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Hertie School turns 20
Thought leaders and decision-makers gather for Anniversary Forum

The two-day event brought together students, academics and politicians to address fundamental policy challenges of the 21st century

Politics meets science, students discuss with decision-makers, and a curious audience meets passionate panellists – for its Anniversary Forum, the Hertie School invited inspiring minds from across the globe to venture a look into the crystal ball: How will polarisation shape the future of democracy? How should the EU address rising security threats? Can universities reconcile competing interests and opinions in times of political crisis and upheavals? These were among the many questions that were put on the agenda to celebrate 20 years of the Hertie School. 


For its anniversary the university brought together an impressive lineup of international thought leaders and decision-makers. Among them, Francis Fukuyama, Professor and author from Stanford University, Federica Mogherini, Rector of the College of Europe and former EU foreign policy chief, and German Minister of Defence Boris Pistorius. Moreover, in true Hertie spirit, it wasn’t only VIPs who took the stage: for a student leaders dialogue, distinguished students were asked to share their thoughts with speakers Francis Fukuyama, German Member of the Parliament and foreign policy expert Norbert Röttgen, as well as Hertie School Professor Joanna Bryson. Lastly, in the student voices section of the event, students were invited to openly address their concerns about the university’s position regarding current affairs and political crisis around the world.

Opening remarks stress role of universities in uncertain times

Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the Hertie Foundation Annette Schavan opened the forum by commending the university on its achievements. “Universities are the stages for organised disputes, arenas to debate competing ideas,” she said. “This kind of openness is essential for democratic societies and helps to create policymakers that have sharp analytical skills and a strong capacity to think creatively.” Hertie School President Cornelia Woll continued the opening remarks by highlighting the success the university experienced in its first 20 years. Noting the rise of authoritarian populism throughout Europe and the world, Woll stressed that “universities have an important role to play in this fight. Our founding mission to promote democracy through education and research is more urgent than ever.”

Panel: Polarisation and the decay of political order

Panellists: Francis Fukuyama, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University

Jens Spahn, Member of the German Bundestag

Catherine de Vries, Dean of International Affairs and Professor of Political Science at Bocconi University

Moderation: Andrea Römmele, Vice President of the Hertie School


The first panel kicked off with a keynote speech by Francis Fukuyama, in which he voiced his concern for democracy in general and alarm at the growth of anti-democratic sentiments in Western countries in particular. In his view, the roots of anti-democratic movements within established democracies lie in widespread discontent with liberalism and liberal democracy; a changing sociology of left- and right-wing politics; the power of digital media; and a lack of lived experience under authoritarian rule. Turning to developments in the United States, Fukuyama was especially concerned about a potential second term for US presidential candidate Donald Trump: “If Donald Trump wins the election, it will be a disaster for the US, Europe and the global order.” 

Following Fukuyama’s speech, he and fellow panellists Catherine de Vries and Jens Spahn discussed political polarisation and the reasons for the success of right-wing populist parties in the European elections. While Fukuyama and Spahn saw the lack of robust immigration policies in the European Union and the US as a key factor driving voters to far-right parties, de Vries was especially concerned about citizens’ dissatisfaction that the state is not adequately delivering public goods, as well as about skewed political communication.

Watch the recording of "Welcome Remarks: and 'Polarisation and the decay of political order"

Panel II: Security in a fragmented world

Panelists: Boris Pistorius, German Minister of Defence

Federica Mogherini, Rector of the College of Europe

Christoph Heusgen, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference

Moderation: Cornelia Woll, President of the Hertie School


None other than German Minister of Defence Boris Pistorius resumed the conference on its second day. In view of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Pistorius argued that “the collective security of Europe is at stake. The EU needs to translate common responsibility into common strength.” For Pistorius, this includes unifying weapons systems, improving cost effectiveness, and increasing capability.

In the discussion that followed, Federica Mogherini stressed that in facing the new geopolitical situation of global power competition, Europe must build multinational alliances and strengthen its defence capabilities while at the same time remaining true to its own values. Christoph Heusgen stressed that it is important to communicate to citizens why defence spending now makes up over 3% of their country’s spending. The speakers agreed on the urgency of improving Europe’s defence capabilities due to the rising rivalry between the US and China and the fact that the US might not prioritise European security in the future.

