Farewell: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Horst Kowalewski

2023-08-02 The social scientist and urban and regional planner researched, taught and worked in Lüneburg for a third of a century - and at the same time reformed institutions and organisations at home and abroad, most recently the "Business School" of the Mongolian National University (NUM) in Ulan Bator as well as other higher education institutions in Mongolia and China. Recently, his opus magnum "Higher Education Development in a Dynamic Transitional Society. Higher Education Policy Reform Projects in Mongolia and China" was published.

"I have always seen my academic activities in research, teaching, consultancy and further education from the perspective of improving concrete living and working conditions," says Horst Kowalewski, Professor of "Public and Non-Profit Management" and "Social Sustainability". ©Leuphana/Ciara Burgess
"I have always seen my academic activities in research, teaching, consultancy and further education from the perspective of improving concrete living and working conditions," says Horst Kowalewski, Professor of Public and Non-Profit Management and Social Sustainability.

Horst Kowalewski is getting off the plane. The airport, the only international one in the whole of Mongolia, is not yet called "Chinggis Khaan International Airport" at this point, but plainly and simply named after the adjacent suburb "Bujant-Uchaa", written Буянт-Ухаа and pronounced with a guttural "ch". It is a small airport, built by German companies and relatively modern, which is comforting after the passengers flew for minutes over the slums of the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator before landing. On the short runway, the mountains at the end of the tarmac are already visible. Mongolia is four times the size of Germany and has three million inhabitants. In winter, the temperature sometimes drops well below minus 25 degrees, but you won’t notice that now in summer. It is 2002. "We are very excited about what awaits us in this completely foreign world", Horst Kowalewski thinks.

How do you reform an institute, a faculty, a centre, an entire university or even the higher education policy of an entire country? Mongolia has been on the path to a democratic and market-oriented society since the peaceful revolution in the 1990s. Before the beginning of the 21st century, this process also reached Mongolian higher education institutions. It was time for a sustainable higher education policy and an efficient higher education system. What had to be done to achieve this? Looking at transformation processes, one quickly gets the impression that something like this can only succeed if a consultant who offers a finalised master plan turns the institutions concerned "inside out". Kowalewski did the opposite: "We didn't arrive in Ulan Bator to tell the partners what they should do. We spent a long time looking at everything, we had many conversations, we surveyed the general living conditions, the economy, the politics, the ecology, the culture and the social system of the country, and we took a close look at the working conditions in the universities. It took several years to really understand our Mongolian partners." Since the reform projects carried out over almost two decades were so large and could only succeed if many stakeholders (teachers, students, university staff, ministers, university politicians) were committed and happy to participate, this was exactly the right approach.

"Lüneburg was a stroke of luck for me"

Kowalewski brought this firm intuition that intensive listening and complete involvement are crucial if things are to be improved with him from his long time as a volunteer youth worker in North Rhine-Westphalia. This may come as a surprise at first, but the professor for "Public and Non-Profit Management" as well as "Social Sustainability", whose writings clearly show his enthusiasm for reforms, action research and qualitative analyses, has spent a considerable part of his life working in the social sector: very concretely and directly with precarious and poverty-stricken families, children and young people, using socio-cultural methods (including rock music, art and theatre education). Against the resistance of local politics, with an initiative he got the city of Dortmund to open and finance another youth centre with an innovative self-management concept in the high-density inner city. During his semester at the University of California, Los Angeles (UC LA), he worked in the social work and education departments of two native American tribes (Hopi and Navajo) in Arizona/Utah (USA). In his hometown of Schwerte, he and a citizens' initiative prevented the demolition of the old waterworks and, as executive chairman of the supporting association, participated in the conversion of the building complex and the establishment of a socio-cultural centre in the "Alte Rohrmeisterei". Together with Prof. Dr. Rita Süßmuth and Prof. Dr. Joachim Schulze, he developed the concept of the "Children's City" - as an urban development policy and urban planning model of a child-, youth- and family-friendly community. After a year as head of the department "Social Policy", he took over the management of the Paritätischer Landesverband Bayern in Munich. Together with other experts, he founded the "Munich Housing Forum" to create housing for disadvantaged groups - funded by the City of Munich and the EU.

