Freunde der Universität Mannheim Celebrate 70th Anniversary

The Freunde der Universität Mannheim (“Friends of the University of Mannheim”) have been supporting the university and its students for 70 years. In our interview, Dr. Josef Zimmermann, the association’s chairperson, talks about changes to the organization and about the fields in which they have played a pioneering role.

When were the Freunde der Universität Mannheim founded?
Zimmermann: On 28 July 1952, the “Gesellschaft der Freunde der Universität Mannheim (GdF)” was founded by leading managers from Mannheim companies. During this time, the members provided internship positions and summer jobs for students of the Wirtschaftshochschule Mannheim. Students had the opportunity to earn money and, at the same time, to gain professional experience. The GdF was also able to support the university by giving donations. Another task was to motivate students to join the GdF after their graduation in order to expand the network.

Did the work change over time?
Zimmermann: No, the basic idea is still the same and is a re-curring theme in our 70-year history. Changes or new influences were mostly induced by external factors: In 1995, for example, when ABSOLVENTUM was founded, a second organization for alums was created. This almost resulted in a competitive situation between the two organizations. In 2000, Stiftung Universität Mannheim was founded, with initial funding from the GdF. Two years later, ABSOLVENTUM also founded a foundation. In 2005, the two foundations were merged into today’s Stiftung Universität Mannheim (University of Mannheim Foundation).

How do Freunde der Universität Mannheim, Stiftung Universität Mannheim and Absolventum work together?
Zimmermann: The basic idea is that we are three satellites orbiting and supporting the University of Mannheim: At the end of 2006, we were thinking about restructuring our concept and about how we can share the original tasks so that Gesellschaft der Freunde and Absolventum work more closely together. The result was that I took over the chair at “Freunde der Universität Mannheim”, we changed the name from “Gesellschaft der Freunde” into “Freunde der Universität Mannheim” and that we focused on the corporate target group. ABSOLVENTUM focuses primarily on the student target group. Since 2022, there is also a closer cooperation between us and the Stiftung: We are creating a shared administration to coordinate the acquisition and retention of members and partners as well as fundraising activities for donations and capital contributions. 

Are there other milestones in the history of Freunde der Universität Mannheim?
Zimmermann: Another milestone is the introduction of the scholarship system. In 2007, the university and our association created a concept to support students with scholarship—so called “Gebührenstipendien” (tuition scholarships) due to the obligation to pay tuition fees which was introduced at that time. We asked our corporate members for help and they supported the students. This meant that the University of Mannheim, a relatively small university, was off to a good start when the Deutschland Scholarship was introduced in 2010. Many of the companies which joined the support network due to us are still funding organizations. Another characteristic is initiating and financing so-called CSR weekends, where students learn more about social responsibility and sustainability. Once per semester, there are two voluntary seminar days that take place outside of the universities teaching program. 

In your opinion, what are the most important tasks of the association?
Zimmermann: First and foremost, we want to continue to support the University of Mannheim so that it retains its top position among German and international universities. At the same time, it is also important to support our students, by scholarships, excellent teaching and personal contacts. In addition, we support the work of students in student organizations dedicated to social and sustainability questions.