Much more than the sum of its parts

The Metropolis Ruhr is now home to one of the densest educational and research landscapes in Europe. The secret of its success: collaboration.

The auditorium braves a snowstorm, looking quite picturesque, the terrace at the canteen is ablaze in the glow of sunset, and Shuto Morioka is creating promotional material. His college is Ruhr-University Bochum (RUB). The exchange student from Japan regularly captures impressive shots of his campus and shares his photos with his friends around the world on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. ‘Many Japanese students want to study in Germany. But not many are familiar with Bochum. I want to change this. Because I love it here,’ says Shuto, who has been studying a Master’s degree in Japanese Studies and Sociology at RUB for six months. When he came to Bochum for a German-language course in 2017, the Ruhr region was still a great unknown to him, and this is precisely why he chose it over alternative places of study such as Berlin, Hanover or Mannheim. However, Shuto was not aware at the time that when he chose the Ruhr region, he was choosing one of the regions with the highest number of students in Germany. He now enjoys the wide array of options available.


  • 290.000
  • 22

290,000 young people, corresponding to one in ten students in all of Germany and one in three in North Rhine-Westphalia, are currently studying at one of the 22 colleges located in the Metropolis Ruhr. The region has a very young, dynamic university landscape, as none of the establishments are more than 50 years old. The four universities, 15 technical colleges – with a further, practical-oriented college for computer science and engineering to open shortly in Lünen – and two art and music colleges represent one of the densest educational and research landscapes in Europe. ‘From the number of students and universities here, it is clear that we are a knowledge metropolis,’ says Karola Geiß-Netthöfel, director of Regional Association Ruhr (RVR - Regionalverband Ruhr). ‘Accordingly, companies can benefit from a wide array of skilled professionals. Young people in the region therefore have great starting conditions for their professional careers. And we can acquire new students and researchers from all over the world thanks to the good conditions here.’

This is also due to the future-oriented issues in the range of subjects offered by the universities, whose areas of focus include environmental technology and health, medical technology, e-commerce and logistics, as well as IT and new fields such as entrepreneurship. More than one in three first-semester students (37 per cent) choose an engineering subject, 17 per cent choose mathematics or another natural science subject. This is considerably more than the figures in the rest of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (25 and 11 per cent respectively), and it is a strong locational advantage for business here, which is always on the lookout for graduates in mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology.


Shuto Morioka is an exchange student from Japan.

University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) offers the unique master's program ‘Innopreneurship’.

Clara Saraceno researches different manufacturing processes for terahertz radiation in Bochum.

Shuto Morioka is an exchange student from Japan.

University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) offers the unique master's program ‘Innopreneurship’.

Clara Saraceno researches different manufacturing processes for terahertz radiation in Bochum.

Going further together

‘We’re hiring! Doctoral positions available in all areas of specialisation,’ is printed in bold at the top of the website of the new ‘Maschinelles Lernen Rhein-Ruhr’ (Machine Learning Rhine-Ruhr) competence centre, located at the faculty of Artificial Intelligence at the Technical University of Dortmund. This is one of four competence centres in Germany funded by €30 million from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to ensure that Germany can keep pace with the USA and China in relation to artificial intelligence.

The awarding of this funding to the faculty of Computer Science in Dortmund is testimony to the faculty’s successful work on future technologies, while the project also demonstrates the high importance of networking and cooperation in the educational landscape. In addition to the Technical University (TU) of Dortmund, the University of Bonn and two Fraunhofer Institutes in Dortmund and Sankt Augustin will also participate in the research.

The idea that people can study, research and teach better together led to the foundation of the UA Ruhr university alliance over ten years ago. Ever since, the RUB, TU Dortmund and the University of Duisburg-Essen have been working closely together in accordance with this concept. 120,000 students have been able to choose from the courses offered by all three universities since then. Furthermore, 14,000 researchers are working together on interdisciplinary and cross-university projects.

