Extensive modernization of the TUM School of Life Sciences - TUM embarks on structural reform

Modernization of research areas, the alignment of teaching programs with future-ready competency profiles and an entrepreneurial management structure: The Technical University of Munich (TUM) has embarked on an extensive structural reform. With the restructuring of the TUM School of Life Sciences, TUM has established the first of seven schools with innovation-friendly governance structures.

Modern life sciences on the traditional Weihenstephan campus (Image: TUM).

It was exactly 20 years ago that TUM merged three departments to create a new institution, the Wissenschaftszentrum Weihenstephan which was later known as the TUM School of Life Sciences. It integrated the fields of agriculture, forestry and food science, with their long-standing traditions, into the interdisciplinary area of life sciences. This structural reform became a widely emulated model in the scientific landscape. Now the Weihenstephan scientific campus is again leading the way. The restructured TUM School of Life Sciences goes into operation on October 1, 2020. It is the first of what will ultimately be seven schools in the university's new, innovation-friendly organizational structure.

With a holistic research and teaching approach, the new TUM School of Life Sciences will address the interconnected ecosystem comprising humans, animals, plants, soil and the climate. Subdivided into three departments, the school will capture innovation potential through the interdisciplinary cooperation of scientists. No longer separated by artificial boundaries based on different objects of study such as humans, animals or plants, they will engage in cooperative research on interdisciplinary questions and develop new methodologies. 

  • The Molecular Life Sciences department will explore biomolecular foundations from the molecule to the cell to entire organisms such as humans, animals and plants.

  • The Life Science Engineering department will combine engineering with biological systems and food science, develop additive production processes using innovative biomaterials, and shape the digitalization of value chains.

  • The Life Science Systems department will investigate systems in the fields of forestry and agriculture, including ecological, societal and economic aspects, such as the causes and consequences of climate change.

"With this new structure, we want to make decisive contributions toward overcoming the most important challenges facing humanity, such as healthy nutrition for a growing global population, coping with the consequences of climate change, and promoting sustainable agriculture and natural resource management," says TUM President Prof. Thomas F. Hofmann.

Efficient governance and management structureTo ensure speed and efficiency in incorporating new and innovative fields into its research and teaching activities and the systematic development of interdisciplinary system competencies, the TUM School of Life Sciences will be headed by an innovation-friendly School Executive Board and supported by an International Advisory Board. And to facilitate the recruitment of the best minds in the world, a Faculty Search Committee will be tasked to identify outstanding scientists on an ongoing basis. Supportive management structures and efficient administrative structures at the school level will help to improve quality, speed up internal processes, and relieve researchers.

Competency profiles for future occupations

Through the TUM Center for Study and Teaching encompassing all of its schools, TUM will manage and pool the conceptual development of new and advanced professional profiles (TUM Professional Profiles) as the basis for developing programs of study. This will be flexibly adapted to the talents of the students and the changing needs and expectations of global employment markets. By breaking up the existing departmental structures, TUM aims to organize degree programs more efficiently and generate synergies extending beyond the boundaries. The changes will also facilitate the early integration of innovative technologies and mindsets that will yield benefits in the career world.

"What qualifications will be needed by the graduates of the future? When exploring that question, no avenues will be off-limits," says Prof. Thomas Becker, the Dean of the TUM School of Life Sciences. "In addition to opening up the best career opportunities for the highly motivated talents studying here, we want to give them the chance to work on the important questions for the future, none of which can be answered in just one field of study. At the interface of agricultural and life sciences, this concept is already being applied in our new Agricultural Biosciences masters program."

Leading technology centers

To ensure optimal backing for its research activities, the TUM School of Life Sciences will support talented scientists through professionally organized technology centers where skilled professionals will provide users with state-of-the-art technologies and scientific services. To build on the successes of the Bavarian Center for Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry, which was founded in 2015, planning is underway for a Plant Technology Center, an Animal Research Center, and a Food & Agro Center for Innovation & Technology.

Rollout of a far-reaching structural transformation

"Teaching and research programs narrowly aligned with individual fields of study can no longer keep pace to deliver the system competencies needed in the future. When accessing unexplored interdisciplinary territory, the efficient forging of cooperative alliances characterized by system integration is crucial to our success," says President Hofmann. With its TUM AGENDA 2030, TUM is therefore transforming its internal structure, moving away from departments based on narrowly defined subject areas and toward a matrix organization inspired by international role models. This will enable it to leverage the interactive potential harbored in larger schools and its Integrative Research Centers.

Following the restructuring of the TUM School of Life Sciences, the next step will be the establishment of the TUM School of Engineering and Design. It will bundle the competencies of the Department of Aerospace and Geodesy, the Department of Architecture, the Department of Civil, Geo and Environmental Engineering, the Department of Mechanical Engineering and a part of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. It is to be established in 2021. "Breaking down the historical departmental structure is tantamount to a revolution in the German university system," says President Hofmann. "The TUM family is now setting out together on an exciting journey into the future."

Editorial office:
Klaus Becker
Technische Universität München
Corporate Communications Center
E-Mail: klaus.becker[at]tum.de
Tel.: 089.289.22798