Watch the recording of "Security in a fragmented world"

Panel III: Student-Leaders Dialogue

Panelists: Eden Tadesse (Master of Public Policy 2025)

Johann Paetzold (Master of Public Policy 2024)

David Schäfer (Master of International Affairs 2025)

Francis Fukuyama, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University

Norbert Röttgen, Member of the German Bundestag

Joanna Bryson, Professor of Ethics and Technology at the Hertie School

Moderation: Caroline Weimann, founder and co-managing Director of Join Politics and
Thurid Hustedt, Dean of Graduate Programmes at the Hertie School.


For the “Student Leaders Dialogue” ”, the Hertie School convened not only another impressive gathering of experts but also distinguished students at the university. Eden Tadesse, Johann Paetzold and David Schäfer were chosen to take the stage, each of them having successfully competed in an essay competition initiated during the anniversary celebrations. After presenting their ideas about blockchain-based financial solutions to empower refugees (Tadesse), the importance of political communication in preserving democracy (Paetzold), and the need for democratic literacy (Schäfer), the students asked the experts about issues including what is needed to tackle the challenges democracy currently faces and the risks that digital media pose to political communication. They also touched upon the need for digital literacy and civic education.

Watch the recording of "Students-leaders dialogue"

Panel IV: Higher education and research in hard times

Panellists: Shalini Randeria, President of Central European University

Joseph H. H. Weiler, Professor of Law at New York University

Moderation: Mark Hallerberg, Professor of Public Management and Political Economy at the Hertie School

In the fourth panel on “Higher education and research in hard times”, Shalini Randeria and Joseph Weiler discussed how universities should react to challenging world situations that can pit different groups against one another. Randeria and Weiler agreed that a university’s mission is to provide an open and neutral space for discussion, and for this reason argued that universities should not take a stance on political issues, though Shalini stressed that they must stand for academic freedom. While the speakers did note that universities owe a duty of care to their community members, including psychological support, Weiler pointed out that if universities take a stance on a complex political situation, it might compromise their ability to provide this care. On the other hand, he strongly supported the freedom of speech within universities, arguing that the practice of cancelling speakers due to their controversial views should be reserved for “extreme cases”; confronting views we strongly disagree with “teaches us tolerance […] and it teaches us to debate”, he said.

Watch the recording of "Higher education and research in hard times"

Panel V: Student voices


Sai Prusni Bandela (Master of Data Science for Public Policy 2025)

Samantha Beekman (Master of Public Policy 2024)

Ximena Stefani Docarmo Cohaila (Master of Public Policy 2024)

Namritha Murali (Master of Public Policy 2024)

Johannes Müller (Master of Data Science for Public Policy 2025)

Aaryan Salman (Master of Public Policy 2024)

Helen Spangler (Master of International Affairs 2024)

Cazper Steigstra (Master of Public Policy 2025) 

The final panel of the event gave students the floor to discuss topics of their choosing. Given strong feelings within the Hertie School community regarding Israel’s military response following Hamas’s October terrorist attacks, President Cornelia Woll gave students the stage during the forum to voice their concerns over the Hertie School’s stance on these issues. Their speeches ranged from demands to openly condemn the war in Gaza and to rethink the university’s ties with Israeli institutions to criticism of recent protest activities carried out by members of the student body. Other topics the students discussed included the importance of open and fair debate culture at the university; how to encourage young, motivated people to get involved in politics; decolonising Western academia; and how the Hertie School’s guidelines on AI use can be refined.

Watch the recording of "Student voices"

Conferment of the 2024 Henrik Enderlein Prize

To conclude the Anniversary Forum, in a festive ceremony attended by German State Minister for Europe and Climate Anna Lührmann and French Ambassador to Germany Francois Delattre, President Cornelia Woll bestowed the 2024 Henrik Enderlein Prize, which honours the late Hertie School President. This year’s award went to Alexandros Kentikelenis, Associate Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at Bocconi University, and Filip Kostelka, Professor and Chair of Political and Social Change at the European University Institute. In an honourable mention, digital governance scholar Roxana Radu (Oxford University) received the jury's commendatory recognition. 

For more information about the 2024 Henrik Enderlein Prize, see our press release.

To find out more about our first 20 years, read our anniversary publication “Looking back to move forward: 20 years of the Hertie School”.

Watch the recording of "Conferment of the 2024 Henrik Enderlein Prize"

Watch all Anniversary Forum panels

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