Der Präsident hält eine Rede.

TUM-Präsident Prof. Dr. Thomas F. Hofmann besuchte Anfang Juli den TUM Asia Campus in Singapur. Dort sprach er einige Worte zur Eröffnung des Alumni-Treffens.

Alumni international
The President in Singapore
“True Progress is Only Possible When Different Perspectives Come Together”
14. Nov 2023  |  
Reading time Min.
As President of TUM, Prof. Thomas F. Hofmann has guided the university’s destiny for four years. Fostering international exchange and building TUM’s global network are duties very close to his heart. During his time as a postdoc at TUM’s Garching Campus, he saw for himself how different perspectives on a project can generate innovative solutions.

In early July, TUM President Prof. Thomas F. Hofmann traveled to Singapore, where he met with TUM Alumni. We took his visit as an opportunity to speak with him about his international experiences as a researcher and as the university’s leader. He also shared his thoughts on TUM’s global university community.

Mr. President, you recently paid a visit to TUM Asia, the university’s campus in Singapore. How important are such events for you?
I try to visit all our locations regularly. I visit TUM Asia at least once per year. Getting an unvarnished impression of situation on the ground and meeting colleagues, partners, students and alumni face to face – these things are very important to me. I’ve seen for myself how things are going there, where the challenges and opportunities lie. It’s entirely different to simply reading or hearing about it. And, I have to tell you, it’s also hugely enriching on a personal level. This time, for example, I was able to take part in the annual alumni meet-up in Singapore. What a wonderful event it was, hosted on the rooftop terrace at TUM CREATE with a magnificent view over the Singapore skyline. I enjoyed a number of positive conversations with our graduates. Unforgettable.
What did you discuss with the alumni?
We talked about their experiences and memories of studying at TUM Asia, of course, but also where their careers have taken them since. Many are still based in Singapore – often, interestingly enough, working at German companies that have an office there. I was struck by the how strongly connected our alumni who studied in Singapore feel, not only to the TUM Asia Campus but to TUM in general. They’re proud of their home university in Germany. And, obviously, that was pleasing to hear! (laughs)
What are particular sources of pride for the alumni?
I got the impression that, for many of them, the fact that TUM is a true pioneer in socially relevant fields like sustainability and artificial intelligence, providing top-class teaching and research, is crucial to this sense of pride. It’s important to them that TUM continues to enhance its reputation in the international arena and that they, as alumni, can contribute to TUM’s good name. Even after finishing their studies, our alumni continue to feel a sense of belonging to the TUM family, which is something I certainly felt during the event. As it happens, Singapore’s new ambassador to Germany is a proud TUM Alumnus.
Really?
Yes. Ambassador Chong Hock Lee came to the alumni meet-up, which I was thrilled about. He graduated from TUM with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2001. I spoke with him at length about him time at TUM, which he remembers extremely fondly. He hugely enjoyed his time studying in Munich. He’s impressed by how TUM has developed since his student days and feels proud of his alma mater. In August, he became Singapore’s new ambassador to Germany and has been based in Berlin since. He promised me that he would come to visit TUM in the near future. Maybe we can organize an exchange between alumni and students. As I said, the TUM family comes together time and again.
Creativity comes about when people aren’t all cut from the same cloth and instead think a little differently.

