Sustained by the spirit of Franco-German friendship

22 February 2024

Mainz and Dijon – these two cities represent a European success story, especially in terms of the partnership between their universities. German-French double degree programs have been running for over 30 years. And yet coordination remains a constant challenge, as Professor Antje Lobin, head of the Dijon Office at Mainz University, explains. Currently, one of the main focuses is the binational teacher training program.

"Our cooperation with Dijon is exceptional. It has grown and flourished over six decades and is embedded in a local and regional partnership," says Lobin. Since April 2023, she has been the Partnership Representative at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) for the cooperation with the University of Burgundy. Additionally, she oversees the Cursus Intégré program in the humanities and cultural studies. As a professor of Italian and French linguistics, Lobin has been actively involved in the binational degree programs for years. The Dijon Office, previously based at the JGU Department of Philosophy, recently came under the umbrella of the Department of Romance Studies. "This change was just natural, as the partnership and Franco-German friendship in general are of particular importance to our department," emphasizes Lobin.

On a personal level, Lobin's new role has brought her full circle: in the mid-1990s when she was studying in Giessen, she spent a semester abroad in Dijon. Lobin recounts that it was there that she first heard about the integrated degree program. "I was impressed, and I wished my studies could have been coordinated so well."

A unique variety of subjects

A lot has changed since then. To date, some 1,000 students have completed one of the Franco-German double degree programs in Mainz and Dijon. At first, the only available courses were joint Master's programs in the humanities and cultural studies. In 2000, however, the teacher training program was added. What is unique, both in Germany and in France, is the variety of subjects available, including German, French, English, Comparative Literature, Geography, History, Philosophy, and School Music. Additionally, a relatively large Franco-German graduate school has been established.

"Getting the binational teacher training program up and running has been one of our biggest challenges," adds Dr. Catherine Dedié, Managing Director of the Dijon Office at JGU. She has been coordinating the integrated degree programs since 2014 and is responsible for all matters related to Dijon at JGU. She explains that the divergent requirements of the education systems of the two countries are even more pronounced in the case of the Bachelor's and Master's of Education programs than in the Bachelor's and Master's of Arts programs. After all, she says, it is important to both countries to make sure their standards and requirements of teacher training are met. "On the one hand, a binational degree program offers students the added value of broadening their horizons by living in a foreign country and experiencing a different culture. On the other hand, the differences in teacher training should not dominant the program," points out Dedié. And Lobin adds: "We are continually striving for consensus. It's an ongoing and challenging task, but it's also a lot of fun."

Constant exchange between Mainz and Dijon

The universities of Mainz and Dijon have established a comprehensive network over time and continuously exchange information to coordinate their activities. This network is centered around the Dijon Office in Mainz and the Bureau Mayence in Dijon, each staffed by a program representative. In addition, all participating departments and institutes at both universities appoint faculty representatives for the Mainz-Dijon program. "We require their expertise in matters related to course content, and we consult the professors responsible for each degree program on strategic issues," states Lobin. "Teamwork is always the key. We also coordinate all our decisions with those responsible on the French side."

In 2019, for the first time, a student from Mainz was given the opportunity to complete a binational teacher training program, marking a significant milestone for the two universities as well as the policymakers involved – the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Education on the German side and the Académie de Dijon, the education authority of the Burgundy region, on the French side. Unfortunately, a reform in France a little later meant matters had to go back to square one. "We had to start over," Dedié recalls. "It is still an ongoing process." The overall goal is to standardize binational teacher training.

Thanks to the teacher training preparatory system currently in place, the Mainz-Dijon teacher training program is now better organized than ever before – and it is unique both in Germany and in France. Lobin and Dedié are proud of this achievement. "The partnership between the universities in Mainz and Dijon has been the starting point for many new ideas and concepts, affecting the entire education value chain," says Lobin. That this is possible and that such a broad range of programs is available is due not least to the support and encouragement of the Franco-German University (FGU). The FGU is a network of over 200 affiliated universities from France and Germany that promotes Franco-German double degree programs.

The integrated degree programs remain popular in both Mainz and Dijon. "Contrary to the general trend in the humanities and cultural studies, our student numbers are stable," notes Lobin. Around 200 students are currently enrolled in the Franco-German Bachelor's and Master's degree programs at the two universities.

Mainz-Dijon as the starting point of the FORTHEM European University Alliance

This consistency in numbers is also significant in a European context. The Mainz-Dijon cooperation has served as the foundation of the FORTHEM European University Alliance, which comprises nine universities across nine European countries. The alliance aims to enhance transnational cooperation in education and research. As a founding member and co-initiator of FORTHEM, JGU served as the network's coordinator during the first funding phase – a recognition of JGU's long-standing commitment and extensive experience with integrated degree programs.

"Franco-German friendship is close to our hearts – and it is what drives us every day," emphasizes Dedié. "Knowing that our work is fostering understanding and exchange between our two countries and cultures provides us with powerful intrinsic motivation." Lobin draws attention to the Treaty of Aachen signed in 2019, which stresses that close friendship between France and Germany is a prerequisite for a united and strong European Union. "Article 10 of the Aachen Treaty very clearly specifies our task, that is to establish Franco-German instruments of excellence in research, education, and vocational training," explains the head of the JGU Dijon Office. After all, today's students will be the key civil-society leaders of tomorrow.

The program is also expanding its reach, driving an appreciation of Francophone cultures in other countries as well. The recent reaffirmation of the cooperation with Canada is just one example. Additionally, the trinational Master's Degree Program in European Studies being offered by JGU's Department of Political Science is a showcase of possibilities. In this program, the students start studying together in their first semester at the University of Opole in Poland, spend the second semester in Mainz, and then their third semester in Dijon.

“We are eager to further develop our degree programs,” adds Lobin. “We constantly review our programs to ensure that they remain up-to-date and relevant." She is delighted to see dedicated binational students strongly committed to the European cause. "Their awareness and shared passion permeate all levels of the partnership."