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Dr. Franz B. Humer, Chairman of the Foundation Board

Famous poet and thinker Hermann Hesse coined the phrase “You have to try the impossible to achieve the possible“. And right he most certainly was. In many situations, you need to think and act beyond the apparent confines in front of you. So it may be surprising to know that I have quite an opposing view where the subject matters and research fields of dissertations are concerned.

I do not, of course, wish to put the case for those topics that have already been addressed multiple times in thoroughgoing academic study. Works of this kind, which essentially build on what has already been published and, at best, shed light on a single additional aspect, are still all too common despite the professionalisation of postgraduate education in recent years.

As a rule, dissertations that are too far removed from reality in terms of content also make little sense. Based on quite outlandish hypotheses, they deal with questions that will never become reality, neither today nor tomorrow. There is indeed a great danger here that, although such works are acknowledged in the narrow academic sphere – perhaps even a little admired for their daring thinking – experience suggests that they will end up in an archive or filed on a computer sooner or later, which is where they will stay.

Yet our experience from what has now been thirteen years of the Foundation’s work sends out a clear message to the contrary – dissertations that tackle current challenges and develop specific approaches to solutions find an audience beyond the academic community and are also taken seriously by political and economic actors. This often results in a well-founded dialogue between academia and the real world, which has a measurable positive effect on action in the individual subject areas.

Let me demonstrate this briefly in the dissertations that we have supported financially at the universities in Basel and Salzburg. Research on Africa is at the heart of the dissertations we support in Basel. In most cases, this involves very specific issues with close links to day-to-day life in these countries. Many of those who have completed their doctorates in Basel in this way seek and ultimately find professional assignments in these areas where they can put their findings into practice.

The dissertations we support at the University of Salzburg focus on all aspects of Europe and the European Union. They also deal with topical problems and current developments, which means that these works generate recognisable added value.

And so we will continue to encourage “our“ doctoral students to pursue questions and topics in their academic work that add value beyond the academic context, making the knowledge they have gained available to a wider audience.


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