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Internationalization Strategy of the University of Cologne


The University of Cologne (UoC) sees itself as a globally active and interconnected university. It regards internationalization as a central building block of its strategic development and as a cross-sectional task in which all units of the University – from its headship over the Faculties with their scholars, scientists, and students to the departments of the administration – work together and participate.

The UoC has always promoted the further internationalization of studies, teaching, and research, is integrated into international research contexts and, as one of the largest and oldest universities in Europe, has cultivated international academic exchange among scholars, scientists, and students for decades. 

It is convinced that openness to the world and interculturality are basic prerequisites for success in almost all areas of society, and that institutions of higher education and research are particularly called upon to assume social responsibility in a global context. This conviction has become even more important in light of the far-reaching social and global political developments of recent years. The UoC is guided in its actions by its commitment to freedom of research and teaching as an indispensable prerequisite for international cooperation, mutual respect based on a high level of international and intercultural competence, and a spirit of partnership in cooperation.

This responsibility can only be fulfilled by a university that sees itself as a formative force in the worldwide university community and that attaches particular importance to active participation in shaping the European higher education landscape. 

Expanding networks and partnerships and developing strategies and instruments to use them fruitfully at all levels of academic life, thus promoting its own transformation process, is at the heart of the UoC’s internationalization efforts. 

International cooperation is a prerequisite for achieving top results in research and for facing the challenges of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a university. The continuous further internationalization of studies and teaching is a prerequisite to prepare students for a world of transnational challenges and to provide them with an education that is competitive on the global job market. At the same time, active involvement in the international scientific community is a prerequisite for the UoC’s own continuous development. On this basis and with this claim, the UoC formulates the present internationalization strategy.

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Goals of Internationalization

As a globally oriented research university, the UoC seeks to collaborate with the best scholars and scientists worldwide and to attract the best students and doctoral researchers from all over the world. We want to offer them optimal conditions and the best possible support. Sustainable internationalization must therefore permeate all areas of the University. We want to anchor internationality even more deeply in all aspects of academic life: in the Faculties, among students and researchers, and in the service areas.
Against this background, the UoC pursues the following internationalization goals: 

1.    Internationalization of research

a) Successful research needs international partners – for transnational research topics, for the regular exchange of the latest results, for cooperation based on a division of tasks, for the generation of synergies, and for the acquisition of third-party funding for joint research projects. The UoC wants to be perceived as a globally leading research university in the long term. To achieve this purpose, it makes adequate use of the necessary analogue and digital tools.

2.    Internationalization of teaching and studies

a) Research-oriented and career-related studies must be international and convey intercultural competencies, increase awareness of diversity, reflect global research trends, and benefit from international scientific collaborations. International experience is not only acquired abroad.

b) An international campus thrives on exchange. In the medium term, at least half of all students should gain international experience in the course of their studies: through a stay abroad, training in double-degree programmes, or by participating in short-term international programmes. At the same time, we would like to welcome even more international students in Cologne: in undergraduate and graduate programmes, as exchange students, in short-term programmes, and as part of summer schools or workshops, in all cases providing them with appropriate German language skills.

c) In addition to such ‘physical’ exchange, the UoC makes use of digital communication opportunities to promote the internationalization of teaching and studies, and continuously develops these tools and the educational methods they require.

3.    Accepting global responsibility

The UoC sees its research and teaching – embedded within the UN Sustainable Development Goals – in global responsibility for shaping the development of science and education, society, and living conditions. Active participation in European networks strengthens its global impact, contributes to shaping the European higher education and living landscape and provides impulses and global competence also for local activities and initiatives. This brings with it a responsibility to continuously develop one’s own institution, which is promoted through competent participation in all areas addressed.

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Institutional Structure

The basis for a lively internationalization strategy and its successful implementation is an understanding of internationalization that is explicitly formulated and shared across the University. The internationalization strategy is therefore the result of an intensive university-wide discussion process, in the course of which the Faculties committed themselves to internationalization concepts for the Faculty-specific implementation of the internationalization goals.

The institutional structures required for implementation as well as a system of incentives, funding opportunities, and financial policy measures are part of the catalogue of measures for implementing this strategy paper and are continuously reviewed, further developed, and externally monitored or evaluated.

To promote internationalization, the University of Cologne has an established institutional structure anchored both in the university headship and in the Faculties and administration, headed by the Vice-Rectorate for International Affairs. 

The Vice-Rectorate is supported by Division 9 ‘International Affairs/International Office (IO)’ with its service and language course offers for students as well as scholars and scientists, a Welcome Center and liaison offices abroad. The liaison offices abroad and the membership as an associated supporter in further German Centers for Research and Innovation (DWIH) create international support structures, promote networking with local institutions, and strengthen the international presence of the UoC. 

