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Home > Tamil Language & Literature > Proposed Closure of Tamil Studies in Germany

Tamil Studies in Germany
Proposed Closure -
An entire discipline to be abolished in Germany

Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies University of Cologne Germany
Press Release, Cologne, 17 November 2004

Please assist us in the cause of Tamil and express your solidarity and concern. Letters of protest should be sent directly to the Vice- Chancellor (Rector) of the University of Cologne at the address given below. The Rector, University of Cologne, Albertus-Magnus-Platz , D-50923 Cologne, Germany - Email: [email protected], Fax: 0049-221-470-4893. Please also send a copy of your letter(s) to our institute. Please forward this email to everyone interested in the future of Tamil.

[See also 'Bulletin 1992-2004' - at: www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/indologie/
and Dr.Thomas Malten on Tamil Studies in Germany]

The current situation

On Wednesday, 10 November 2004, the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cologne decided that the Cologne Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies will be closed down when the current director, Prof.Dr. D.B. Kapp, retires in February 2006. The director was informed not earlier than the night before by the dean and vice- dean about the imminent closure. Neither members of the institute nor students had been given the opportunity to present their position prior to the decision. In other words, all people concerned have been totally overrun.

The decision was reached against the background of cuts announced by the Ministry of Science and Research of North Rhine Westphalia, according to which the University of Cologne will have to reduce its number of faculty by 24 until the year 2008. 6 of these positions will have to be taken from the Faculty of Philosophy. By closing down the chair of Indology and Tamil Studies in Cologne one single position would be reduced. The consequences, however, would be the closure of an entire institution and the demise of the discipline `Tamil Studies' in Germany. If only from an economic point of view, it seems entirely unjustified to close down a public institution which functions with a minimum of costs, but which has a major impact on contemporary German society:

Why NOT to close down the Cologne Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies (IITS)

- IITS Cologne offers unique opportunities for academic studies in Germany: With its clear focus on South India in both teaching and research, the IITS in Cologne occupies a unique position among the centres of South Asian Studies in Germany.

Our activities address a geographical and cultural space which has for a long time been overlooked. As the name of the institute suggests, we particularly specialise in research and teaching of Tamil language and culture. In Germany, Tamil culture has gained special momentum due to the immigration of Sri Lankan Tamils during the 1980s. Tamil is the most important member of the so-called Dravidian family of languages with over 70 million speakers in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and with further speakers in Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore, as well as Canada, USA, Great Britain, France and Switzerland.

With its broad spectrum of currently 9 South Asian languages, the IITS offers important opportunities for students to specialise and to enhance their knowledge. We teach the well-known, trans-regional languages Hindi (spoken by more than 480 million speakers), Bengali (200 million) and Tamil, as well as Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi and Sinhalese. For their own, individualised profile, students at the University of Cologne often combine the subject 'Indology/Tamil Studies' with other subjects, e.g. Anthropology, Musicology, Political Sciences,Sociology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Media Studies,Art History, or English Studies. It is because of these combinations that the subject 'Indology/Tamil Studies'forms an integrated part of the variety of disciplines at the University of Cologne.

Together with the Institute of Indology in Bonn, the IITS participates in a specific network: While the institute in Bonn focuses on Classical Indology and regionally on North India, the IITS concentrates on modern South Asia and on the culturally different South of the subcontinent.

- The IITS Cologne is a national and international leader in research: Due to its unique position within the landscape of the institutions of Higher Education in Germany, the IITS forms part of a large number of national and international research networks and cooperations. We have research partners in Europe (France, Sweden, Austria, UK, Czech Republic), in the U.S. (Chicago,Berkeley, Rhode Island) and in Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Singapore). As may be expected, we furthermore entertain links to other institutions of South Asian Studies in Germany.

The many research projects carried out at the IITS have led to considerable donations and endowments: 400,000 Euros in the years 2003 and 2004 alone. Not only the institute, but the entire university has benefited from this.

