing on the quality of both individual teaching units and degree programmes, on qualifying teachers to teach well, and on strengthening the self-learning competencies of students. Hence, the central aspect of our strategy for quality teaching is to develop a student-centred culture of teaching and studying. Even under the conditions of increasingly structured degree courses, one of the most important goals at the university is to design teaching units that challenge students and encourage them to adopt an active role as independent thinkers, readers, experimenters, planners, researchers, and - both with their teachers and their peers - communicators. Degree programmes at Bielefeld University should stand out through clearly formulated training goals and well-coordinated modules and teaching units directed consistently towards these goals. The degree programmes are designed to purposefully and systematically link together and coordinate a variety of types of teaching unit, elements of university attendance and private studies, as well as types of teaching and examination in line with the qualification goals in its mission.

Research Profile: Interdisciplinary - Communicative - Innovative

In a focused spectrum of interdisciplinary fields in the humanities and social sciences and in the natural sciences and technology, Bielefeld University is one of the strongest research universities in Germany. In the first phase of the Excellence Initiative in 2007 we won funding for the Cognitive Interaction Technology Cluster (CITEC) and the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology (BGHS).

Our research strength is also reflected in our placings in the DFG funding rankings based on the total 92 universities assessed: based on DFG data Bielefeld University occupies top places for the humanities and social sciences (fifth in the comparison of third-party funding per professorship), the life sciences (fourth place in the comparison of third-party funding per professorship), and engineering with its focus on computer science (third place in the comparison of third-party funding per professorship). In the natural sciences Bielefeld University occupies place 22 (in the comparison of third-party funding per professorship). For mathematics the DFG data do not allow calculation of size-adjusted ranking; in absolute terms the faculty occupies sixth place.
In the 2010-2011 Higher Education Ranking of the prestigious British magazine Times Higher Education, Bielefeld University is the best of all the higher education institutes in North Rhine-Westphalia. Bielefeld is the eighth best university in Germany, holds the 67th place in Europe.

Strategic Research Areas

We conduct research and promote young researchers at the highest international level in five strategic research areas through top-quality collaborative research projects and central academic institutes, as well as effective support for individual third-party funded research projects.

+ Theories and Methodologies in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The University's founding generation already pursued a vision of close collaboration between historians and sociologists, and a focus on theoretical and methodological questions has brought the disciplines ever closer together. The Bielefeld school of social history, research on historical semantics, and systems theory have become hallmarks. The establishment of the joint Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology (BGHS) in 2007 represented an important step towards long-term consolidation of this interdisciplinary cooperation. With the initiative for a Cluster of Excellence "Communicating Comparisons: From the Onset of Modernity to World Society" historians and sociologists in Bielefeld have adopted a common research programme and widened interdisciplinary cooperation to include law and philosophy.

+ Human Development, Conflict and Violence

Education science and psychology along with history, literature, law, health sciences, philosophy, theology, as well as the internationally renowned Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence (IKG - Institut für Interdisziplinäre Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung) all participate in this strategic research area. It concerns the complex processes of human development, encompassing child development and all the social interactions and institutions that shape human existence in different societies and contexts. Sophisticated interdisciplinary and international research uncovers the causes and consequences of individual harm and destruction in private and public institutions associated with collective ethnic/cultural, religious, political, and institutional violence.

+ Interactive Intelligent Systems

This strategic research area focuses on gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms that allow humans, animals, and artificial systems to act autonomously in complex environments and to communicate with each other. Research, in which computer science, biology, psychology, sports science, linguistics, and physics are all involved, currently concentrates on four key issues: motion intelligence, attention, situated communication, and memory and learning. This is primarily pure research, but with an eye to application and the intention to bring about the development of prototypes. There is close cooperation with national and international industrial partners (e.g. Miele, Bertelsmann, Honda), as well as with important partners in the health sector. The heart of this strategic research area is the Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) Cluster of Excellence approved in 2007.