Prof. Dr. Thomas F. Hofmann

Why exactly does TUM have a campus in Singapore?
As a location, Singapore simply could not be more international. It’s in Asia but is also a gate to the West, so it attracts talented minds from every region around the world. This makes it the ideal location for TUM. On the one hand, it enables us to educate capable young minds. We need young people who are able to operate on the global labor market and shape our future in an increasingly networked world. On the other hand, our campus in Singapore also attracts scientists for our research and innovation projects. Our research platform in Singapore is called TUM CREATE. We cooperate with partner universities, public institutions and companies to develop new, pioneering technologies.
Can you give us an example?
Our most recent program is called Proteins4Singapore. It represents nothing less than a revolution in food production. Singapore has set itself the goal of producing a third of its own food by 2030 rather than importing it. Agricultural land in Singapore is limited, so researchers are looking for space-saving ways to produce high-protein food, such as through biotechnological methods and indoor farming.
And why does this matter for us in Germany?
This is a project of global significance. The United Nations has predicted that there will be numerous megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants within just a few years. At that point, more than half of the global population will be living in urban areas. In parallel with this, experts forecast that food production will need to increase by 60% by 2050. So, in Singapore, we’re developing strategies to ensure that humanity can produce food sustainably in the future.
As the President of TUM, you’re tasked with fostering international exchange in science. Where does your dedication come from?
As a young researcher, I attended international symposia from an early stage in my career. I held my first international speech in London in 1995. That was right after I received my doctorate. After that, I went to several international conferences each year, especially in the USA, where I built a personal network. My speeches and international visits continued to raise the profile of our laboratory in Munich and a number of international doctoral candidates and postdocs were happy to work with us.
Did it provide input for your own research?
Yes, absolutely. Every week, we had a round table at which various young researchers would present their projects. The audience listened to everything and then played the role of peer reviewers. (laughs) One thing is for sure: when different people from different cultures looked at your project, it highlighted new aspects to which you might have devoted little or no attention. It substantially broadened my horizons and definitely advanced my research. What I learned is that true progress is only possible when you look at a problem from different perspectives. Creativity comes about when people aren’t all cut from the same cloth and instead think a little differently. To this day, I enjoy sourcing advice from my international colleagues.
Who do you turn to, for example?
Our TUM Ambassadors are an important group of people for me. These are elite international academics who have spent time at TUM as guest researchers. This means that they know our university, what we stand for and what we want to achieve, along with the areas in which we’re a world class university. For me, our ambassadors are vital scientific advisors – in relation to the Excellence Initiative, for example, or with other high-profile competitive programs. I enjoy discussing these issues with my international colleagues and asking their opinion. It is particularly important to approach larger challenges with diverse, international teams.
For technologies and new approaches to have an impact, they need to be implemented on a global scale, as quickly as possible.

Prof. Dr. Thomas F. Hofmann

Is this why TUM places such emphasis on fostering an international university community?
I want to ensure that, as early as possible in their studies, our students to have the opportunity to learn the importance of liberal, open-minded exchange between different perspectives. We want to educate young people to become capable thinkers, doers and reformers, leaders who can shape our social coexistence. Anyone who leaves TUM with a Master’s degree or a doctorate will soon be tasked with assembling their own teams, whether they go to work in business or in academia. When they do, I want them to consider just how crucial diversity is to a project. We also want our students to demonstrate social responsibility as the professionals of the future. To do that, they need to be able to view the world as a whole. Giving them a sense of the world as a community during their time at university is hugely helpful to this end.
And how does TUM do that?
Fostering an international university community at our TUM locations is an important factor. However, we also place an emphasis on giving our students wide-ranging opportunities to complete internships or study or work abroad for a semester during their time at TUM. We also encourage doctoral students to undertake research visits at other institutions. Each semester, we send numerous students and doctoral candidates around the world. Many come back with a new sense of purpose and brimming with new ideas. It really is wonderful to see. Our TUM offices in Brussels, Mumbai, Beijing, São Paulo and San Francisco play an important role in this, as does the TUM Asia Campus in Singapore. They act as global hubs, creating connections not only with local students and alumni but also with companies and partner organizations. In this way, they extend TUM’s reach and spread its services around the entire world. The world will not wait for Germany: if we want to shape the future, we need to embrace the world.
What do you mean by that?
The global challenges we face cannot be tackled by insular solutions or even regional solutions. For technologies and new approaches to have an impact, they need to be implemented on a global scale, as quickly as possible. Our students, researchers and alumni must exert their influence in society and in the political sphere on issues such as sustainability. They need to make the right decisions, have a command of the appropriate technologies and solutions, and convey new ideals and values, so that they can make a real difference. If they can achieve this, it will benefit everyone in the end.
Shaping the World Together

This article is part of issue 1/2023 of the TUM Alumni Magazine KontakTUM.

Get the English version as a PDF here>

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