Moreover, special mention should be made of the Tamil section of the IITS library which was founded during the 1950s and 60s and which has been systematically enlarged since 1992. It currently contains more than 60,000 volumes. It is therefore the largest Tamil library outside India. An important part of the collection contains books published during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these volumes are found today only in Cologne. The IITS library is a unique instrument of research which continues to receive considerable international acclaim. It not only serves current research and teaching at the IITS itself, but also frequently attracts researchers from all over the world.

- The IITS Cologne facilitates cultural integration of South Asians in Germany: The IITS is the only institution in Germany which offers the subject 'Tamil Studies'. Here, native speakers of German find the opportunity to study an important modern South Asian language, while on the other hand the Tamil population in Germany finds a place to study their mother tongue. During the past decade, the IITS has become increasingly popular among the more than 70,000 Tamils who have come to Germany from Sri Lanka or India. The IITS offers support to the Tamil population in Germany by providing dictionaries and through its library services.

Also for other South Asian communities the IITS provides a centre. This is reflected in the increasing interest of students to study the South Indian language Malayalam at the IITS, or in a project which aims at the digitisation of one of the most prestigious Telugu libraries in the South Indian state Andhra Pradesh.

- The political and economic importance of South Asia: South Asia is a region with an increasing importance in the economy and in global politics. The IITS responds to this impact by introducing a new BA course in Indian Economics. During the past few months, the IITS has been developing this highly innovative course in collaboration with the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Cologne (Department of Prof.Dr. Donges). Students will be able to acquire far-reaching linguistic and cultural skills, while following courses on economics and participating in work practice periods in South Asia. This new BA course does not only follow the proclamation by the Ministry of Science and Research of North Rhine Westphalia to reform and innovate Higher Education in the region. It will also contribute to make North Rhine Westphalia, and the University of Cologne in particular, a more attractive region to study in.

- Further economic aspects: The minimal reduction of costs with a single position leads to the death of an entire institution and discipline. The number of students in a particular subject or academic discipline has become one of the most important criteria for decisions concerning Higher Education policies in Germany. As a matter of course, the IITS caters for a smaller number of students than other subjects, such as German or English Studies or History. Unlike in the case of these subjects,however, the number of degrees awarded in 'Indology/Tamil Studies' does correspond to the actual demand on the job market. Even the Ministry of Science and Research of North Rhine Westphalia has recognised that with regard to the so- called 'smaller' disciplines, student capacities and numbers of awarded degrees are less important to the question of overall relevance (See the "Abschlußbericht des Expertenrats im Rahmen des Qualitätspakts für das Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung des Landes NRW vom 20.02.2001" at http://www.mwf.nrw.de/Ministerium/Wissenschafts_Forschungspolitik/Qualitaetspakt/Abschlussbericht/index.html


The IITS in Cologne does not only occupy a unique position within the landscape of the institutions of Higher Education in Germany. Beyond the academic sphere, the IITS has an important social function due to its contribution towards the understanding and integration of cultural minorities in Germany. The decision taken by the Faculty of Philosophy to abolish Tamil Studies in Germany is overly hasty and short-sighted. Whether the procedure itself was legal is currently being investigated. In any case, the decision is a slap in the face not only of the students but of the entire South Asian population in Germany. While this year Tamil has been declared a 'classical' language, the international Tamil community is about to face the demise of a prestigious cultural institution in Germany with international links in both teaching and research. Given the current political climate in Germany and its concomitant educational policies, further far-reaching cuts and the demise of other disciplines are to be expected not only at the University of Cologne but everywhere else. Thus, what is happening here to the IITS in Cologne concerns not a few 'unimportant' and underprivileged students; it concerns German society as a whole.

Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information:
Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies (IITS
University of Cologne
Pohligstrasse 1
D-50969 Cologne

Phone: 0049-221-470 / -5345, -5340, -5344.
Fax: 0049-221-470-5385.
Email: [email protected]

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