Schweinfurt: a long road to a student city

How the city and FHWS want to increase Schweinfurt's attractiveness to students

Schweinfurt is small. Schweinfurt is boring. Schweinfurt is more of an industrial city than a student city. There are many preconceptions about the city in the middle of Lower Franconia. Not all of them can be denied. But Schweinfurt has more to offer. The city of Schweinfurt and FHWS’ new projects should further increase the city’s attractiveness.

Schweinfurt town sign
The majority of students in Schweinfurt come from the surrounding area.

The city of Schweinfurt, with its roughly 54,500 residents, must accept some criticisms when it comes to its image. For many students, the second campus of the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (FHWS) is not necessarily their location of choice at first glance. The city is small, it’s true, and it lacks the big city atmosphere. The city has been hitherto unable to score points with an extensive pub district, vibrant campus life or special discounts for students. The typical student life that everyone expects is missing in Schweinfurt. Alongside the lack of leisure offerings, there is a very simply reason for this: many of the students come from the immediate surroundings.

Of the current almost 3,000 full-time students in Schweinfurt, 80 percent have their home address in Germany, and 78 percent come from the Schweinfurt local area: for nine out of ten students, the postcode for their home address begins with 97. A remarkably large number. So we can't talk about a broad distribution across the entirety of Federal territory. Internationally, however, FHWS is well positioned with 20 percent of its students coming from abroad. This is predominantly due to the TWIN Programmes which are offered in both English and German. The offer is very well received by international students, resulting in good occupancy on the I-Campus.

Students chatting in a group.
Students appreciate the proximity to large industrial companies in Schweinfurt. (© Jonas Kron)
Studierende auf Stadtmauer
Schweinfurt city centre invites you to linger. (© Jonas Kron)

Commuting owing to lack of incentives

In 2019, only 796 of the nearly 2,000 German domestic students actually lived in the city of Schweinfurt. The majority commuted from the surrounding areas, particularly from the county of Schweinfurt (411), the city of Würzburg (206) and the county of Bad Kissingen (108). “If you live in the region, it is often cheaper to live with your parents. People move to Schweinfurt if life here is more exciting,” explains Pia Jost from the City of Schweinfurt. The reason why students would prefer to live in cities like Würzburg lies in the fact that they have a more visible and more easily experienced campus life than Schweinfurt. “Naturally, this is also because of the number of students. If the numbers increase, then student life will also become visible here,” Jost defends Schweinfurt. “What is certainly missing in Schweinfurt is a student club,” says Jost. Such clubs are characterised by students offering various programmes on their own initiative. The spectrum runs from pubs and parties through to cultural offerings.

Although this is something that doesn’t exist in Würzburg either, the selection of pubs and clubs is bigger. The nightlife is therefore also more diverse. The City of Schweinfurt is now interested in such a student club, and there have already been initial ideas and discussions with students in the past. A civil property could also be provided for this if it is not otherwise in use and would mean at least a break-even deal for the city. “However, there is not currently an appropriate property for it,” according to the current state of affairs. As soon as something is found, we will see whether a club managed independently by students is feasible.

One of the many commuters is Jochen Schirber. His home is in the county of Rhön-Grabfeld, not far from Schweinfurt. He is in his fourth semester of studying Business and Engineering, and commutes to FHWS. He decided on the City of Schweinfurt after his advanced technical college certificate. Why? “I didn't want to be too far from home,” he says. However, he didn't want to live in the “industrial city”. For this reason, he looked for a flat share in Würzburg, even though he pays a bit more rent in Würzburg and commutes every day. And that is despite the fact that he has to pay for the train fare himself – because the Würzburg-Schweinfurt train connection is not included in the FHWS semester ticket. He’s not bothered by it. “Würzburg offers a lot more for students, you can do a lot more,” he says. Plenty of students, pubs and bars, the popular Main riverside in Würzburg. Most of Jochen’s fellow students also commute, he knows almost no-one who lives in Schweinfurt. What would be important for the city in his opinion: “Schweinfurt would certainly need to manage to have fewer commuters,” he thinks. If students lived there, then perhaps they would get more from the city. But there are simply too few students living there. It is more difficult to make connections.

Positioning as a student city

So it's a vicious cycle: students are part of a student city. But they are more drawn to student cities. It is very important here to attract more students to Schweinfurt from across Germany so that there are fewer commuters, student life flourishes and the city becomes more attractive to future students. Both FHWS and the city are aware of this. “We are all working on attracting more students from across Germany,” says Jost. One approach is positioning the city as a unique location for robotics thanks to the first undergraduate bachelor's degree programme for robotics in Germany. This started in the 2020/21 winter semester in Schweinfurt. The motto, launched by FHWS President Prof. Dr. Robert Grebner, is: Think robotics, think Schweinfurt. The launch of the new degree programme in German and English created 260 new university places which should draw attention to Schweinfurt from interested parties throughout Germany and abroad.

New halls of residence and the new campus on the site of the former Ledward Barracks reinforce a real campus feeling at the Schweinfurt FHWS location. This area has been being converted since the withdrawal of the American soldiers in autumn 2014 and should now become a showcase for Industry 4.0 in Schweinfurt – as one of the biggest industrial cities in Bavaria. The focus here is on digitalisation and globalisation – two key themes for the future of Schweinfurt and FHWS. Laboratories with state-of-the-art technology offer benefits not just for students and professors, but also for large industry locally. “We don’t want to be an ivory tower of knowledge, we seek contact with industry and society,” FHWS Vice President and Deputy Dean Wolfgang Fischer was already stressing in February 2017 in an interview with the Main-Post. Collaboration with local businesses is a core element of FHWS, which is now strengthened with the new build and offers students the opportunity to gain practical work experience.

Quote Wolfgang Fischer: "We don't want to be an ivory tower of knowledge, we seek contact with industry and society"

The future shows promise

The City of Schweinfurt is working on new concepts which are currently still in the ideas phase. This includes so-called maker spaces, for example. These are modern, open workshops and creative spaces. Creative makers can get together here and work on various projects together. “We want to create a space for students in which they can put their ideas into practice,” Pia Jost explains the intention behind it. As places of creative collaboration, they allow for constant exchange between people in different disciplines and therefore also individual development.

It cannot be denied that Schweinfurt is not currently a typical student city. But: the Main flows through Schweinfurt too. So you can enjoy an evening together with fellow students here as well. There are also pubs and bars here. Schweinfurt can also score points with a quarry lake, a climbing park, plenty of sports offerings, a lively cultural programme and interesting gastronomy. Concerts are regularly held in the Stattbahnhof. Schweinfurt offers a lot more than people think when you pull aside the curtain of preconceptions. In particular, the construction of the new campus brings a wealth of new possibilities. The “vicious cycle” of the non-student city could now be broken and the number of students could increase. The future will show whether Schweinfurt can keep up in comparison with cities which are currently more popular and convince commuters to live in Schweinfurt long term. Pia Jost is optimistic: “We believe that student life will flourish!”

Profilfoto: Hanne Scheidler

An article by Hanne Scheidler