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New head of the International Office

'International students enrich our university.'

More than 2,200 international students are currently attending HAW Hamburg. The International Office team, which will soon consist of eight people, supports full-time and visiting international students, as well as HAW Hamburg students and instructors who want to go abroad. It also develops measures and programmes to make the university more international and intercultural. We spoke with Ines Tobis, the head of the International Office.

Portrait of Ines Tobis

Ines Tobis has headed the International Office since the beginning of 2023.

Why are international students important for the university?
International students enrich HAW Hamburg. They contribute to creating an international atmosphere in the courses and at the various university campuses. They bring new perspectives, shaped by their individual cultures, to their courses and thus contribute to internationalisation.

Through their contact with international students, German students also have the chance to expand their horizons, to improve their foreign-language skills, and to prepare in this way for a globalised world of work. Through these interactions they may also realise that they want to go abroad themselves to study or do an internship.

International students also contribute to countering the decreasing number of applicants for study places in Germany and thus to the training of skilled workers for the Hamburg region.

International students enrich HAW Hamburg. They contribute to creating an international atmosphere in the courses and at the various university campuses.

Ines Tobis, Head of the International Office

You've just mentioned it and it's also part of the current political discourse: international skilled workers for the German labour market. Universities are being ascribed a special role – they are supposed to train tomorrow's skilled workers. What can HAW Hamburg actually do in this regard?
In my view, universities are basically the ideal place for recruiting and training international skilled workers. International students get to know the local culture, learn German and can start at a job in Germany directly after they finish their studies.

HAW Hamburg can support international students with this process. These are some of the questions that come up: Where do I find job postings? What should an application portfolio look like? What is a job interview in Germany like? What do employers in Germany expect from me? And: What can I expect from an employer in Germany? What kind of informal rules do I need to expect in a workplace? Job markets are very strongly influenced by the specific culture, and there's a big difference if I apply for a job in India, the USA or Germany. It's not just the application process that operates differently; the way people work together in their jobs is also different.

HAW Hamburg in particular has a large number of contacts at companies in the Hamburg region and can serve as an intermediary. For example, in Koblenz, where I worked at the Universität Koblenz-Landau, I offered 'business speed dating' for international students together with the Federal Employment Agency and a number of companies. They were then able to get to know one another in a low-pressure way in 10-minute conversations.

At one time there were also two projects at HAW Hamburg funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to support the integration of international students into the labour market. Unfortunately, the implementation period for these projects fell partially during the Covid pandemic, and we were held up as a result. There is now a new DAAD programme for international skilled workers which we are going to apply for in the fall. The focus is on supporting students throughout their studies and increasing their success, as well as on improving employability to increase skilled-worker recruitment.

In addition to supporting international students on their path to HAW Hamburg, you and your colleagues also support students here at the university. What issues are on your agenda and where are there interfaces with other areas of the university?
I see student marketing, onboarding and the improvement of support structures as highly relevant. These could be made more of a focus at HAW Hamburg. A very important issue is also the study success of international students. A few years ago there was a DAAD study which found that international students withdraw from university studies much more often than German students.

For example, international students often face greater obstacles when looking for an apartment and financially than students already generally do. Additionally, they are confronted with a different academic culture and frequently feel foreign and homesick. Better integration of international students at the university and in the Hamburg region can counter this. We could achieve this, for example, through more intensive exchange between international students and students who have grown up and gone to school in Germany. I see the Students' Union (AStA) and student initiatives as good additional points of contact in this regard. The International Office organises a Welcome Week at the start of the semester. This year we offered it four times due to the change in the semester dates, thanks to a great effort on the part the colleagues in our team. We've also already organised language courses, among other things, for the students.

In my view, universities are basically the ideal place for recruiting and training international skilled workers.

Ines Tobis

Many HAW Hamburg students want to gain international experience during their studies. In recent months the Erasmus component of the International Office was not able to operate as usual. How is the situation now?

The two positions that administer the Erasmus programme will be filled in October and November. But for the information of all interested students: it will still take until January or February 2024 before the Erasmus area is completely functional again.

The complexity of the Erasmus programme has increased massively over the last 10 years. This applies to the individual programme tracks, certain aspects of which have become increasingly complex and labour-intensive to process. The biggest challenge, though, is the digitalisation of the programme. In the coming years, the implementation of the Erasmus programme will also impact other areas of the university beyond the International Office. And it is time to do this. Other German and European universities are also facing these challenges.

You have now been at HAW Hamburg for more than six months. Which International Office projects have you been able to implement so far, and what would you like to focus on next?
Since coming to HAW Hamburg I have actually been busy compensating for the missing staff in the Erasmus Programme area. At the same time, those of us on the Internationalisation Advisory Board have been preparing the internationalisation strategy. The university's governing bodies will review the strategy in the fall. It is the foundation for the further internationalisation of HAW Hamburg.

At the end of October I'll be travelling to the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, where we'll celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of our university partnership. Related to this, we need to consider how we want to and are able to further develop HAW Hamburg's strategic focal regions – Europe, the USA, China, Vietnam and East Asia – in the coming years. How should we work with our international partners in view of global crises and new geopolitical challenges? We try to answer these questions in the internationalisation strategy. In addition to the geopolitical processes, it is also important to take into account risks and dynamics such as pandemics, wars, climate change and migration flows as well as the skilled-labour shortage, digitalisation and HAW Hamburg's capacity.

In my initial months at the university I've noticed that a large number of employees and instructors have an intercultural background. This is super, and we should take advantage of it and project it externally because it could be a factor that leads international students to choose HAW Hamburg.

About Ines Tobis
Ines Tobis has been at HAW Hamburg since February 2023. Before taking up this position she set up the Welcome Centre at the Koblenz Campus of Universität Koblenz-Landau (since 2023: Universität Koblenz). The purpose of the Welcome Centre was to attract and support international students, doctoral students and visiting academics for the university. In addition to supporting the international students upon arrival and with becoming integrated socially during their studies, the centre's work also included student marketing and preparing students for the job market.

Prior to this Ines Tobis worked at Universität Kassel, first as the Erasmus coordinator in the International Office, then as as the advisor for internationalisation in development planning. In this capacity, one of her responsibilities was to support university instructors and professors with their applications for DAAD programmes.

Parallel to this position, Ines Tobis pursued further training in university and academic management.

She grew up in Heidelberg and Paris and spent a few months in the USA while she was in school. During her university studies, Ines Tobis studied in Crimea, Ukraine, and Krakau, Poland. At the end of her studies she undertook archival work in Paris.