+ Molecular and Nano Sciences

In this broad field the University has carved itself a nationally and internationally prominent niche with a focused profile at the intersection of physics, chemistry, biology, and bioinformatics. Current research focuses range from nanolayers and single-molecule processes through to bacterial, plant, and animal cells. They are driven by interdisciplinary collaboration, in part located at the Centre for Biotechnology (CeBiTec). Even if this strategic research area is largely about toplevel pure research, it has often led to high-level industrial collaboration, e.g. with E.ON, Miele, Schüco International, and Siemens.

+ Theoretical Sciences

Close cooperation between mathematics, theoretical physics, and business administration and economics (especially the Institute of Mathematical Economics, IMW - Institut für mathematische Wirtschaftsforschung) has a long tradition in Bielefeld that has produced a series of major collaborative projects. Additionally - and this is probably unique in Germany - pure and applied mathematicians work closely together in a DFG Collaborative Research Centre. Important current research interests in the theoretical sciences are spectral structures and topological methods, stochastics and modelling of real systems, economic behaviour and interaction models, and the theory of quantum fields and strongly interacting matter.

The strategy of interdisciplinary networking within and between the strategic research areas has created dynamic, integrative research structures. No area at Bielefeld - not even the smallest departments (e.g. Philosophy, Sports Science) - is per se detached from these trendsetting developments.

Please click on the graphic.

Grafik der Vernetzung

The ZiF: A Beacon of International Interdisciplinary Research

With the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF - Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung) Bielefeld University has possessed since its foundation an Institute for Advanced Study that numbers among the most internationally renowned and successful institutions of its type. Founded in 1968 as the University's interdisciplinary nucleus, the ZiF still pursues its original mission of promoting innovative and interdisciplinary research projects. Unlike other similar institutes in Germany, the ZiF supports only collaborative research projects.

The ZiF is highly attractive internationally, attracting 300 researchers from abroad to conferences and workshops every year. International researchers are strongly represented in the various ZiF funding formats, making up 65 percent of participants. The ZiF can build on an impressive track record: ZiF projects provided crucial inspiration for developing interdisciplinary research strands that have often prepared the ground for larger collaborative research projects at Bielefeld University. Four later Nobel laureates participated in research groups at the ZiF and completed part of their theoretical work here (Myerson, Selten, Harsanyi, Ostrom).


Networked Infrastructures for Toplevel Research

To generate synergies and increase efficiency significant parts of the research infrastructure at Bielefeld University are organised and networked on a university-wide basis. This is greatly assisted by the compact nature of the main university building.
According to the relevant rankings and competitions the university library is one of the best and most innovative in Germany both in terms of user satisfaction and on account of its pioneering role in the fields of digital scientific communication, electronic publishing, open access, eLearning, eScience, scientific data services, and search engine technologies.
At Bielefeld University researchers in many disciplines, such as molecular sciences, behaviour studies, robotics, psychology, linguistics, sociology and history have collected and work with large samples of qualitative and quantitative data of largely diverging format. In an cooperative effort the CeBiTec, CITEC, the Centre for Statistics, and the Data Service Centre for Business and Organisational Data, the university library and the computing centre are utilising their specific expertise in different fields and currently creating a new type of data infrastructure.
Networked technology platforms have been established in fields ranging from natural sciences and technology through to linguistics and psychology: Examples include the Bioinformatics Resource Facility (CeBiTec); a Hightech Microscopy Platform for Nanoimaging and Nanoengineering, and the CITEC Central Lab. All technology platforms provide a framework for our strategic research areas to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of their research. They have already proved to be powerful actors in the development of novel research themes.

Promotion of Young Researchers

The task of recruiting and promoting young researchers already begins at the stage of Master's degree courses, which are tailored precisely to the interdisciplinary postgraduate programmes and strategic research areas. At the Ph.D. level the University adopted university-wide doctoral degree regulations in 2010; these are designed in particular to ensure consistently high quality and make it easier to organise interdisciplinary doctorates. The University possesses a strong array of Graduate Schools, international and national Research Training Groups, and structured doctoral degree courses. We are pursuing a strategy of establishing broad-based internationally prominent and attractive Graduate Schools in each of our five interdisciplinary strategic research areas. At the central level a broad spectrum of qualification measures for careers in science, business, and society as well as mentoring and coaching programmes - including ones aimed specifically at women and international researchers - complement and expand the research and scientific training in the Graduate Schools. Bielefeld University has recently significantly expanded its support programme for the postdoctoral phase and is increasingly creating junior professorships to allow young researchers to research autonomously. The university-wide doctoral degree regulations explicitly allow not just junior professors, but also - in clearly defined circumstances - other postdoctoral researchers to supervise doctorates.