Faculty-specific internationalization concepts are defined by the Faculties and implemented in their respective Centres for International Relations. 

EU research funding programmes, especially the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation as well as international projects funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and international research training groups, are central pillars for further internationalization. Access to these as well as the processing of external research funding is ensured by the support of Division 7 ‘Research Management’ and by the DFS administration of University Hospital Cologne.

With increasing internationalization, the demands on all areas of the administration to offer their services in a multilingual and culturally sensitive manner are growing. The ‘International Guides’ support the administration divisions in achieving this goal.

The far-reaching social and global political developments and changes of recent years require a high degree of international and intercultural competence on the part of the actors involved, so that international cooperation is characterized by mutual respect and partnership. Continuous training and active participation in national and international networks are indispensable for this. The ‘Guidelines and Standards of International University Cooperation’ (German Rectors’ Conference 2020) are guiding principles for the UoC. 

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Measures to Reach These Goals

In order to achieve its internationalization goals, the UoC has drawn up a catalogue of measures that defines ten fields of activity. They are coordinated and partially interlinked, so that some measures serve several goals. The Faculties specify their concrete implementation in their internationalization concepts.

1.) Coherence of the international university network

Comprehensive cooperation in research, teaching, and campus management is intensified with a limited number of selected networks and universities. Within the framework of these networks and partnerships, the UoC strives for particularly close networking, e.g. through the intensive exchange of students, doctoral researchers, scholars and scientists, and administrative staff, through joint courses, study programmes and virtual cooperation as well as through joint research and third-party funded projects.

As the most intensive and comprehensive network, the consortium ‘EUniWell’ with the concept of the European University has a very high strategic importance in research, teaching, innovation, administration, and networking with the public – also in the sense of participation in the active shaping of the European Higher Education Area. In addition, the UoC actively cooperates in larger alliances, in particular the Coimbra Group. The Global Network Partners and the University Partnerships, with whom cooperation takes place on many levels, as well as the Strategic Research Partnerships, which focus on cutting-edge research, complement the close European alliances to form a tight global network of top universities.

2.) Internationalization of research and researchers

The UoC is committed to the principles of the ‘Human Resources Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R)’ as defined in the European Charter and Code for Researchers, and actively promotes diversity and equal opportunities as defined in the UoC’s strategy paper on equal opportunities. On this basis, it is increasing the proportion of professors from abroad and the number of visiting scholars. It is expanding its ‘International Faculty Program’ and the research alumni work, creating new innovative funding structures for international research and establishing the ‘Cologne International Forum (CIF)’ as a platform and working intensively on the cooperative research structures developing in the EUniWell consortium. The visibility of excellent international research collaborations shall be strengthened within the UoC as well as externally. International marketing and recruiting shall be expanded. Scholars and scientists from around the world and their hosts at the UoC shall be intensively supported in the acquisition of (third-party funded) guest programmes.

3.) Internationalization of degree programme structures

All degree programmes are designed and anchored in the accreditation procedures in such a way that they enable the acquisition of international and intercultural experience and competence for all students – incoming and outgoing. A prerequisite for this is the flexible design necessary for international exchange. This applies in particular to:

a.) Establishing standardized accreditation procedures 

All degree programmes include internationalization options in the coursework to be completed. In addition to stays abroad, this can also include participation in foreign-language events, international workshops, summer schools, or virtual international offers. standardized recognition procedures and mobility windows will make it easier for student to plan the international option(s) that best suit them.

b.) Internationalization of teacher education

In view of the high proportion of the teaching profession in the degree programmes and among the student body at the UoC, the internationalization of teacher training is of particular importance. In cooperation with the Faculties, the International Office and the Centres of International Relations (ZIB), the University’s Centre for Teacher Education will develop the internationalization of teacher training into a profile feature of the UoC.

c.) Developing/strengthening existing degree programmes with an international orientation

The UoC will increase the number of highly international degree programmes (e.g. joint and double-degree programmes) in order to be able to offer even more students international study experiences that will qualify them for the international job market.

4.) Digitalization and internationalization

In the course of the increasing digitalization of structures and processes at the UoC, concepts are being developed that focus on the specific concerns of international collaboration and are coordinated with the digitization concepts for research, teaching and studies, and administration. The aim is to create new opportunities for intensive international collaboration that combine aspects of digital teaching and intercultural and international encounters. Digital internationalization is not limited to teaching projects alone, but can enrich the entire field of international academic exchange, facilitate new research formats, simplify administrative channels in international exchange, and enable new forms of communication and advising for international students and researchers.

