The first forty years of WUS Germany 1950-1990

The German Committee of World University Service Germany (WUS) was founded at the first annual conference of the German groups of the International Student Service (ISS) in Marburg/Lahn from September 23 to 26, 1950 by 99 delegates from 16 universities. Officially, it was initially a registered association with the name “International Student Service Deutsches Komitee”. The change of the name to “World University Service” happened belatedly, due to an oversight, on March 17, 1951.

The founding year 1950

The founding of WUS Germany was actually a renewal of membership in international WUS, since there had been German participation in it at the beginning of the founding of European Student Relief – ESR, the predecessor organisation of WUS, in 1920. (For the history of the German ISS before World War 2, see the article ‘WUS history, impact and developments” by the present author).

 With the foundation as a national WUS committee, the full reconnection of the local German groups to the international university community and thus to their pre-war aid organisations was achieved. However, this was initially met with considerable resistance. Thus, already at the annual conference of the ISS in Cambridge in 1946, there were profound differences of opinion as to whether and how a German ISS should be accepted into the international university community. For the time being, the conference decided to work with trusted male and female students and professors in Germany, based on ISS principles, to promote a renewal of a free university community there and to establish local, regional, and national committees. To this end, a commission was sent to Germany to report on its findings at various conferences.


In July 1947, it was decided at an ISS Assembly that the time was not yet ripe for a national German ISS committee. However, provisional committees were to be established at various German universities, which happened increasingly until 1949. German representatives, however, were already attending ISS conferences as observers during this period. Earlier, Olaf Palme, later Prime Minister of Sweden, had been commissioned by the international ISS to make a personal on-site investigation to determine whether the ISS should again become active in Germany. Partly because his examination was in principle affirmative, the German representations of the local groups were able to achieve some     international recognition in September 1949, when representatives of 13 groups met at a “Working Conference of German Local ISS Groups” at the invitation of the Heidelberg group. They exchanged views on what they had in common in the presence of national and international bodies, including the VDS, the ISS General Secretariat in Geneva and UNESCO, and even decided on a work program for the coming year, 1950. Furthermore, a Coordinating Committee with headquarters in Heidelberg was set up with managerial and co-ordinating tasks, which held its first meeting on November 1, 1949.


Local committees Immediately after the founding of German WUS, it was decided to establish local committees at the individual universities, even at those with existing ISS groups and also along the lines of the Allgemeine Studentenausschüsse (AStAs). For a long time, the impact of WUS on the interests of the university community as a whole came less from the German Committee with its headquarters in Bonn, but more clearly from the active local committees, which carried out their voluntary WUS work at almost all German universities (in the first decade after its foundation until the present). This is already clear from the statutes of WUS in 1960: “The work of the association shall be done essentially (sic) in the local working groups (committees)


the aid program of international WUS plus general international partnership plus international educational work (see below).

This triad included academically challenging seminars with topics such as civic education, universal development (aid) policy et cetera, study trips, scholarship exchanges, and ultimately social, convivial events. These took place mainly in the local committees by honorary active students, like the “Wilde Woche” in Kiel or the “Come-back” in Freiburg i.Br. with poetry readings, art exhibitions, seminars, lectures and discussions about socio-political questions and also musical (jazz) performances (see H. Gans,1963) and leafleting actions as in Munich. This also included co-operation with the “Reisedienst Studiosus”, which was founded in 1954 by the later Munich WUS member Werner Kubsch and which offered inexpensive but sophisticated and top-class study trips for the time.

All these various actions were carried out with foreign participation as a sign of a well lived partnership relationship. They were mainly achieved through the personal commitment of individual students and professors, which was an advantage of the local committees with their short distances.

