When Berlin becomes one large seminar room ...

15.08.2019 | "New Urban Development in Berlin," "Islam and Feminism," or "Berlin in Summer:" those are just some of the varied and exciting courses offered by HUWISU Summer University. 28 courses are offered in two four-week sessions. The target group is international: students from abroad who come to Berlin for a few weeks to attend classes at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin while getting to know the country and its people. The European Summer University program has existed since the late 1980s. Several universities and research institutions in Berlin currently participate. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) is one of them.


"A summer school concept for international students has existed at HU Berlin since the late 1990s," says Pierre Steuer, coordinator of the Humboldt Winter and Summer University (HUWISU). "Originally, we offered only intensive courses in German at different proficiency levels. But we soon discovered that many foreign students also wanted to take courses in their own fields during the breaks between semesters. That's why we've been continuously expanding the program since 2007 with specialist courses in a wide variety of disciplines."

Structurally, the HUWISU model today consists of four pillars: classes are held almost exclusively in English, the courses are interdisciplinary, they combine theory and practice, and they always have a connection to Berlin or Germany. Are there any "best sellers" among the courses offerings? "Yes, there are," Pierre Steuer responds. "Especially popular with international students at HUWISU this summer are law courses on topics such as human rights, refugee protection, and forced migration. Offerings in urban research and courses that deal with the European Union from different angles were also fully booked very quickly." Quite popular are also courses on the history of Germany. Steuer: "Berlin, with its rich culture and many historical sites, is a great place for excursions. The city becomes a large seminar room in its own right."

Every year, around 550 students from 50 nations take part in HUWISU's summer and winter courses. The students are enrolled in a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs at home. A clear trend has been evident for some years now: "In the summer, it's especially students from Europe, North America, and Asia who take part in these courses. In winter, about half of the participants come from Australia or South or Central America. This is related to the schedules at our partner universities around the world," said Pierre Steuer.

A win-win situation for students and universities

The advantages of the summer or winter university courses for students from abroad are obvious: they can gain valuable learning experience over a short period of time and improve their German language skills. In addition, they have a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the dynamic life of Brain City Berlin and make friends with people from all over the world. Also of interest to the participants: Credits are awarded for attending the courses that they can then transfer back to their universities. The DAAD sponsors parts of the program with scholarships for language courses.

The Summer University is therefore not unlike a short trial-run for life in Berlin. As confirmed by Pierre Steuer, that is part of the concept: "The HUWISU sees itself as a kind of showcase for the programs of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. We want to generate interest in our university from foreign students and, of course, to strengthen HU's international visibility."       

This approach seems to be working: Around 16% of students at HU Berlin now come from abroad, about the same as the proportion of international students at all of Berlin's universities. Which of these future graduates previously participated in a Summer or Winter University at HU Berlin, can, however, only be determined with difficulty. "In individual cases, this is difficult to track due to privacy laws," says Steuer. "HUWISU events such as 'Studying at Humboldt University Berlin' are, however, very well attended every time. Of course, if former HUWISU participants come to us and enroll at HU, we are very happy about that."

Given the many talented researchers from all over the world who will choose to remain in Berlin after graduating, this certainly benefits the city's research and education institutions as well as the economy in general. After all, internationality has become a part of Brain City Berlin's self-image. Incidentally, the winter program starts January 6, 2020. Registrations are already being accepted.