The complex problems science so very often has to face today frequently demand interdisciplinary approaches to research, as well as international co-operations. A good example for this is the overcoming of the world-wide water crisis – an absolute necessity for human survival -, whose dimension affects almost all areas of knowledge and is not just simply limited to ecological or technical-engineering aspects. The same is certainly true for all eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were passed by the United Nations in September 2000.
The University of Giessen wants to contribute to the accomplishing of said goals and to bring into sharper focus its international profile in the field of developmental and environmental research.
During the period of conception and founding, discussions with regard to the tasks and goals of the ZEU were both detailed and – partly - very controversial. In the course of these talks three important principles were singled out; principles which are suitable to bring into sharper focus the ZEU's profile in the way it is presented outwardly and which are suitable to form the necessary frame for the success of the ZEU's activities.
Principle 1: The ZEU is Supposed to be Problem-Oriented. A Regional Specification is not Intended.
At the ZEU we carry out research projects concerning fundamental developmental and environmental questions which concern totally different regions of the world. This problem-oriented starting point cannot be taken for granted in the field of German research, as many central institutions have a regional focus. We are convinced, though, that the orientation by central, content-related questions is the right way for Giessen, especially as most of the other research institutions with a regional focus are provided with a considerably larger financial volume. We cannot rely on a comparable financial volume, though. Furthermore, our university's professorships are filled according to a specialised research orientation relating to contents and not according to a uniform regional research orientation. Thus the ZEU is well-adapted to the existing way subjects are structured at the Justus-Liebig-University. Still, in order to take into account the ZEU's limited resources and in order to present an accurate picture of the ZEU's focal points to the professional public and the university, we are not able to completely avoid regional points of focus in the conception and realisation of our research ideas. This regional focus is not fixed from the outset and for a longer course of time, though. Instead, regional points of focus are supposed to develop from successful research projects and co-operations. New projects and members of the ZEU are supposed to orientate themselves and their research topics towards regions with successful research contacts, rather than deal with still new regions in individual projects all the time. Currently, regional attention is primarily paid to China and Mexico, as well as to the states following the GUS (Ukraine, Georgia, the republics of Central-Asia); concerning global questions research co-operations exist especially with the USA.
Principle 2: The ZEU Concentrates on Two Central Topics: International Developmental and Environmental Research.
Regarding the ZEU's specialised research orientation relating to contents we have decided to concern ourselves with international developmental and environmental research. Why with both? Firstly, we are convinced that environment and development are interdependent and should thus be dealt with together. Secondly, we see a comparative advantage for Giessen in the combination of these topics. At our university there are a number of specialists in developmental as well as in environmental research, who work in different countries as well as on partly-international comparative studies concerning one or both of the abovementioned topics. This potential we combine at the ZEU and see a gap in the market of research in this combination.
Principle 3: Interdisciplinarity is Very Important at the ZEU.
In current scientific examinations concerning research it is distinguished between three levels of interdisciplinarity.
It can concern
Using this very reasonable division of interdisciplinarity then interdisciplinarity is without a doubt displayed in the ZEU's structure. Currently, nine disciplines are represented in the directorate and in the authorised research projects of the Center. Willingness to work in an interdisciplinary way is also a fundamental prerequisite to become a member of the directorate.
If science discusses whether interdisciplinarity can work or not, this usually refers to more than an interdisciplinary structure – namely interdisciplinarity in the implementation of research. In our organisation statute we talk of interdisciplinary research projects. Topics of research are to be carried out by members of different specialised fields. It is not easy to achieve this. It is partly possible to carry this out, though, particularly in those cases in which research support programmes are aiming for interdisciplinary and international research co-operations. EU-programmes are an especially good example. Projects which are carried out in an interdisciplinary way are too expensive for a number of support institutions, though. But in these cases there are possible strategies that can be followed. It is conceivable to first attract disciplinary projects and to prove competence in certain topical areas. These can then help to later integrate further specialised disciplines and aspects and to thus enlarge the project framework.
We have introduced minimal requirements for interdisciplinarity, though. Where a disciplinary application of one or more applicants is made, the corresponding sections discuss both the application and the subsequent research results under interdisciplinary points of view. Another minimal prerequisite is interdisciplinarity in the result. Disciplinary results concerning one focal point of research have to be joined together in a general interdisciplinary view both in a report and in the outward presentation of the ZEU.
The ZEU's aims are orientated towards four areas of responsibility written down in the statutes:
All of these areas of responsibility are important. None of the tasks can be fulfilled adequately without successful research, though.
The ZEU's structure is relatively simple, a fact that allows an efficient management. Central organ is the directorate. It consists of eight professors and representativesa of the research and administrative assistants and employees, as well as of the students.