The founding of FHWS: a real political event

Almost 50 years ago, the FHWS of today was created from a polytechnic, a business school and a school of applied arts

 © FHWS archive

In 2021 FHWS celebrates its 50th anniversary. It was founded in an era in which student protests and education reforms defined politics. But how exactly did the founding happen at the beginning of the 70s?

Germany, 1968. Students are taking to the streets across Germany. They want more: more education. More space. More participation. They are protesting for the valorisation of their education and demanding more education policies. The result: a major education reform and extensive liberalisation of society. According to Dr. Jürgen Herzog, the first Chancellor of FHWS (1973-2007), these were tumultuous times for higher education institutions, students and professors.

The University of Applied Sciences Würzburg Schweinfurt was founded three years after the beginning of the protests. In the annals of FHWS, 1 August 1971 is entered as the foundation date. Here, the history of FHWS stretches back to 1807 because it arose from three predecessor institutions: the Balthasar-Neumann polytechnic (school of engineering from 1836), the Höhere Wirtschaftsfachschule business school (from 1966) and the Städtische Werkkunstschule school of applied arts (from 1945). This merger was required by the newly enacted law on universities of applied sciences, i.e. the “regulation on the exclusion of academic training from state engineering schools and state technical colleges with an engineering department” dated 23 July 1971.

FHWS started giving lectures for the first time in the winter semester 1971/72 with 1,566 students. Today, with more than 9,100 enrolled students, FHWS numbers among the largest universities of applied sciences in Bavaria. And just 50 years after it was founded – so how did this success come about?

Line drawing of an FHWS building
FHWS building in Schweinfurt. Source: Flyer of the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg Schweinfurt
Photo of the inauguration of the first president in 1972
Inauguration of the first president of the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg Schweinfurt at the Schweinfurt town hall on 20 March 1972: (from left) Mayor of the City of Würzburg Dr. Klaus Zeitler, Mayor of the City of Schweinfurt Georg Wichtermann, President of FHWS Prof. Dr. Rudolf Müller, State Secretary Erwin Lauerbach from the State Ministry for Education and Culture, and District President Dr Robert Meixner. Source: FHWS archive

Standardisation

According to the long-standing Chancellor of FHWS, Dr. Jürgen Herzog, the founding and the instigation of the law on universities of applied sciences was predominantly a political event. Politicians from various parties wanted to thus make their mark in the Bavarian Parliament. They had recognised the mood among students – the pressure for more codetermination and recognition for their higher education, in the economy as well as in society.

The primary reason for the enactment of the law on universities of applied sciences, however, was the nationwide need of all governments for standardisation of the mishmash of names for the predecessor institutions and the various education standards, structures and curricula.

Thus, in Würzburg, the three predecessor institutions were officially merged by the District of Lower Franconia in the Free State of Bavaria owing to the law on universities of applied sciences, resulting in FHWS. From a legal standpoint, the university of applied sciences was a legal entity governed by public law with a right to self-government. A completely new status. Or as Dr. Ottomar Götz, former head of the computer centre in Schweinfurt and professor at the former polytechnic summarises: “The founding of the universities of applied sciences was a dramatic turning point in the teaching and administration of their predecessor institutions.”

Quote by Dr. Ottomar Götz: "The founding of the universities of applied sciences was a dramatic turning point in teaching and administration of their predecessor institutions.”

The puzzle pieces of the founding

What role did the movement of 1968 play here? The protests, which Götz describes as “very matter-of-fact, orderly and entirely justified”, were protests which got by without throwing stones. Thus, according to Götz, the students' call for valorisation of the engineering degree programme in particular, which is so important for the industrial location of Schweinfurt, was absolutely an element of the founding of FHWS. Because the title of “graduate engineer” obtained should achieve greater recognition, particularly abroad. However, it is very clear that the actual reason for the enactment of the law on universities of applied sciences and therefore the founding of FHWS was the politicians striving for standardised teaching.

The founding of FHWS was enshrined in the “Wernecker resolutions”. The Bavarian law on universities of applied sciences defined the fundamental organisation of universities of applied sciences, but questions of policy specific to FHWS had to be clarified internally, e. g. which degree programme is taught at which location. In the end, the FHWS management decided that mechanical engineering, as well as engineering, should be taught in Schweinfurt owing to proximity to industry. Electrical engineering had sites in Würzburg and Schweinfurt. Business administration, architecture, civil engineering and visual design were located in Würzburg. The subject of social affairs was newly established in 1972, plastics engineering and surveying in 1973 and the computer science degree programme in 1975.

Photo of a person standing in front of a machine in the 70ies.
The Civil Engineering degree programme has been located in Würzburg since the founding in 1971. Source: FHWS archive
A man and a women sitting in front of switchgear units
The subject of social affairs was only established one year after the founding of FHWS, i. e. in 1972. Source: FHWS archive

There is no such thing as an easy beginning

If you ask those who witnessed it what the mood among students and lecturers was like following the resolution, it is clear: politics acted in the interests of the affected parties. The first Chancellor, Herzog, summarises: “The students were delighted because their degree programmes had increased in value.” The protests had achieved something; through the dialogue with politicians, the occupied lecture rooms, roadblocks and demonstrations in Würzburg and Schweinfurt.

And the then members of the District of Lower Franconia could be pleased as well. “I got the impression that they were very pleased that the state took over,” says Herzog. “It was simply too expensive for the District.”

Quote by Dr. Ottomar Götz: “There were good links between industry and the polytechnic/FHWS. And that is still the case today.”

However, the law on universities of applied sciences didn't automatically make these financial problems disappear. Herzog remembers: “In the 70s and 80s, the quest for donations was one of the primary concerns for FHWS and therefore also for the chancellor”, and this was despite the fact that FHWS was state-owned. Improvisation and good relationships were the key here. Dr Götz points out: “There were good links between industry and the polytechnic/FHWS. And that is still the case today.” Ultimately, things were on the up from the end of the 70s, including financially.

And more than that: according to Herzog, it was noticeable how harmoniously the restructuring of the three autonomous institutions took place. No jobs were lost – rather new jobs were created. The students in the movement of 1968 didn't lose their way in ideological clashes or debates of fundamental social policy. They mobilised their forces for more codetermination and were thus able to pressure politicians into fundamental changes, above all in the law on universities of applied sciences.

But the change was fundamentally challenging, says Götz. Particularly the “increasing offering of new disciplines" and the “content-related rebalancing of teaching”. Herzog summarises: “The difficult early years created a sense of community among the professors, the colleagues in the technical staff and the administrative staff. It was remarkable.”

Pioneering spirit from the start

Quote by Dr. Jürgen Herzog: We had a real pioneering spirit.

It was a “great opportunity” according to Götz. As Herzog also points out: “We had a real pioneering spirit.” The development of FHWS in the following years is also something to be proud of: more international, with new sites, more students, modern degree programmes and the goal of applied teaching and learning.

The founding of FHWS was therefore a collaborative effort: rebelling students, the law for universities of applied sciences enacted by politicians, the pioneering spirit of the employees and donations from industry. And this successful collaborative effort will soon have continued for 50 years.

Photo of Amelie Mangler

An article by 
Amelie Mangler