• Mother and child in library, Brain City Berlin

    From “Zoo School” to “Maternity Protection”: family-friendly universities

Juggling a degree course or teaching with the extra burden of the care of children or other family members is not an easy task. Both students and instructors have known this for generations. Fortunately, a lot has changed at the Brain City's universities over the decades. Family-friendliness is now firmly anchored in the curriculum and examination regulations of Berlin's universities and colleges and there's quite a diverse range of advice and support available. One committed example can be found at the Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Recht Berlin (HWR Berlin). It was one of several Berlin universities to be certified  “family-friendly university” in mid-June. 

"A lot has happened since I started as a professor at the university 19 years ago," says Dr. Madeleine Janke, Professor of Business Accounting and Head of the Franco-German International Management course at the Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Recht Berlin (HWR Berlin). “At the time, I was one of the few female professors with children at HWR Berlin. And the focus at the universities was not nearly as family-friendly as it is today.”

Combine teaching and research or studying for a degree course with the care of children or family members still remains a challenge that demands management skills and strong nerves from those affected. When Janke got her start, it was hardly to handle. “I probably wouldn't have been able to do it without the dedicated support of my family,” she recalls. 

In the meantime, the mother of three is making selective use of the care programmes offered by HWR Berlin. As a working mother, she also benefits from other family-friendly measures at the university. These include, for example, flexible scheduling of appointments and converting classes into online seminars during this time of crisis, so that students can continue their learning without too any obstacles. 

The ways that HWR Berlin supports family-friendly conditions for working and study conditions are extremely diverse. They range from individual advice and consultation hours to childcare at the two locations in Schöneberg and Lichtenberg to flexible working time options for university staff. For its family-friendly orientation, the HWR Berlin was once again certified as a 'family-friendly university' in audit results announced in mid-June. Other universities and colleges in Berlin also received the honourin 2020, including the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (HU Berlin), the Freie Universität Berlin (FU Berlin), and the Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin). 

Prof. Dr. Andreas Zaby, President of HWR Berlin presents the certificate "audit family-friendly university" (© HWR Berlin/Sylke Schumann)

A family-friendly curriculum is essential today

HWR Berlin had already adopted an Equal Opportunity Strategy in 2018, which included an extensive catalogue of measures to make the university more family-friendly. "For HWR Berlin, it is essential that we firmly anchor family-friendly working and study conditions in all areas of the university," HWR President Prof. Dr. Andreas Zaby explaines. "There are two main reasons: On the one hand, the mix of our students, professors, lecturers, academic staff and administrative and technical staff is clearly more diverse and heterogeneous than it used to be. We want to welcome this diversity by creating the best possible study conditions for everyone. On the other hand, we want to attract as many qualified people as possible to our university, from professors to administrative staff and technicians."

In addition to a wide range of childcare and advisory services, family-friendly curriculum planning is now an elementary university policy objective. This also includes the further development of blended learning models and ensuring that work, research, and family life are balanced in the personnel development concept. “The ability to plan times and appointments is essential for parents. We have therefore abolished committee meetings that used to run late into the evening. They must now end by 5 p.m. The dates are also set up to two years in advance. In this way, all of our employees can actually get involved in the committees,” Zaby further explaines. “Clear rules within the examination regulations also ensure that students before and after childbirth have no disadvantages with regard to exams or deadlines. In addition, we offer students with family commitments the opportunity to study on a part-time basis."

Brain City Berlin: an ideal location for university graduates and their families

According to Andreas Zaby, the Brain City offers an ideal environment for academics: “Berlin was one of the earliest places to offer free childcare. The range of international schools in the city is also very large. Both are seen as a major plus in academic circles.” In addition, all of Berlin's universities also have access to the Dual Career Network Berlin, which provides support to specialist and managerial staff from academia and business who move to Brain City Berlin from abroad with their families.  

One highlight at HWR Berlin programme this summer is once again childcare during school break. The format was offered for the first time in summer 2019, since the school break began before the semester's classes had finished meeting. Madeleine Janke, whose youngest daughter participated last year, remains enthusiastic: “While the Lichtenberg campus offered a zoo school, the Schöneberg campus had a one-week theatre workshop. Under the guidance of a theatre instructor, the children spent one week studying a play on a topic of their choice, which was then performed. My daughter had a lot of fun doing it. And for me the offer was extremely convenient. I was able to drop her off there at 8 a.m. and be in my lecture hall a few minutes later.” The short distances led to important time savings for the professor. But that is not all. "It was also very comforting to know that my daughter was nearby and in good hands." Due to the COVID-19, the summer holiday camps are not being offered on the Schöneberg campus this summer. In case they are offered again during the autumn holidays, Madeleine Janke is certain that her daughter would be happy to take part again. (vdo)

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