The charm of involvement in the local committees was that in being with other fellow students, both domestic and foreign, and from other disciplines, one’s circle of vision was broadened from the sometimes narrow horizons and the sometimes equally narrow scope of education. One gained greater knowledge of other cultures (which must be taken seriously) and learned about foreign customs. Certainly, the awareness was also strengthened that university life is not to be limited within German borders but is to be seen in an international framework. In addition, beyond the student intellectuality, it was simply fun in the student free time to participate in the actions of the WUS friends, for example, in the varied bravura pieces in the field of fundraising, which were carried out with much imagination and enthusiasm by the students, who were always volunteers.

The local committees of WUS thrived on the commitment of their group members and had corresponding active and less active phases over decades. Friendships that developed in these groups lasted a lifetime and a network of the “Freiburger”, the “Münchner”, the “Kieler”, the “Marburger” or the “Heidelberger” etc. developed. From the end of the 1980s, the involvement of young people in associations of all kinds changed. The focus was no longer on long-term involvement, but on action-related involvement oriented to topics and people. This was also reinforced by the “Verschulung” of the course of studies as a result of the “Bologna Process” and the tighter time budgets of students for civic engagement. This also led to the gradual dissolution of local groups in WUS but was accompanied by the targeted engagement of students in WUS for individual measures and campaigns.

From “receivers” to “givers” XXX

In the first years after the foundation of the German WUS, students at universities all over the world had sent help for their studies to their German fellow students via the Geneva headquarters, but the situation had changed with the economic upswing in the Federal Republic of Germany: as early as 1951/52, the aid program of international WUS in Geneva recorded an albeit small contribution from the German WUS. The latter had subsequently undertaken to make annual contributions to the international WUS relief fund as its participation in the alleviation and elimination of emergencies and also transferred significant amounts in the subsequent period. Also, in the strongly advocated promotion of co-operative self-help, German university members were soon able to provide “help for self-help,” the constant slogan, to their fellow foreign students on the spot.

The work of WUS Germany was based on three pillars: on the fundraising already mentioned, which lost relative importance over time, on all-round international partnership, and on international educational work. The latter gained in importance because the realisation prevailed that imparting information about other cultures, as well as forms of society and life, and about institutions which help to shape and decisively influence national and social life, is indispensable to young people in academic specialised training, also with a view to their later professions.

The entire work was characterised by a variety of individual tasks. First and foremost was pertinent social work in the university sphere, which had already been carried out before by the local ISS groups under their own direction in accordance with international WUS, and above all, such work for foreign students and here especially for those from the “Third World”, with whom an equivalent partnership, not “care”, was intended (see “Activities of the German WUS”). The co-operation of other international aid programs such as CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) was also assured.

 The activities of German WUS also took place in a good and close co-operation with the WUS General Secretariat in Geneva. This consisted, for example, in the fact that in the procurement of highly specialised equipment and devices from the aid fund for foreign universities in recipient countries, it was possible to fall back on the relations of German WUS with German manufacturing companies. Since these recognised a charitable character of the WUS, sometimes considerable discounts could be obtained on purchases.

 Bazaar of Foreign Cultures

The “Bazaar of Foreign Cultures” was an important part of fundraising for a long time. It was Wilhelmine Lübke, the wife of German President Heinrich Lübke, who opened the WUS “Bazaar of Foreign Peoples” sales exhibition – at that time “exotic” goods mainly from African and Asian countries – in Bonn in 1959 to increase fundraising. She was the first customer to make a purchase and thus achieved great publicity for the bazaar. This was also in line with the dual purpose of this campaign, namely raising money plus raising awareness among the population in order to have an impact on the problems of students from the so-called developing countries. Mrs. Lübke pointed out: “It (the bazaar) makes people open-minded for what is foreign to them, one can understand the nature of these people. It contributes to international understanding and at the same time helps those who are in need.” The net profits from the sale were used to support academic projects at home and abroad. For tax reasons, the bazaar was given its own organisational statute as a permanent institution of the WUS German Committee e.V. The board of German WUS had received the suggestion for this project of a bazaar in 1957 from the very active and important Canadian WUS committee, where “Treasure Vans” with foreign arts and craft articles for sale drove from university to university. German WUS, on the other hand, had decided to import the arts and craft items centrally, mostly from the then “Third World” countries. This import was carried out partly by the purchase on the part of success. As a non-political organisation, WUS had a difficult time obtaining sufficient material and non-material support for the group of Algerian students who were considered the neediest and had to rely on private initiatives.

