Building up lusatia, demolishing potsdam? Controversy about health and medicine in brandenburg

"Nationwide fatal signal effect": in favor of a new Unimedizin Brandenburg trims health science. The Potsdam university president fights against it.

It is one of the great prestige projects for Lusatia, with great hopes for the region.. In Cottbus an independent medical education is to be built up. Two billion euros are available for this from the pot for structural reinforcements in coal regions. A corresponding faculty with about 80 professorships, called Innovation Center University Medicine Cottbus (IUC), is planned at the Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) together with the Cottbus Carl-Thiem-Clinic. It would be the first new medical faculty to be built in Germany in a long time.

As lofty as the plans are, however, they clash with another project that has long been under construction. Because a Faculty of Health Sciences (FGW) is already present in Brandenburg since 2018. In the state government, one seems to consider this institution, whose development is not yet completed, but now no longer particularly important. After a decision by the state parliament at the end of 2021, the annual 2.5 million euros in state funding for the health sciences were cut in half.

The cuts hit the mark, says the Potsdam university president

The inter-university Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Potsdam, the BTU and the private Brandenburg Medical School in Neuruppin (MHB) is being hit hard by the cutbacks, Potsdam University President Oliver Gunther tells the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

But he is not giving up, has developed a concept to keep the facility alive for another ten years. Not to save what can be saved, but because it would be the best solution for the state, as Gunther says. Because the health sciences would be an optimal precursor for the planned Cottbus medicine.

Medical care in rural areas

Faculty of Health Science focuses on health in old age and medical care in rural areas. The medicine of aging, nursing and rehabilitation sciences, telemedicine, but also cardiology and physiology are to play a central role at the institution. It was set up in 2018 because no physicians had been trained in Brandenburg until then. The private medical university was to be underpinned by an academic faculty.

"To simply stamp out the existing faculty now, without Cottbus University Medicine even in sight, would be negligent," Gunther said. He believes it is important and right for the region to develop medical training in Cottbus. But the project was complicated and protracted. It would take a good ten years before doctors could be trained there. Therefore, despite the halving of state funding, Gunther’s goal is to launch the existing Faculty of Health Sciences as a bridge toward the future IUC and for the MHB.

Actually 16 professorships were planned for the institution. Due to the cuts that have been decided, only ten would still be possible. "This is too little, you can’t come close to covering the health sciences with this," Gunther says. His proposal, which he recently presented to the state parliament’s science committee, is to halve the cuts from 2.5 to 1.25 million euros per year. "This will allow a narrow faculty to operate, which at least fulfills the desired functions and in ten years can be merged into the IUC, the MHB and Uni Potsdam."With these funds, according to Gunther, 13 professorships would then be possible, four for the MHB and nine more divided between the BTU and Uni Potsdam.

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"In the faculty, we can then already train the young scientists who will work in the future facilities of the IUC and MHB."The faculty would then have the right to doctorate and habilitation, the doctoral regulations were already decided in mid-January by the Senate of the Potsdam University. "To undo all that now in order to save 2.5 million euros per year, or 0.02 percent of the state budget, does not seem to me to serve the state’s best interests," says Gunther.

But the Brandenburg Ministry of Science (MWFK) has so far rejected the proposal. "It’s probably no longer a question of 1.25 million euros more or less here, but of losing face," Gunther believes.

The management of an institute is vacant

If the 2.5 million euros in cuts remain, "we have a real problem". In fact, a joint appointment with the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology, Bioanalytics Division& has already been discussed in the Senate of the University of Potsdam Bioprocesses, for whose leadership decided. The institute should have its headquarters in Potsdam. "But I can not appoint if I have no money," says Gunther. The management of the IZI would become vacant in February.

He also said that the private Brandenburg Medical School could not continue to be built up on its own, since it does not have the right to award doctorates. "It would be an affront to the state to grant it the right to award doctorates without a decision by the Science Council," Gunther warns. The plan was that the doctorates and habilitations could run through the joint faculty with the University of Potsdam and the BTU. "This is the best solution, so that doctorates and post-doctorates in medicine and health sciences can continue to be carried out in Brandenburg."

"Who should then come to Cottbus?"

If the faculty had to be wound up, on the other hand, that would have a fatal signal effect throughout Germany, Gunther believes. "Who should then still come to Cottbus when you see how the state of Brandenburg treats its universities?"

The president of the BTU, Gesine Grande, sees it the same way. "It would be an enormous damage to the reputation if the appointment procedures for the health sciences, which are now underway, were stopped in order to re-advertise them for the newly planned university medicine in three years," she told the Tagesspiegel. She sees the existing faculty as an important mosaic stone in the process of building up the planned Cottbus University Medical School. "A lot of things have been done right."The existing faculty and its professorships would fit "excellently" into the profile of the future university medicine in terms of content and subject matter, for example the professorships for bioinformatics or for interprofessional education in the health professions.

"It would be smart to appoint the very good applicants who have now prevailed to now prepare the field for the IUC. As corner professorships, these could advance the development of the study programs and the faculty itself, and thus support the ambitious schedule," said Grande. Simply discontinuing a project that was built up with great effort and a good concept, because there was a need for it, does not make sense to Grande. "If that were the case, we would have to start all over again for IUC."

She believes the ministry’s accusation that it took too long to build the faculty is unjustified. The faculty has a nationally unique, challenging support structure, for which a governance model first had to be found. The complete rebuilding of the IUC with degree programs, a total of 80 appointments, research activities and supporting infrastructures will also take a great deal of time, she says. "A certain continuity would be welcome here," says Grande, referring to Gunther’s proposal to halve the cuts.

Fear at the private MHB

Also at the private MHB, which is not directly affected by the cuts, one fears that now without need a higher education policy damage is done, which could also radiate to the foundation of the IUC. "We welcome all proposals that help secure a successfully established structure for the future," says MHB President Hans-Uwe Simon. "If there is one thing we have learned from the current Corona pandemic, it is that significantly more, not less, money needs to be invested in the entire area of securing health care in the future." Simon therefore describes the cuts as "a maximally wrong and counterproductive sign in terms of health and higher education policy".

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Science in Brandenburg points out that in 2015, when the idea of a joint faculty of health sciences was born, it was not foreseeable that a state university medicine could be established in Brandenburg with the IUC. "In the meantime, we have changed the framework conditions," says ministry spokesman Stephan Breiding. Moreover, the expert commission on IUC planning had not proposed using the health sciences as a bridgehead for the development of university medicine. The ministry also emphasizes that the federal structural funds for the Cottbus medical school can only go to Lusatia, which means that the University of Potsdam and the MHB in Neuruppin would not be eligible for them.

Hope that ministry and state parliament reconsider

The MHB, meanwhile, which is exempt from the savings, is to receive an additional five million euros a year until it is accredited. Finally, the funding of the Faculty of Health Sciences for 2022 has already been finally approved by the state parliament. "The universities involved are free to fill the financial gap from their own budgets if necessary," says Breiding.

More on the topic

Laboratory for the future of medicine Brandenburg plans medical training worth billions of euros

Potsdam’s university boss Gunther hopes that the ministry and the state parliament will reconsider what makes sense and is sustainable for the state – at least for the next state budget. With the argument of the austerity because of Corona, as it was called at the beginning, to cut the health science faculty of all things, Gunther sees as a staircase joke: "You have to explain that to someone first of all."

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