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Why we need to think globally

30 June 2023

Rector Axel Freimuth, University of Cologne

Dear Friends and Colleagues of the Coimbra Group,

On behalf of the rectorate of the University of Cologne, I would like to thank you for attending the 2023 Annual Conference in Cologne.

The participants of two major conferences ‒ in addition to the Coimbra Group Annual Meeting, the European Conference for African Studies took place in Cologne ‒ transformed Albertus-Magnus-Platz and the buildings around it into a lively conference center. The conferences also radiated far out into the city: a wide variety of locations in Cologne were included, from the Schauspielhaus alternative quarter in Schanzenstraße, to the Historic City Hall, to the rooftop bar of the LVR Tower. It was a great opportunity for intellectual exchange, but also to establish new contacts, catch up with long-time good friends, and to intensify links with partner universities from all over Europe.

Global responsibility and the cooperation with partners in Africa is an important part of the University of Cologne’s profile. Accordingly, we gladly seized the opportunity presented by the parallel meeting of the European Conference on African Studies at our university. Under the title “’Africa meets Europe’ – Academic Cooperation for a Sustainable Global Future”, the public conference in the framework of our Coimbra Group Annual Meeting formed an interesting thematic focus beyond our discussions on “European” topics in the area of higher education.

A sustainable global future is only possible if all academic forces are bundled under the heading of global responsibility and work together at eye level on the world’s major problems. Global responsibility links research, teaching, and internationalization with the transfer of knowledge and scientific methods to our local, regional and global networks and – with a view to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – contributes to global transformation and the strengthening of science worldwide.

Four years ago, in 2019, the University of Cologne celebrated the 100th anniversary of its re-foundation. After the ‘old’ university had been closed in the 18th century, its re-foundation 1919 was an initiative of the citizens of Cologne. On this occasion, the mayor of Cologne, and future German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, gave a speech in which he defined it as a key mission of the ‘new’ University of Cologne “to show that between all European peoples there is after all much more in common than in separation.”

Crises such as Brexit, or most recently the war in Ukraine, make us painfully aware that we need to make further efforts to achieve this goal. And it is clear that we cannot just focus on dismantling borders within Europe – if that means erecting new borders on the edges of Europe. Rather, we need to think globally, and put Adenauer’s words in perspective: We have so much more in common with the peoples of Africa, Asia, America and Australia, than sets us apart. Cooperation is the best way to solve problems that affect us all together. I am absolutely convinced that our activities within the framework of the Coimbra Group are decisive steps on this path.

I hope you enjoy reading this newsletter, and I wish you some nice summer holidays.