Starting from Scratch: "It Took the Courage to Take Risks"

Christiane Claus was the first managing director of the Studentenwerk Leipzig. Here she shares her story about the intensive efforts to build up the Studentenwerk Leipzig after the German reunification in 1990.
Christiane Claus Wiedergründung 30 Jahre Studentenwerk

Christiane Claus was the first managing director of the Studentenwerk Leipzig after it was re-founded on 1 July 1991 - almost exactly 30 years ago. She was temporarily appointed in November 1990, helped built up the Studentenwerk Leipzig and remained in office until 2001.

"We were simply a great team, and we had the courage it took." For Christiane Claus, that is the key to the success of the Studentenwerk Leipzig, which she managed for the first years of its existence. "The times were so turbulent that there were no perfect solutions. There were no answers, and many questions only arose later on." This is why she and her team organized the founding of the Studentenwerk Leipzig step by step. The same was true for the period before the founding, when the previously existing institutions had to be separated from the different universities.

"I originally have a background in gastronomy, so I had sufficient experience to built on for dedicating myself to the task of building up the Studentenwerk Leipzig." Claus had studied at the Leipzig Graduate School of Management, then worked for several years as the Trade Director of the Mitropa Bezirksbetrieb in Leipzig and, among other things, also in the Mensa Department at the university of Leipzig for half a year. "Most recently I was the personal assistant to the administrative director, they therefore knew my professional background and said I was predestined for the job."

Without knowing an exact date for the founding of the Studentenwerk, she went to work and assembled a management crew. Together, unlike other Studentenerke that were being founded, they concentrated exclusively on those areas that had been assigned to the area of responsibility of the future Studentenwerk by law. They did not concern themselves with holiday homes, hostels and other alike matters. The universities themselves were restructured as well - the formerly nine universities became six - and Claus reorganized the corresponding areas, planned staff numbers, facilities and the investment volume for the founding "As a dry run, we prepared an economic plan, because we didn't have all the information needed in the long run. But in the end, all the Studentenwerke in Saxony took their orientation from Leipzig." They were finally founded on the same date.

Christiane Claus
Christiane Claus is now Chancellor of the University of Applied Sciences Bremen (Source: Bremen University of Applied Sciences / Sven Stolzenwald)

In the beginning, the Studentenwerk was located on the 18th floor of the MDR tower. To be able to provide service and advice, new offices were needed. Like all student halls of residence, the former Jenny Marx hall of residence had to be completely renovated, which would have resulted in a comparatively high rent according to the initial calculations. Since the space in there was a high demand for space in the city center, Claus and the university management quickly reached an agreement to have administrative buildings hosting all the relevant services for the students, built in this location. "We wanted to create a central point of contact for the students," Claus says. "Starting from scratch also has its advantages: we were able to quickly provide solid, IT-supported service offers, which guaranteed fast processes. By then, our colleagues in the old states were nowhere near that stage." The Studentenwerk Leipzig relied on computer systems to solve its administrative tasks at a very early stage. "I was always asked to inherit large-scale computer systems from colleagues in the old federal states," says Claus. "But they were of no use to us because neither the staff could handle the programming language, nor were they technically expandable. We started with personal computers because that was the future, and we were the first. Our employees were so busy with the exciting tasks and our successes were speaking for themselves that we hardly noticed how good we were. After a few years, many colleagues visited and took us as an example."

Christiane Claus has found the collective work of building up the new Studentenwerk to be very intense. "It was exciting to try things out and to correct them when necessary. If something seemed feasible, we simply did it. It took courage to take risks. I always felt responsible for keeping risks manageable, because anything was better than doing nothing."

Christiane Claus studied economics at the Leipzig Graduate School of Management. She was managing director of the Studentenwerk Leipzig for the first ten years after the reestablishment. Today, she is the chancellor of Bremen University of Applied Sciences.

Interview: Tobias Prüwer

Find out more about the history of the Studentenwerk Leipzig