5.) Language policy

a.) Further development of lectures and seminars in English and other languages

In order to provide students with the qualifications the international environment in work and academia demands, the University of Cologne will continue to expand its English- and foreign-language teaching and learning opportunities and consolidate existing offerings. These will be supplemented by courses of the International Faculty Program, by the exchange of lecturers and joint (digital) courses with international partners.

b.) Multilingualism

The University of Cologne understands multilingualism as a valuable resource of cultural diversity and global education. It is therefore developing further instruments to promote individual and institutional multilingualism against the backdrop of a diverse student body and diverse faculty and staff as well as the relevant academic languages of the European higher education landscape.

c.) German as a language of science and scholarship

At the same time, the University of Cologne strives to maintain and strengthen German as a language of instruction and scholarship in the long term. To this end, the teaching offer of the International Office’s German as a Foreign Language Department for international students is continually being improved.


6.) Expanding international partnerships to enhance international mobility

In addition to international degree programmes and to the prioritized partnerships outlined under section 1, exchange opportunities will be further enhanced in order to provide for a comprehensive, diverse, and attractive offer for Cologne outgoings – from undergraduates via doctoral candidates to participants in research projects. This shall be achieved by creating structures that make exchange possible, by expanding existing bilateral exchange relationships or multilateral networks, and by expanding short-term exchange programmes. Programmes for practical stays, virtual exchange, and blended mobility formats shall complement the portfolio.

7.) Further improving conditions for international students

As an attractive study location, the UoC attracts many students from abroad. It strives to create the best possible conditions for international students to study successfully. Therefore, the UoC is continually working to optimize ‘Studienstart International’, the structured study access phase for undergraduate students from third countries, the completion of which enables university access on the basis of Section 49 subsection 9 of the Higher Education Act of North Rhine-Westphalia (HG NRW). At the same time, the support services for international students and doctoral researchers in the International Office are continuously improved in cooperation with the Faculties. The measures to optimize study conditions are complemented by professional marketing and recruiting appropriate to the respective regional focus.

The UoC also sees it as its task to support students, including doctoral candidates with an international educational qualification, in securing financial support for their study or research stay at the UoC. To this end, it advises them proactively and intensively in scholarship application.

As an important prerequisite for a successful stay in Germany and for access to the German labour market, the UoC encourages its international students – even in non-German-language programmes – to learn the German language or to further develop their German-language skills. That way, the UoC wants to contribute to promoting a welcoming perspective for international students and faculty.

8.) Building a coherent system of short-term programmes at home and abroad

Short-term programmes are in high demand internationally. In the course of the internationalization of campus, the UoC regularly organizes (thematic and language) summer schools in order to be able to offer more international students short stays in Cologne and, within the framework of exchange agreements, places in summer school programmes at international partner universities to more Cologne students. The UoC also aims to offer courses with microdegrees in the framework of short-term stays. In the area of short-term stays, in addition to face-to-face courses the range of virtual course formats shall also be expanded.

9.) Global responsibility

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. This global awareness shapes the basis of all UoC internationalization measures and manifests itself in activities such as the continuous development of measures for refugee students to integrate into their studies or the labour market, active membership in the Scholars at Risk network and cooperation with the Scholar Rescue Fund of the International Institute of Education, grant proposal writing programmes, and other capacity building measures at different levels.  

10.) International alumni work 

International alumni work is an important component of efforts to strengthen the UoC’s international presence and a valuable instrument for network building. The area ‘KölnAlumni WELTWEIT’ shall therefore be further expanded and cooperation with ‘KölnAlumni’ strengthened. Digital event formats shall additionally strengthen international networks.

11.) Harmonizing support structures

Internationalization needs structures and personnel. As tasks grow, so do the personnel requirements and the need for coordination and communication. At the UoC, the establishment of Centres for International Relations in the Faculties has proven to be a very successful model, enabling cooperation among the central and decentral units responsible for internationalization. In order to optimize this model, these support structures should be further harmonized and a minimum level of resources should be guaranteed. At the same time, the proven structure of the ‘International Guides’ in the central administration shall be expanded.

12.)  Development of Planning and Steering Capacities, Reporting 

In order for the internationalization strategies to be successfully developed and implemented, the UoC is developing an overarching reporting system on internationalization. For this purpose, it is establishing central and decentral structures, but also introducing a system of incentives. The aim is for the international report to become an essential part of the general UoC Report and the Faculty Reports.

13.) ‘Interculturality at home’

The UoC is highly concerned with the transfer of knowledge on ‘cultural diversity’ into society. It strives to impart intercultural competence and experience to its students, faculty, and staff through special offers. To ensure that international and intercultural encounters become the norm for all university stakeholders, the internationalization of administrative staff is also promoted through measures such as language courses, intercultural training, job shadowing at international partner universities, and by incorporating aspects of internationalization into as many processes and areas as possible, including in particular continuing education and human resources development. ‘Internationalization’ is also one of the ‘Strategic fields of action and goals of the administration’.

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