Gender Equality, Family-friendliness, Diversity

Gender equality and family-friendly structures are strategic core concerns of the University. Bielefeld was the first university in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia to set up affirmative action plans for women and was one of the first to set up on-site childcare facilities. Since 2006 the University has been certified annually as a family-friendly university (in German). In 2008 we received the Total E-Quality hallmark for exemplary equal opportunities policy and in the same year our equality concept was successful in the female professors' programme sponsored by the Federal Government and the Länder. In 2010 the DFG assessed our ambitious concept for implementing research-oriented equality standards as "exemplary", making Bielefeld one of only twelve (out of 63) universities to be credited with the highest quality level for its equal opportunities engagement. Despite these achievements there is still work to be done: gender equality has not yet been achieved at all levels and it remains an important cross-cutting task for the University.

Building on these outstanding foundations in the field of gender, the University will in future increase the energy it devotes to the issue of diversity. Currently there are different approaches and projects at the levels of ethnic minorities, disability, and age. In the context of its organisational development the University will prepare an overall concept for strategic diversity management.

Transferring Knowledge and Technology


Bielefeld University offers the best conditions for successfully transferring knowledge and technology: innovative research and academic work on the highest national and international level combined with excellently trained graduates. The top-class cooperations with industry as well as the cooperations with medical institutions within the framework of specialized profiles have already been pointed out (see above). The communication of research findings in publications and at conferences are not the only highly visible and productive signs of an effective transfer. This also involves the research associations and cooperations reaching out to society from the university along with expertises, patents, the licensing and exploitation of research findings, the setting up of companies with close links to the university, the opening up of our large-scale laboratory equipment to outsiders, and so forth.

Bielefeld University possesses its own strategy for internal knowledge and technology transfer as well as effective instruments and partnerships to help accelerate transfer. These include the university's own Department for Research Administration and Technology Transfer as well as its own Zentrum für Unternehmensgründung [Centre for setting up businesses (in German)]. These are joined by the Absolventennetzwerk e.V. [alumni association (in German)], the Programm Studierende und Wirtschaft [Students and Commerce and Industry (in German)], the cooperation platform Bielefeld 2000 plus (in German), the Zentrum und der Verein Wissenschaftliche Weiterbildung [Centre for Continuing Higher Education (in German)], the Gesellschaft für Forschung und Technologie e.V. [Society for research and technology], and the Institute for Innovation Transfer at Bielefeld University (IIT), along with the University Outpatient Centre for Children and Adolescents (in German) and the Psychotherapeutic Outpatient Centre (in German).

Local Anchoring and International Networking

Bielefeld University is located in a middle-sized city (population 320,000) largely characterised by medium-sized, family-run businesses. The University is well-connected within the city and region, which has often been helpful in arranging attractive dual-career packages. The University maintains close relationships with local, often underestimated, "hidden champions" including the globally operating companies of Bertelsmann, Miele, and Schüco International, and the von Bodelschwingh Foundation, one of the largest health care centres in Europe specialised in assistance to disabled people.

In research Bielefeld University is internationally outstandingly networked, as recently confirmed by an internationalisation audit conducted by the German Rectors' Conference (HRK - Hochschulrektorenkonferenz), and hosts numerous projects under the EU's Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development. Young researchers are recruited internationally for all Research Training Groups and Graduate Schools; three of the DFG Research Training Groups are based on partnerships with universities abroad. Mathematics at Bielefeld is especially attractive for international top researchers and occupies one of the top places for Alexander von Humboldt scholarships. The virtual faculty of the CITEC Cluster of Excellence has a model function for the University, coopting renowned international researchers to hold lectures in Bielefeld, conduct research seminars, or act as referees and reviewers.