Voronezh State University has a long history of cooperation with German universities. During this time the following people have become Honorary Doctors of VSU: Theodor Berchem, professor, PhD., the President for the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Rector of the University of Würzburg, in 1983–1987 – the President of the Conference for Rectors of Universities of the Federal Republic of Germany; Frank Roessner, professor of the Department of Technical Chemistry of Oldenburg University, the Federal Republic of Germany; Ulrich Brandenburg, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Germany to the Russian Federation; Jörg Becker, Vice-Rector for strategic planning and a Quality Assurance Manager of Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Honorary Professor of Higher School of Economics.
The abridged list of our partner universities includes: Martin Luther University (Halle-Wittenberg), Humboldt University (Berlin), Hochschule Harz at the University of Applied Sciences (Wernigerode), the University of Applied Sciences (Flensburg), the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Chemistry at Carl von Ossietzky University (Oldenburg), Albert Ludwig University (Freiburg), Ilmenau University of Technology, Anhalt University of Applied Sciences (Bernburg/Dessau/Köthen).
Today we are talking to the Head of the Department of German Philology professor Ludmila Velichkova.
'Ludmila Vladimirovna, when was the cooperation between VSU and DAAD launched?
'If we talk about the history of our cooperation it started in the 1960’s. In the early 1990’s we got support from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). We started a tradition that can be found in no other university: in the end of November we had a meeting and I can conclude that according to its results the German party recognises Voronezh State University as one of the most active participants among other Russian universities. The cooperation between Voronezh and Halle, i.e. VSU and Martin Luther University is unique. Moscow and Saint Petersburg representatives agreed that this cooperation has been highly beneficial. When I got back home I had a clear understanding of the absolute uniqueness of what we have done.
I mean the combination of research and learning process. Its one thing when native speakers come to a university to teach language – it is great. But in some universities the cooperation does not go beyond this, they do not carry out scientific research together. Whereas, for example, I have more than 20 postgraduate students who studied in Halle and their dissertation abstract says: "supported by" or DAAD joint project". Some universities ask our department: How do you do this?''
'And, really, how do you do this?'
'This is the result of decades of cooperation between our universities. The very special thing about this is that from the very beginning our department had people who were interested in joint scientific research and joint teaching. These were Professor Eberhard Stock (Institute of Phonetics, Halle), G.E. Vedel (Voronezh) and others. Our faculty's goal has always been teaching a foreign language and active usage of the language, and we have always been very successful in teaching linguistics. But neither our faculty, not the Faculty of Philology, has ever taught phonetics as a science.
But it has something to do with the role of personalities in the history. Once a scientist from Halle came to our faculty and he was a phonetist. And when a postgraduate student I studied phonetics and speech studies. The universities of Voronezh and Halle are my home universities. You can say that I am in Voronezh and Halle at the same time, because lots of things are done in cooperation: for example, the choice of graduation paper topics. Even though phonetics and speechology came to Voronezh from Halle, now we can generate our own ideas that are developed in Germany. Our achievements in psycholinguistics, especially in the area of speech production and speech perception mechanisms, expressive speech means studies (first of all we should mention the works of a Moscow professor E.N. Vinarskaya) let us create a joint research paradigm.
My colleagues from other cities often ask me how I've managed to change correspondingly the department model. It is not a problem in our university. I do not violate any teaching standards; we create specialized courses within standard programmes. We provide students with knowledge that they will need when they become specialists. And this is not just phonetics as a theoretical discipline and speechology, but practical knowledge and skills. On the basis of the Centre of Phonetics we teach such subjects as "Business telephone language", "Business language during negotiations". It has become possible because of cooperation with Halle. German students do internships in Russia and Russian students – in Germany. Such close partnership is unique for Russia.
As for research, due to a number of facts speechology was left behind for some time. Now it is of interest again as there have appeared such tasks as voice computer control and others.
We teach speech – to the students of the first to the fifth year – using psycholinguistical approach and it is quite innovative in Russia. We teach speech styles in different situations. Obviously, we pay due attention to the written speech as well.'
'And how big is the influence of the exchange of Russian and German students?
'Very big. For almost 30 years we have carried out exchange of undergraduate and postgraduate students who receive grants while on the programme. Three undergraduate students, two postgraduate students, two or three lecturers and I go to Germany. Financing is provided by the German party.
