Jacobs scores in German poll

Rice’s sister university raises profile in European rankings

Rice News staff

When German educators and officials began planning a new and unique university more than a decade ago, they looked across the waters for inspiration, much like Edgar Odell Lovett had in seeking a vision for the Rice Institute a century earlier.

Appropriately, they found what they were looking for in Houston and modeled their unconventional institution on Rice.

The model is working well. Jacobs University Bremen, which will soon hold its sixth commencement, has been cited by a major poll as one of the region’s top-ranked institutions and received particular praise for its programs in biology, chemistry, computer science, geoscience and mathematics.

Germany’s Center for Higher Education Development and weekly newspaper Die Zeit published their annual rankings May 6. They gave top assessments to Jacobs for overall quality as well as mentoring and supervision in those five fields of study.

The organizations rated 55 universities in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands.

Jacobs resembles Rice in more than just academics. The university is highly selective in admitting students, boasts a small student-faculty ratio, encourages interdisciplinary research and has a residential college system. Courses are taught primarily in English, and the 1,200-strong student body boasts a global reach, representing 92 nations.

Jacobs’ success is a point of pride for Malcolm Gillis, former president of Rice and University Professor, the Ervin Kenneth Zingler Professor of Economics and professor of management. Gillis, who retired as Rice’s president in 2004, was instrumental in the formation of what began as International University Bremen (IUB) in 1999, and both he and Rice President David Leebron serve on its board of governors.

Rice became part of Jacobs’ story when Bremen representatives asked Gillis to help form the private university. He might not have accepted without another Rice connection.

“The real reason this succeeded is Dr. Reimar Lüst,” Gillis said. “Without him, we would never have been taken seriously in Germany.” Lüst, founding chairman of the IUB Board of Governors, is an astrophysicist who has headed the European Space Agency, the Max Planck Society and the Humboldt Foundation.

During World War II, Lüst was taken from college and assigned to a German submarine, which was sunk off the coast of North Carolina. Saved by a British destroyer, he spent the rest of the war in a Texas prison camp, checking out books by mail from the Rice library.

“After the war he went back to Germany, where you didn’t have to take classes to get a doctorate, took the exams and passed,” Gillis said. “So Rice is a special place for Reimer. When the Lord Mayor of Bremen asked if he’d chair the IUB board, he said, ‘If Rice is involved, yes.'”

Gillis said careful planning of IUB set the stage for today’s success.

“It was always a race between establishing a reputation and running out of money, and it was tight,” said Gillis, who insisted from the beginning that government seed money be unconditional, that English would be the language of instruction, that it would be a German university and not a branch of an American one and that there be need-based aid. He also insisted the university fund labs from the start to attract researchers.

The university got a major vote of confidence in November 2006 when German-born billionaire Klaus Jacobs, who grew his family’s coffee business into Europe’s biggest chocolate and coffee seller, gave the school more than $250 million. The gift by Jacobs, who died last September, rescued the institution from possible bankruptcy; in recognition of his philanthropy, IUB rechristened itself in his honor.

“That day, I quit worrying,” Gillis said. “I knew we had won the race.”



About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.