 The General Secretariat of international WUS was able to set up a major scholarship program for Algerian students with funds from the Ford Foundation, which also enabled a few Algerian students to study at German universities. The consequence of the political consideration that existed in other Western European countries was that those Algerian students living in these countries accepted offers for study scholarships from Warsaw Pact countries and emigrated.

General Assembly 1960 in Germany XXX

The overall successful work of the German Committee of WUS was recognised worldwide, for example the effective relief actions for refugees. The General Assembly was also for this reason – somewhat surprisingly – assigned for the year 1960 to Germany from August 6 to 13 in the Evangelical Academy, Tutzing. This was the first General Assembly and major meeting on German soil since 1933.


Ludwig Erhard, then Vice-Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and Federal Minister of Economics, gave an opening speech to 150 students and professors from 33 countries and from seven international university organisations, which received much media attention (see newspaper clippings attached). Erhard also chaired the Assembly’s Honorary Committee, whose other members included the President of the German Bundestag, Eugen Gerstenmeier, Foreign Minister Heinrich von Brentano, Interior Minister Gerhard Schröder and Fritz Berg, Chairman of the Federation of German Industries, and other public figures.

In a warmly worded telegram of greeting, the then Federal President Heinrich Lübke wished the meeting every success. His wife Wilhelmine Lübke had already taken over the patronage of WUS at the end of 1959 on the occasion of the anniversary celebrations “10 years of World University Service in Germany” and the General Assembly of international WUS in 1960 and wrote as a preface: “What I find particularly attractive about the WUS is that the help it provides for students is based on the cooperation and sacrifice of students. I am pleased that the work of this organisation has found an increasing number of ideal-minded helpers over the past ten years. We all want to participate in making the WUS even more beautiful successes in the years to come.

” Following the General Assembly, the traditional International Summer University was held abroad for the first time, in Berlin with the participation of the German Committee of WUS. Previously it was organised annually in Great Britain by the National Union of Students, international WUS and the UN Students Association. For many years, the topclass seminar has been an essential contribution to mutual acquaintance and understanding between students and professors including those from many European and overseas countries. The theme of the seminar in Berlin was “Europe and Asia – What can they learn from each other?”

 Five years later, on the 15th anniversary of its foundation, German WUS received a number of congratulations from important personalities on its successful work so far. For example, from Walter Scheel, the then Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation, who stated, among other things, that for co-operation with the young nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America, educational assistance was a priority and that this was continuing to gain in importance alongside the traditional relationships of culture, politics and business.

Together to the goal: XXX

Knowing from each other and acting for each other In accordance with the policy of international WUS, German WUS – as a socio-politically and religiously unaffiliated organisation as well as an organisation recognised by many persons in the university field – also succeeded in finding cohesion with other organisations in the field of university structures as well as with human rights and development policy organisations in the fulfilment of its tasks. On this basis, the German Committee of WUS also sought co-operation with as many members as possible of other relevant organisations and associations that “promote the goals of the WUS and with whom it is in the interest of the WUS to work together” (Statutes 1959). These were, for example, members of the German Student Union (Deutsches Studentenwerk) and the Association of German Student Bodies (Verband deutscher Studentenschaften, VDS), whose staff members and chairmen Karl Richter took positions in WUS in 1956 and Jonathan Grigoleit in 1957/58: Grigoleit was at the same time a board member of the German Committee of WUS and Karl Richter became a WUS member and in 1961 its secretary general and later a board member.With these personnel interweaving, the areas of responsibility were to be co-ordinated to a large extent in the practical work and participation of the entire student body was to be achieved. To this end, the content planning of projects was to be co-ordinated and carried out jointly, and experiences and work results were to be exchanged. Finally, a certain continuity should be ensured, since personal reasons, naturally, largely prevent a constant continuity in student organisations. This last purpose is also served by the “Association of Friends of the WUS”. This association was founded in 1957 out of the wish of many members to be able to maintain the personal relationships gained during the joint work. However, it has not been active since 2012.

