IDEE institute: strong together

The cross-faculty institute means a major step towards the future for FHWS

 © Simone Friese

The Institute of Digital Engineering, IDEE for short, researches the production of the future. It is extensively equipped for this: the first FHWS research professors work here. FHWS has thus been breaking new ground since 2019.

Since the 2019 summer semester, FHWS has been striking out for new horizons with the cross-faculty Institute of Digital Engineering, with the catchy abbreviation IDEE. It should combine competences in the fields of Industry 4.0, digital engineering and digital production. Thematically, therefore, everything revolves around the “smart factory”, tomorrow’s production. Collaboration between the faculties is particularly important for this promising topic, according to Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Schmitt, Head of the Institute at IDEE: “Through my doctorate in Braunschweig, I learned that many topics can only be worked on efficiently when the individual faculties work together.” 

Profilfoto Prof. Schmitt
Prof. Jan Schmitt works in the Faculty of Business and Engineering. There, he lectures in the fields of production optimisation and process and quality assurance, among others. (© Simone Friese)

More time for research for the IDEE professors

Prof. Schmitt is one of the four research professors and is therefore also one of the first representative of his kind at FHWS. Since the 2018/2019 winter semester, there have been professorships at a university of applied sciences which are designed with a stronger focus on research as a result. They are characterised by a different distribution of work, Prof. Schmitt explains: “As a research professor, I only have half the teaching load which professors at universities of applied sciences have. I thus only teach nine hours per week and semester instead of 18 and can spend the rest of the time focusing on research topics and the necessary management.” For FHWS President Prof. Dr. Robert Grebner, that is the greatest success: “Since the 2006 higher education reform, when universities of applied sciences also gained a research mission, we have been making plans so that our professors can do more research. With the research professorships, we are finally able to pursue this mission more actively.” The conditions to allow for increased research at higher education institutions had already been established in 2013 on the basis of the Land of Bavaria’s digitalisation initiative. “The special thing in relation to the IDEE Institute,” says FHWS President Prof. Grebner, “is that four research professorships have been created in one institute at the same time.”

Positive result after 1.5 years

The Institute of Digital Engineering is divided into five specialist departments, known as centres. Four of these are headed up by the research professors. Although the centres themselves are independent in terms of content, they work together on projects. They also want to have the outward appearance of one institute, IDEE. “Unfortunately, there are sometimes high walls between the institutes in higher education institutions, meaning that there is hardly any exchange,” Head of the Institute Prof. Schmitt explains. “IDEE is an attempt to tear down these walls through strong interdisciplinary collaboration.” This also tipped the scales for Prof. Schmitt in the decision to apply for the research professorship: “I did not know this model and it sounded very appealing. Of course, the close contact with regional industry, which is typical of universities of applied sciences, is particularly interesting. This allows us to grapple with companies’ real, everyday problems. This is a valuable experience for the students as well.” The interdisciplinary collaboration within IDEE also works very well, according to Schmitt: “I am a big fan of this model. The work here is really fun – the research professorships and colleagues who are enthusiastic about research simply complement one another, professionally and personally.” After a good year and a half, the Head of the Institute thus concludes that the result is very good.

Quote Prof. Schmitt: I am a big fan of this model. The work here is really fun – the research professorships and colleagues who are enthusiastic about research simply complement one another, professionally and personally.
Quote FHWS President Prof. Robert Grebner: The special thing in relation to the IDEE Institute is that four research professorships have been created in one institute at the same time.

A new field of activity for FHWS

FHWS President Prof. Robert Grebner is also very satisfied with the development of IDEE: “The collaboration with local companies works very well, which is particularly important for us.” This was not always the case, Grebner tells us: “For 50 years, we at FHWS had to reject collaboration requests from companies time and again because we had no capacity for them. Now, with IDEE and the research professorships, we are finally able to work together with the companies on projects and word has also spread quickly among the companies.” For FHWS, the increase in research opportunities means major restructuring above all. But the FHWS President doesn't want to talk about a “shake-up”: “You can imagine that part of our field of work has been massively strengthened with the research professorships. Not much is changing for the students as a result, except that they are able to work on practical topics even more now.”

“IDEE will continue to grow”

IDEE is just the start, here, of a major campaign by the Bavarian state government. The Bavarian higher education institutions are getting a total of more than 400 research centres as part of the High-Tech Agenda. Each research centre will provide at least two new professorships here. As a result, more than 1000 professorships will be created, the majority as research professorships. FHWS President Grebner sees a great opportunity in this: “Almost 50 years after the establishment of the first universities of applied sciences in Bavaria, the state is now giving us a free hand to be able to do more research.” The five IDEE centres will also be further developed in the future with the High-Tech Agenda. Collaboration with local companies should also continue to be improved, says Grebner: "A focus on the region is also important to us. There are many high-tech companies here in Mainfranken. These are the best conditions for IDEE.” The next task, therefore, is to further expand the centres and make contacts with local industry. Grebner does not see an end to this: “IDEE will always continue to grow. There is no end to it in sight.”

More freedom for FHWS and the lecturers

President Grebner hopes that the new concept will also provide more flexibility for lecturers and those who want to become lecturers: “Many people who come to us as lecturers also want to do research, and now they can do that too. At the same time, we continue to give those who have found their fulfilment in teaching the same opportunities as before.” That is a major change for FHWS. As a cross-faculty institute, IDEE also has the advantage that it is financed using state funds and therefore enjoys a great deal of leeway. However, interdisciplinary collaboration has so far been limited to geographical proximity and the common outward appearance as IDEE. Concrete projects are therefore still in the development phase. But IDEE is already benefiting from its diversity owing to the various disciplines. Projects can thus be tackled interdisciplinarily and extensively with regional companies.

More than a year and a half after the founding of IDEE in March 2019, both the Head of the Institute Prof. Jan Schmitt and FHWS President Prof. Robert Grebner view the developments to date very positively. “IDEE and the research professorships are a major quality improvement for lecturers and students,” Grebner stresses. “But society also benefits from the increase in research because knowledge can be passed on to the outside world more quickly and easily.”

Profilfoto: Alexander Gruber

An article by
Alexander Gruber