“We Hope to Create a Culture of Transfer”

Professor Andreas Breiter is Vice President for Research at the University of Bremen. In an interview, he explains how the university enriches the city and the surrounding region as well as the importance of community outreach in doing so. That the partnership with businesses is only one aspect quickly becomes apparent. In fact, transfer is a reciprocal process that affects all academic disciplines and civil society.

Professor Andreas Breiterin in the center of Bremen.
From campus to city and back: Andreas Breiter gets behind transfer.

Professor Breiter, how does the University of Bremen enrich the city and the surrounding region?

Andreas Breiter: The University of Bremen is an important player in the region in many regards. It is the largest employer in the academic sector and an international training center for highly qualified people. Furthermore, the university is not just the training center for teachers at schools in Bremen – many of our graduates work in numerous fields in the region. Our researchers are important consultants in the sectors of business, politics, administration, education, and culture – even across regions. Students enrich the cultural life of the city and get involved in a myriad of ways.

Our campus, with Technologiepark Bremen, is an attractive place that enables partnerships and exchange between academia and the business sector.

The term “transfer” is used quite frequently in the business world. What does it mean exactly?

Well, first you need to understand that, linguistically, the word means conveying something from A to B. That definition alone no longer applies. Today, we at the university consider transfer to be a reciprocal and cooperative process between society, businesses, administration, and academia. There’s a constant exchange of ideas. This can, for example, take place via interactive models such as discussion events. Additionally, there are so-called Citizen Science projects where citizens act as part of the research projects. They may count insects or collect data at measuring stations, for instance. A metalworker or a chemicals company, for example, can help drive basic research by posing an interesting question. Conversely, businesses and society benefit from the results of the research – via partnership projects or spin-offs.

Does transfer take place primarily in technical fields?

Not at all – transfer also takes place to a significant extent in social sciences and humanities. One example is the “From the Files to the Stage” project, which the history department at the university has been successfully implementing in the city for more than ten years together with the bremer shakespeare company. And many members of our university are very dedicated. We want to make their transfer projects more visible – with the help of special funding models and by means of an increased online presence as a sort of display window.

Professor Andreas Breiter in his office.
Professor Andreas Breiter has been Vice President for Research and responsible for transfer since 2015. Additionally, he heads the Institute for Information Management Bremen GmbH (ifib) at the University of Bremen. Breiter studied in Frankfurt am Main and Southampton. Following stays in Karlsruhe and New York, he was a junior professor at the University of Bremen from 2004 to 2008, and then became a professor of applied computer science.

The university is working on a transfer strategy. What does that entail?

First, we collected information on all the activities taking place at the university geared towards the transfer of innovation, knowledge, technology, and the like. The sheer number and diversity are impressive. After that, external experts took stock of how we embody this concept and how it is organized. The responses were very positive. Then we started to develop a transfer strategy using a diverse team from the faculties, followed by successive discussions with many different participants.

With what goal?

We hope to create a transfer culture at our university – an understanding that, as a matter of course, transfer is a part of our work in research and teaching. That is the core of our transfer strategy. Models such as Science goes public and Science Slam are popular in Bremen and involve researchers giving lectures in bars. Does this make academia banal in any way? I don’t think so. I should be able to explain my complex research question as well in a bar as I could in an auditorium – although it surely is a challenge for some researchers. You need professional science communication to support your efforts. Lastly, quality transfer comes from outstanding science and research-oriented teaching. That is the foundation. We should publish the results on a wide scale – whether at conferences or in bars.