Collaboration is also the path to success in many other areas. As the ‘Ruhr Master School’, the universities of Bochum, Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen, for example, pool their expertise in the areas of engineering and computer science. And within Bochum, twelve institutes, including the city’s seven colleges, have joined forces to form ‘UniverCity Bochum’. The institutes of the three non-university research institutions – the Fraunhofer and Max Planck Institutes as well as the Leibniz Association – are also often involved.

‘The pooled expertise enables greater, more diverse research projects,’ explains Dr Hans Stallmann, coordinator of the UA Ruhr. These types of joint projects not only benefit scientific progress, but also international reputation. This in turn attracts research funds that benefit the region. According to a survey conducted by the RVR in 2012, almost 42 per cent of the university budget of €1.48 billion came from research funds from industry as well as from foundations and the EU. In this, the Metropolis Ruhr was considerably above the NRW value of 31 per cent, which highlights the important of the research carried out here for local business.

Businesses are also increasingly contributing their own expertise to teaching and research. In the NRW Research College ‘Future Water’, for example, municipal and private water management companies serve as practical mentors for PhD students from half a dozen universities. Under the guidance of the University of Duisburg-Essen, the young researchers look into issues such as wastewater disposal and the renaturation of water bodies. Future Water recently received a commitment from the Ministry of Science for NRW to provide further funding amounting to millions of euros.

The pooled expertise enables greater, more diverse research projects

Dr Hans Stallmann, coordinator of the UA Ruhr

Finding and developing talent

Good research and career opportunities are the best advertisement to attract researchers from all over the world. For example, Clara Saraceno, who has a doctorate in physics, switched from ETH Zurich to the RUB two years ago to work on new manufacturing processes for terahertz radiation – a form of electromagnetic waves. The 34-year-old, who came to Bochum with her entire family, is excited about the working conditions here as well as the ‘good compatibility between career and family life’.

Under the label ‘’, the RVR has established consulting service for international applicants like Saraceno. The ‘Dual Career Netzwerk’ works with regional businesses to ensure that the partners of leading researchers can also find employment in the region. Meanwhile, their children can complete their Abitur certificate in English at the International School Ruhr in Essen or choose one of the other approximately 1,400 schools in the region.

Much is also being done for younger children. Two thirds of pupils in fifth grade or above go to one of the 275 schools leading to university entrance qualification. Overall, the trend has been moving towards higher qualifications for a number of years. In the Metropolis Ruhr, significantly more people now have a university entrance qualification than the national average (63 per cent compared to 53 per cent: as of 2014). Considerably more than one in two students (57 per cent) is the first member of their family to begin a course of study. This is also significantly more than the NRW average and is an important component of the concept of ‘advancement through education’.

However, it is by no means the case that everyone who can take up a course of study does so. Here, there is potential waiting to be exploited with a large number of pupil and student programmes. Under the umbrella of TalentMetropoleRuhr, Initiativkreis Ruhr supports talented young people from eighth grade and above during their school years to the transition to university study or vocational training in the form of its RuhrTalente student scholarship programme. This is also carried out in close collaboration with industry, which also benefits from this through its own dual training programme. Businesses in the region are currently training 87,000 young people to become skilled workers. Furthermore, adults can obtain further qualifications at twelve colleges via the second-chance educational programme. 

Supplier of skilled workers and a source of revenue

With a total of around 80,200 employees, businesses and institutions involved in knowledge and education are also an important employer in the Metropolis Ruhr themselves. One in 20 inhabitants teaches at a school, gives lectures or works in the provision of further education to adults. For cities such as Bochum, Bottrop or Dortmund in particular, which have seen the departure of some large companies in recent years, the universities provide new employment opportunities for highly qualified people and thus contribute to the academisation of the region. The economy benefits from this in two ways – skilled workers as well as research progress.


Author: Ulrike Heintze

Author: Ulrike Heintze

Ulrike Heitze is a freelance business journalist with over 20 years of experience. She has worked as an editor at a Bertelsmann publishing house and at Handelsblatt and as a department manager at Junge Karriere. She has been working freelance for the last 11 years and predominantly writes on the subjects of the economy, finance, careers, education and health.