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Nina Fechler

Head of Administrative Office for the Berlin University Alliance at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Jun 09, 2021

Dr. Nina Fechler

Dr. Nina Fechler
Image Credit: Privat

Together with the BUA Administrative Office, the Administrative Offices of the partner institutions are responsible for the Berlin University Alliance (BUA) to ensure the design and implementation of the alliance goals. They act as interfaces between their institution and the BUA and serve as points of contact for the members of their institution.

Dr. Nina Fechler, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, heads the Berlin University Alliance staff unit at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. She has been involved in setting up the BUA since 2018 on the part of Charité and established the Administrative Office in 2019 together with her colleague Dr. Sophia Baur. Previously, as a research group leader at Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, she and her team conducted research on sustainable energy storage materials.

Ms. Fechler, as Head of Administrative Office, you are at the interface between Charité and the other partner institutions. How can we imagine this interface function?

When the first steps towards a Berlin Alliance were launched in 2016, we asked ourselves the same question. On the one hand, the partner institutions remain independent and continue to develop their own profile, while on the other hand, the Alliance measures are implemented jointly. Very quickly it became clear: There must be concrete interfaces into the institutions. We as the BUA Administrative Office at Charité are a kind of hub: We are responsible for ensuring that the joint BUA activities are effectively received and implemented at Charité. For example, we build internal networks or ensure the involvement of suitable implementation partners for joint alliance activities.

How do you make an impact within your institution?

We are currently working in-house with about a hundred colleagues who are continuously involved with the BUA in one way or another. This relates in particular to the planning and establishment of BUA measures at Charité, with topics spanning all eight BUA objectives and cross-cutting themes, respectively. For example, we are engaged with the further development of research focus areas, and the process resides within the Charité faculty and the Business Division Strategic Development. Other examples are the exchange between research and society involving corporate communications, the further development of talent promotion together with the BIH Biomedical Innovation Academy or the integration of international partnerships with universities such as the University of Oxford together with colleagues from the international departments. At the same time, we bring what Charité has to offer to the Alliance – this concerns, for example, extensive expertise in the life sciences and translation, experience of the BIH QUEST Center to increase the value and benefit of biomedical research, or expertise in usage concepts of research infrastructures, so-called core facilities. To this end, in addition to the departments, we work closely with our Chief Executive Officer Prof. Dr. Heyo K. Kroemer, our Dean Prof. Dr. Axel R. Pries, and numerous researchers at Charité. We are also in continuous contact with the BUA administrative office, the central teams of the administrative units and the Administrative Offices of the other partners.

How do you manage all this given the size of Charité?

In our function as a Administrative Office, we must always maintain a balance: On the one hand, we help to develop, strengthen and make the alliance visible as a whole; at the same time, the BUA objectives and cross-cutting themes contribute to the profile of our own institution. As Charité, we have recently adopted a new institutional strategy: Rethinking Health – Charité 2030. Thus, through the cooperation in the BUA, we can now provide very targeted support in achieving the Charité goals and, at the same time, contribute to the success of the BUA. The alliance makes it possible to go beyond the core competencies of Charité and, via the interaction with the (disciplinary) diversity of the universities, to jointly address major societal challenges in a comprehensive manner.

What specific tasks do you work on in your day-to-day life?

The Administrative Offices accompany many processes that are needed on the way from an idea for a joint BUA measure to its implementation (at the respective institution). While the first funding line of the Excellence Strategy of the federal and state governments, the Clusters of Excellence, focuses on project-related funding of internationally competitive research fields at universities or university alliances, the second funding line funds universities of excellence or university alliances as strategic support for outstanding university locations. In addition, specific tasks arise for an alliance. This involves a large number of colleagues from the collaborative partners, who are responsible for various steps in the collaboration.

Can you give us an example?

One of the responsibilities of the Administrative Offices includes the preparation and monitoring of the various decision-making and implementation paths in the BUA. To this end, we get all relevant stakeholders involved: on the Charité side, in addition to the BUA stakeholders, the Charité Executive Board, the faculty, the Charité members of the steering committees, as well as researchers and the relevant departments are usually involved. On the one hand, we discuss the conceptual ideas and bring the perspectives of Charité to the table. On the other hand, as the Administrative Office of Charité, we work together with the relevant persons, departments and business units on the feasibility in the implementation phase; this can include content-related, financial, legal or governance-related aspects – because an essential aspect is the sustainable integration of the measures in the institutions.

Looking at the financial structures, it becomes clear that thought should also always be given to how BUA measures can be integrated and further expanded in the mid and long term. This is also a kind of change management: As Charité, this is the first time we have been involved in the Excellence Strategy – we had to and still must continuously learn which structures or communication channels are effective. In this context, we are also available to Charité as a point of contact for advice and information regarding all matters related to the BUA.

Are there any differences in the organizational structure between the universities and Charité that present you with challenges?

Charité is the joint medical faculty of Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. At the same time, Charité is one of Berlin's largest employers and a company that functions somewhat differently than a university. Another special feature is the integration model, in which the hospital and faculty are united in one legal entity and decisions concerning research and teaching or patient care are made by the Executive Board. Thus, vastly different topics from the various clinics, institutes, centers or business divisions converge there. We must therefore sometimes ask ourselves: what would be the Charité equivalent of structures, functions etc. existing at universities?

What is going well? What could be improved?

Over the past few years, a strong community has developed through the common establishment and now implementation of the BUA. Of course, even before BUA, there were many and highly successful joint projects between the universities and Charité. Within the alliance, however, we are continuously intensifying cooperation in certain subject areas and at the institutional level. In the process, we learn on a daily base how the individual institutions function, who is involved in which subject areas, and how to effectively plan and implement joint measures. This interplay between the four partner institutions is now working very well. Before Covid-19, we were on the road all over the city, Berlin is our joint office. In any case, it will be anongoing task to communicate the diverse BUA activities and design opportunities at all levels in the partner institutions. In addition, we aim to further develop Berlin as a hub of research and to expand our cooperation with regional and international partners.