Stay in the loop! Subscribe to our mailing list

Teichler Ulrich “The Development of a Promoter of Higher Education Research”

Teichler, Ulrich, Hoschulforschung, was sonst? Rückblick auf ein Wissenschaftlerleben; Budrich Academic Press, Opladen, Berlin & Toronto, 2020.

This newsletter usually restricts its reviews of publications to texts in the English language. Only rarely and in very particular cases do we make exceptions from this rule, if either the publication or its author is of outstanding quality. Both conditions are fulfilled in this case.

 The author of Hochschulforschung, was sonst, written in German, is Ulrich Teichler, the founder of research into higher education (Hochschulforschung) in Germany. Or rather, the book is in the form of interviews with his long-term colleagues Anna Kosmützky and Christiane Rittgerot. The nearly 200-page book is in part a biography of about 50 years of Teichler’s professional life, as well as a history of research into higher education in Germany and the world and an analysis of the main issue and themes in higher education since the 1960s.

 Teichler’s life as a student and later professor is a lesson on how to avoid the ‘beaten tracks’ and mistrust the ‘conventional wisdom’. He studied sociology at the Free University, one of three German universities where this discipline was on offer at all. He refused to accept money from his family and, in his first three semesters, funded himself as a half-time postman. From the fourth semester onwards, he became a research associate at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Education, where he, among other things, mentored doctoral students, long before earning his own degree. His lengthy stay at the MPI also was devoted to identify his future specialisation. In the end, he decided in favour of studies into higher education. By the time he handed in his PhD thesis, he already had a very impressive publication list. For his PhD, he opted consciously for the new University of Bremen, an institution without a pedigree.

 This way of ‘snobbing down’ should become a characteristic of him. When he was offered a professorship by the new Gesamthochschule Kassel and by the University of Chicago, then the no. 1 institution in the field, he opted for Kassel. This new institution offered him to create and mastermind what he calls a ‘joint research centre’ focusing on higher education and the world of work, later renamed into International Centre for Higher Education Research, INCHER. It fast became one of Europe’s most renowned research outfits in the area of higher education. Teichler led the institute from 1978 to 2013. Earlier foci included graduate tracer studies, linking, as the centre was intended to, the worlds of higher education and employment.

 Over the years, Teichler’s thematic scope widened. He increasingly got involved in internationally comparative studies, into international mobility and internationalisation and into the then new ERASMUS programme. He also let the world know what he thought of the new ‘managerialism’ emerging in higher education at the turn of the millennium and the sudden popularity of international institutional rankings: pretty little.

This book is a delightful read, full of humour and dry wit, but also a book that ‘calls a spade a spade’ and does not beat about the bush. Especially in Germany, the new discipline of Hochschulforschung was not always well understood. So Teichler created a definition for dummies: “A zoologist is someone who studies the behaviour of elephants and apes. A higher education researcher studies the behaviour of professors and students” (approximate quote).

As indicated earlier, this book is not only about Teichler’s professional life, but also about his relations to friends, colleagues and family. The most touching parts of his more private biography are devoted to his wonderful Japanese wife Yoko, who accompanied him through his life as a researcher.

More information here.