"Research must remain independent"

28.06.2023

With the UniBE Foundation, the University of Bern is committed to cutting-edge research. Around two years after its establishment, Managing Director Claudia Lehnherr Mosimann takes stock.

Interview: Isabelle Aeschlimann, Photography: Adrian Moser

Read the original uniAKTUELL article here.

The UniBE Foundation follows clear university guidelines and prioritises freedom of research and teaching, as Managing Director Claudia Lehnherr Mosimann emphasises. University of Bern

Right from the start, the UniBE Foundation achieved a major success: the construction of the Robert K. Schenk Endowed Professorship for Tissue HistologyThe foundation has since been quiet. Since then, things have become quieter around the foundation. What have you been working on?

Claudia Lehnherr MosimannWe were delighted that the UniBE Foundation was able to make such a contribution in its first year of operation. Since then, we have continued to build up the foundation, developed a mission statement together with the Board of Trustees and given the foundation a face to the outside world with a website.

The Foundation aims to raise funds for "pioneering research into a sustainable future". How do you go about this and what influence do donors have?

On the one hand, we approach potential supporters with specific project plans. These are usually strategic university projects or projects that cannot be funded, or not fully funded, through regular research funding. On the other hand, donors also contact us with specific concerns or interests. Sustainability is a major topic today - be it the energy world, the circular economy or climatology - and there are many who want to make a difference with their funds. We then look at the possible forms of realisation. These can be bequests, endowed professorships, new or existing projects or even our own foundation. For example, we have just found a new funding partner for a two-year doctoral project in the biomedical field. Promoting young talent is one of the Foundation's funding priorities.

The credibility of science is the university's greatest asset. How is independence guaranteed?

I have never experienced donors interfering in research. Research is open-ended. It is not about following a predetermined path, but about gaining knowledge and developing better foundations. It is clear that freedom of research and teaching are paramount - this is always contractually regulated. The role of the foundation is also clearly defined by new fundraising guidelines.

Research must remain independent - at the same time, the university faces tough competition for funding, staff or suitable premises. How can the Foundation help here?

If a university wants to be at the forefront, it simply needs appropriate funding. These tend to come in ever smaller proportions from the public purse. Additional funding is therefore needed through other channels. The establishment of the UniBE Foundation was a conscious strategic decision by the university management. We are guided by the University's Strategy 2030 and are currently focussing on research in the strategic key areas. The Foundation cannot solve challenges such as the shortage of space on its own; that would be a drop in the ocean. Instead, it can channel suitable funding to where it will really make a difference - for the university and therefore also for society and Bern as a centre of science, which benefit from research.

Money isn't everything, it's more about using it wisely.

Claudia Lehnherr Mosimann

So private funding will become even more important?

If you compare universities in other regions of the world and the money available there, then yes. But I don't like the term "tough competition". I see it more as all universities have the goal of making a contribution and that every university is exceptional somewhere. So you get support where it makes sense. Money isn't everything, it's more about using it sensibly. In addition, university foundations are now commonplace: the ETH Foundation has existed for 20 years, and UZH has had a foundation for 10 years. It has become clear that these are tried and tested vehicles

Using funding in the right place at the right time is a large part of Claudia Lehnherr's work. University of Bern

You studied Italian and English at the University of Bern and worked as a secondary school teacher for 20 years before going into fundraising. Why did you take this step?

I was passionate about being a secondary school teacher and found it very meaningful, but I wanted to see more of the world and get to know other realities of life. However, meaningful work was always important to me and fundraising offered great opportunities. As a major donations officer at a large children's charity, I travelled a lot. Later, I was Head of Fundraising at a Swedish foundation that makes visionary knowledge accessible to a wider public worldwide. This gave me the opportunity to experience many wonderful encounters. For example, it is incredibly moving to look back on a person's life with them and think about what they would like to pass on.

What was it like to return to the University of Bern as Managing Director of the UniBE Foundation?

I immediately felt like I was back in my student days, walking up the stairs of the main building of the University of Bern for the first time as a young student, very proud but with a pounding heart. I grew up in Bern. We often played on the lawn of the Grosse Schanze, but we would never have dared to enter the awe-inspiring building. I am delighted to now be representing my alma mater.

Where would you like to focus as Managing Director? What do you wish for?

On my project trips, I have seen a lot of poverty, medical underuse, social injustice, but also environmental problems. Some of these have become even more pressing since then. These complex problems need to be tackled comprehensively. Excellent and independent research makes an extremely important contribution here. At the University of Bern, I experience such research and a lot of support from the entire university. Such a task cannot be tackled alone, which is why I am all the more grateful and motivated.

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