Kowalewski's social science, spatial planning and ecological approaches were intertwined from the very beginning. He was invited to work on the Mongolian higher education reforms as an expert in public management, and at the same time he was dean, vice-dean and dean of studies of the Department of Social Sciences in Lüneburg. "This relatively rare professional combination also led to the division of my professorship and my move to the sustainability building of the newly founded faculty at Leuphana, where I was responsible for social sustainability in recent years. I have always seen my academic activities in research, teaching, consultancy and further education from the perspective of improving concrete living and working conditions - in the city, in housing, in the community, in the neighbourhood, in the school, in the social institution, in the university, and most recently in the Mongolian university."

Kowalewski, who was born in Westphalia, states: "The call from Lüneburg was a stroke of luck for me." Here he encountered a qualified academic environment that offered him both the necessary freedom and the content-related, infrastructural and personnel support for his numerous reform projects in Germany, Finland, Estonia, Russia and California, and gained the experience that he later took with him to Mongolia and China: above all, the implementation of effective university management as well as innovative degree programme developments (including business psychology, business law, public and non-profit management and cultural management).

Business psychology, business law and quality management

Lüneburg was one of the first locations where it was possible to study Business Psychology. The introduction of this degree programme at the first partner university in Ulan Bator met with broad interest. The liberalised Mongolian economy had developed so dynamically that business psychology skills were hardly available and were therefore in great demand. The business law study programme developed in Lüneburg was also so unique and unusual that the concept behind it became known internationally as the "Lüneburg Model". In Mongolia, the Lüneburg advisors (in addition to Prof. Horst Kowalewski, Prof. Ullrich Günther, Prof. Thomas Schomerus, Prof. Jürgen Deters, Prof. Horst Meyer-Wachsmuth, Dr. Maik Thieme, among others) already encountered a first business law degree programme project - but the model was significantly further advanced and adapted to the concrete needs on site. Previously, and this was no different in Germany than in Mongolia, there were on the one hand lawyers who understood little about accounting and cost accounting and on the other hand business economists who could only insufficiently assess legal risks. The subject of business law was able to close this gap. The experts from Lüneburg were supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Bonn as well as the Mongolian Ministry of Science and Education and the National Accreditation Council for Education in Ulan Bator in the development of both degree programmes in Ulan Bator.

A special concern for Prof. Kowalewski in Mongolia was the introduction of a holistic (systemic) quality management. Today, also internationally, any larger company and organisation operates quality management (QM), but this was not always the case. Horst Kowalewski's lucid conviction was that comprehensive QM with all the necessary instruments (including accreditation, evaluation, monitoring, and ranking) is crucial for modern higher education development and that it is worth investing resources in it. "A comprehensive culture of quality as a basis for continuous quality improvement should be developed in Mongolian higher education." This conviction was also shared by the EU's Directorate-General for Education and Culture in Brussels, which supported Kowalewski's engagement with funds from the TEMPUS programme.

Kowalewski's getting things done-energy is contagious and motivating. What does he recommend to people who are getting involved now or are facing larger projects? "Talk to the people and not about them. Don't go into projects with a ready-made concept. Binding, clear agreements. Friendly interaction with each other, a positive project climate. Openness, no secrecy, complete transparency. Involve everyone, participation, communication with partners with respect and at eye level, and a lot of time."

The reason he came to Mongolia was because he was approached by a Mongolian who had heard him speak at the International Munich Peace Conference in 1999. In general, he never seemed to have any difficulties in getting in touch with people or winning them over for his projects, which are by all means labour-intensive and designed for long-term effects and sustainability. The foreword to his book was written by Mongolia's former Minister of Science Yondon Otgonbayar, and as with the other guest contributions in the book, one enjoys reading the co-enthusiasm of Kowalewski's Mongolian, Chinese, Finnish, Indian and German comrades-in-arms. In his foreword, Otgonbayar quotes verses by the Mongolian national poet Dashdorj Natsagdorj, who studied in Berlin and Leipzig, among other places, and it also somewhat emphasises Horst Kowalewski's own concerns (being on the road, education, distance, movement and change):

[...] way,
to learn in the distance,
autumn's fresh wind blows in. [...]
[...] Flying in the distance,
unattainable, steppe geese fly,
[i]t's human child,
with knowledge..


  • Prof. Dr. phil. Dr. h.c. Horst Kowalewski