History of Computer Science at RWTH Aachen
The Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Natural Sciences
At our University, Faculty 1 has a special position, not least due to the large number of professors working in its various departments. Employing about a quarter of all professors at RWTH Aachen, it is the largest faculty at the University. Furthermore, with its 38 professors, the Department of Computer Science is roughly as large as some other University faculties. In what follows, the development of the Faculty will be described and its distinctive structural characteristics highlighted.
The Development of the Faculty
In 1970, 55 professors were active in teaching and research in mathematics, the natural sciences, and in the discipline of mechanics, which at the time largely performed a service function. Today, the number of professors working at the Faculty is almost three times as large. However, the University grew even faster in student numbers, which between 1970 and today increased from 13,000 to 45,000 students in 2017.
The Development of the Computer Science Course of Study
The Faculty was also affected by another development, the emergence of the subject of computer science, which had been establishing itself as the science of information processing, not least as a result of the existence of ever more powerful digital computers. The German federal and state governments decided to introduce computer science courses of study at a number of universities in Germany. As there is a close relationship between computer science and the subjects of mathematics and electrical engineering, two faculties offered themselves to host the new discipline: the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. Due to the concept for the new course of study, which had a strong mathematical focus, the Diplom degree program was established in 1972 at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. As a consequence of the Bologna process, the course of study is now offered as a Bachelor's and a consecutive Master's program.
From Faculty to Division – and Back
In the eighties, as a result of a new Higher Education Act, a new discussion on university structures emerged. One major idea was to dissolve the faculties and replace them with smaller divisions. Moreover, there was a discussion at RWTH whether the faculty affiliation of its disciplines, which had grown over time, and its five Diplom degree programs was still justified. However, it was decided to keep the disciplines together under the Faculty’s umbrella, due to the relatedness of the taught subject matter and, importantly, due to the fact that the disciplines contributed to the education of engineers – a central service function of the Faculty that was derived from the principle of “education and training through science.”
However, there was one major change concerning the mechanics professors, only five at the time, and there was no mechanics Diplom course of study. In 1988, three of the professors joined the Faculty of Mechanical of Engineering, in accordance to the focus of their research and teaching. Thus, only two mechanics professorships remained in the Faculty.
Establishing the Department of Computer Science
Basically, the structure of the Faculty 1 remained as it was, but new regulations derived from the Higher Education Act entailed changes in the academic self-administration. Four departments replaced the two subsections dissolved in 1986: the departments of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. Due to its structure and evolving focus on technical applications, the computer scientists left the Department of Mathematics and established their own department.
The Faculty is also responsible for the education and training of future teachers in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and of course, computer science. Since the seventies, all teachers are required to complete a university degree program, a regulation that gave a boost to standing of pedagogical aspects at universities. In 1980, the Aachen School of Pedagogy (Pädagogische Hochschule Aachen) was dissolved and integrated into RWTH Aachen University – to form the Faculty of Pedagogy, but after only ten years, its activities ceased to a large extent: Due to savings measures in higher education, all courses of study preparing teachers for non-secondary-schools were discontinued.
The different faculties took on responsibility for the courses of study preparing for secondary schools. Some of the academic staff of the Faculty of Pedagogy remained at RWTH, others took on responsibilities elsewhere. Today, about 550 students are enrolled in teacher training courses of the Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Natural Sciences.
Teaching and learning at the Faculty as well as ist service offerings are strongly interlinked with the broad range of research activities. Several key research areas of the Faculty were developed with technical applications in mind, which resulted in a close integration of mathematics and the natural sciences with engineering and medicine. Thus there is a close collaboration between these research areas in RWTH’S profile areas, collaborative research centers, and research training groups. These interdisciplinary activities are further supported by new professorships.