• SAGE – a social three-way alliance

In 2019, the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences Berlin (ASH Berlin), the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Berlin (EHB) and the Catholic University of Applied Social Sciences Berlin (KSHB) joined forces to form the SAGE network. In the three-way alliance, the universities want to strengthen their ties and make the acronym SAGE, which in German stands for Social Work, Health, Education and Training, more visible and accessible to the outside world. The three participating universities qualify students for professions in the SAGE fields through study and further education. Prof. Bettina Völter, Rector at the ASH Berlin, tells us more about the alliance’s content, objectives and past achievements.

Professor Völter, what are the objectives of the SAGE network?

Similar to STEM subjects years ago, SAGE disciplines have specific challenges that are of the utmost importance for the future of our society. In the SAGE sector too, there is a significant shortage of skilled workers, which has a direct and indiscriminate impact on everyone – for example, in nursing, in day-care centres, in all-day care or in social work. We therefore refer to “system-relevant professions”. Like the STEM subjects, we therefore recruit all students, but the SAGE disciplines have always appealed predominantly to women.

And what does the network do specifically?

We advocate for good basic study conditions and for turning the SAGE professions into graduate professions, including PhDs in SAGE subjects, as well as for better pay. We’re also committed to giving SAGE graduates more responsibility and rights in the hierarchies of the health, education and social system as well as to providing better working conditions in these system-relevant professions. Since the SAGE jobs in home care, child care, welfare etc., which are still predominantly performed by women, have explicitly become professions requiring training and study, graduates are comparatively very poorly paid. Those concerned are often able to do more than they are allowed to do in the hierarchies. However, they rarely have opportunities for career advancement.

To what extent do the three universities take on social responsibility as training and research institutions through SAGE?

As SAGE universities, we are linked by issues such as social and global justice, gender equality, the promotion of diversity, anti-discrimination and anti-racism, inclusion, social commitment, sustainability in the sense of education for sustainable development, environmental justice, social security and good living conditions for all. Together, we have established a Master of Social Work called “Social Work as a Human Rights Profession”, which has already been running successfully for many years. It educates students on the current social challenges – in terms of human rights and their application in the changing global and social context.

What else has the Sage network achieved?

We’ve managed, for example, to get the term SAGE to be used today as a matter of course in Berlin’s science policy and among universities. Together with the other Berlin universities of applied sciences (HAW), we were able to ensure that the right to award doctorates is now enshrined in Berlin's Higher Education Act. Among other things, the arguments and experiences from the SAGE disciplines played a part in this.

Coronavirus has made the conditions of people in care professions and other system-relevant professions even worse. What approaches does the SAGE network take to improve the situation in the care professions?

Our approaches are broad: we explore why people leave the care profession even if they have worked in the field with great commitment for many years, and how many people this is. And we also address issues to do with the inclusion and diversity of users of our social, education and health systems. We also highlight how concepts and institutions need to change in order to meet the needs. We’re currently working hard and having many meetings with politicians and administrators to ensure that studying the Bachelor of Nursing at the EHB and ASH Berlin is feasible and that the basic conditions are sustainable. This includes the financial remuneration of nursing studies – equivalent to training remuneration – as well as the financial recognition of the partner practice institutions and an adequate financial allocation to the universities: for the scientific practical support, for simulation-based teaching and for taking the state practical examinations.

To what extent does the SAGE network promote dialogue between science and practice?

The SAGE network universities are linked to practice in a variety of ways: via degree programmes, research projects, as part of conferences and much more. The list of players is too long to mention here. Particular emphasis should be placed on the sometimes small and still fledgling non-profit organisations as well as the big players. They include the German Caritas Association, Diakonie Germany or the German Parity Welfare Association.

Are there specific projects already underway?

SAGE universities already have numerous transfer projects of their own underway. For example, as part of the national government and regional state initiative funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) “Innovative Hochschule (Innovative University)”, the KHSB and the EHB are working together with the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR Berlin), the Berliner Hochschule für Technik (BHT) and the Berlin University of Applied Sciences (HTW Berlin) under the title “Zukunft findet Stadt. Das Hochschulnetzwerk für ein resilientes Berlin (Shaping the future city. The university network for a resilient Berlin)”. And the ASH Berlin in the project “Campus Transferale. Die ASH Berlin auf dem Weg zu einem Transfercampus (Campus transfer. The ASH Berlin is on its way to becoming a transfer campus)”. The universities want to agree on the process and results in order to generate as much added value as possible for the state of Berlin. The joint kick-off meeting will take place on 21 March in Mannheim.

How does the SAGE network position itself alongside the network of non-university research institutes, Berlin Research 50, and the Berlin University Alliance? Are there links?

One such link is the Cooperative Doctoral Centre (KPB), which all six Berlin universities of applied sciences are currently establishing with the Berlin universities. We hope to facilitate cooperative doctorates here between the Berlin universities of applied sciences and universities. There are no other noteworthy links to the aforementioned associations. We would be very happy to collaborate – for example in the field of social, societal, educational and health sciences, in joint doctoral colloquia or research projects.

What is the significance of Berlin as a health and science location in terms of the network’s field of activity?

With its diversity of residents, its history and declared political goals, Berlin is an excellent location to advance the cause of the SAGE network. We assume that a newly formed coalition will also set clear priorities in the areas of science, education, childhood education, health/nursing and social work. We hope that the political decision-makers maintain or re-establish a close relationship to us at the SAGE network. They can benefit from our experience and expertise – in terms of developing a socially just urban society that promotes education and health and in terms of remedying the lack of skilled workers in the SAGE area with a lasting effect.

What would you personally like to see for Berlin as a health and science location? 

I would like our diverse student body to receive even more staunch support from the state of Berlin. Because we have students learning with us who have little or a lot in the way of an educational background, who have experienced racism and other forms of exclusion and who have faced diverse challenges in their lives. May the potential that these committed people bring with them be seen. And may they know every day that not only are they important to the state of Berlin, they’re also recognised and heard as such. I would also like SAGE professionals to receive more dedicated support from regional politics – for the benefit of all families, patients and other users of the health, education and social systems. (vdo)


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