VSU and Martin Luther University have a long-term agreement on joint postgraduate student supervision. The idea is as follows. When every postgraduate student gets the topic for their investigation they also receive two supervisors - one from Voronezh and one from Halle. When working on their dissertation every year the student goes to Germany and spends a month there and their co-supervisor goes to Russia. When working on their dissertation our postgraduate student publishes several articles in the collections of scientific works that we publish in collaboration with the German party twice a year. The author writes the article in Russian and also provides an abridged version of it in German. The dissertation is defended in Voronezh State University with the German co-supervisor present. The students get a double certificate of PhD in Philology and Doktor der Philosophie. It means that the dissertation defence in the Voronezh State University is recognised by the German party. You cannot find anything of the same kind anywhere in Russia. This has happened for the first time in Russia. It does not only improve the image of our University but also of our research school: a dissertation defended in VSU will be recognised by the German scientific society and the international scientific society as a whole.
This year we launched commercial Master's course "Business German in Economics". The students only have to pay for Tutorium: as the students are from the Faculty of Economics they get lecturers to supervise them individually. The students spent one term in Voronezh and now the whole group of students is going to study for two terms in Halle'.
'How has the weakening of the Russian rouble influenced the international cooperation?'
'At first only three students out of six could pay for their terms in Halle. The German party inquired about the reasons and I explained that the reason was the exchange rate between euro and rouble that has changed. Of course, we did not ask anything from anyone. However, Martin Luther Institute came with a decision to have other students without tuition fee and even offered them grants. The students found it touching: they understood how deep the connections between our universities are – it is not just science that unites us, but real friendship. And this friendship did not let our German colleagues see our students as strangers. They have known them from their first year in the university. The whole term they spent studying German text books on Economics, we also received a visit of the Dean of the Department of Economics from Halle, and the subjects taught in Martin Luther University are included in our Master's degree course. In one word, we have merged educational programmes of two universities. And our German colleagues understood it and saved the situation. Our students, when leaving Voronezh, promised to study in Germany to make everyone understand that they are representatives of Voronezh State University.
As years of experience show: students who did an internship abroad have language skills that cannot be compared with the level of language skills they had before the internship. And it is not a rare case when students or young scholars who are fluent speakers of German are asked: 'Aren't you from Voronezh State University?' This question was asked quite often on the language courses of many German universities. Our students felt really comfortable in the German environment and it is very important.
You do not have to pay a fee for all educational programmes. We also offer a state-financed Master's degree course in Speechology. We have hundreds of undergraduate students and 30 postgraduate students who successfully defended their dissertations. We have a unique teaching model that cannot be found at other departments of our faculty and in other universities. We teach such subjects as Contrastive and practical phonostylistics, we work with different types of texts starting with fairy-tale and finishing with business text, business speech and investigate the German business environment.
DAAD supports seven Russian universities. As a rule, it is done in the framework of the Institute partnership programme (Germanistische Institutspartnerschaft). The support has always been offered to a department of German Philology or German language. For the first time in history DAAD supports not just Germanistic studies as a whole but speechology. Voronezh State University managed to prove to DAAD that oral German is also Germanistic studies. It has even been decided to strengthen the oral aspect of educational programmes. And it has also been mentioned how well VSU students know German classical literature and how much they love German poetry.
German universities have an opportunity to invite a Russian professor once a year and to have them on the full-time basis so that they could read their lectures. And then conduct an examination. I have received such an invitation to spend two months in Germany. Martin Luther University invited physicists and chemists from various countries. And I might be the first representative of the Humanities who goes to Halle in such capacity. I am going to read two courses: "Psycholinguistic basis for teaching foreign languages" and "Pronunciation teaching technique". This is a big responsibility and I am very happy to have it. It means that our cooperation will become even stronger no matter what is happening in the world.'
'What are the prospects for cooperation?'
'Things that have been done in the framework of this cooperation can only be compared with a blooming garden. It is what we can benefit from. First of all, it is beneficial for our undergraduate and postgraduate students and our department. This is a long-term and diverse cooperation. The main aspect of it is scientific. It is speechology, phonetics, psycholinguistics... But also this cooperation has one more aspect: educational and human. During these years we have fostered a generation of young lecturers that was formed as a result of joint scientific research in Germany and Russia and in the atmosphere of joint learning and collaboration.
Of course, we can and we need to speak about our joint publications and text books... Here in Voronezh we have published materials in the German language that are on demand among German students because there are no similar publications in Germany. This is the way it is. However, there are also people, the unique environment they create and this is the thing that can make our scientific and pedagogical garden bloom.'