German WUS has preserved this guiding principle of co-operation until today, in that a number of university organisations are so-called institutional members and have a seat and a vote at the general meetings.

Questions of studying for foreigners and the related support and assistance for foreign students have always been of importance for German WUS. In this context, the term “care” was considered pejorative on the grounds that whoever “cares” for another person often, though certainly not in all cases, feels superior Bildunterschrift 6 to that person. On the other hand, those who must endure “care” may suffer from “perceived” dictatorial charity, feel a dependence from above, and react passively. The term “care” suggests that these students are recognised as objects and not as equal partners (see also Wörterbuch des Unmenschen [“Dictionary of the Inhuman”] by Dolf Sternberger: “Care is that kind of terror for which the victim has to be grateful.”).

At the general meeting of WUS in Berlin in 1961 it was proposed to replace the term “care” by “partnership” in the “support of foreign students”. In addition to a wide variety of seminars, the WUS journals “ew” and AUSZEIT served as rich sources of information for foreign students and for the professionals in the universities who were concerned with the study undertaken by foreigners.

Over time, the character of German WUS work has changed considerably, both nationally and locally (as well as, in other circumstances, internationally). Increasingly, there has been discussion as to whether the focus should remain on material, charitable assistance or on the area of “international education”. The task area “partnership with foreign students” of German WUS was recognised in other national committees and above all in the general secretariat in Geneva, but was received rather reservedly. It was criticised that the “fundraising”, i.e., the financial contribution to the “Programme of Action”, the two-year international aid program and the concrete projects at the universities in the recipient countries, fell too short. In fact, a lot of initiative, activities and also resources on the part of German WUS were unilaterally directed to study for foreigners. This tendency was to intensify after 1982.

Reorientation of the areas of responsibility as of 1982  XXX

It became increasingly clear that the “charitable orientation of the WUS was not sufficient to help shape the socio-political change processes of the 1960s and 1970s. The politicization of higher education more or less bypassed the associational life of the WUS,” according to Helmut Becker (in 60 Years of WUS, p. 245). Realising this and because the existence of the association was at stake, the board had called an extraordinary general meeting in Bonn in 1982. On the agenda was even the dissolution of the association, because in 1981 the Budget Committee of the German Bundestag, despite a recommendation to the contrary by the Committee for Education and Science, no longer approved institutional funding for the association as of 1982 as part of a general reduction of institutions institutionally funded by the federal government.

As a result of this discontinuation of funding received through the State Department, the available finances were far from sufficient to maintain the structure with the support of the local WUS committees and the mode of operation. The association was not prepared for the changeover of government funding to project funding. After the customary long rounds of discussion, it was decided to dissolve the office in Bonn, which was no longer financially viable, and to move to an initially small office in the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden (in 1986 to Goebenstraße there) and to combine this move with a reorientation in terms of content and concept.

This reorientation can be summarised as follows: Promoting foreign students and acting as their interlocutor, promoting educational projects in Africa, Asia, Latin and Central America, and promoting development-related educational work. It was emphasised that WUS continues to oppose any form of interference with freedom in study, teaching and research and to oppose any form of discrimination, exploitation and injustice, especially in the field of education – this also in co-operation with the then still existing General Secretariat of international WUS.


Another goal was to be involved in promoting the involvement of universities in solving the problems of their society – principles and goals that still apply today. One of the consequences was that in 1983 WUS, in co-operation with the GEW, published the book AUS für ausländische Studenten? – Tightening the Right of Residence. The book became a standard work for people who advocated for the social, legal and political concerns of foreign students, both professionally and personally.

Even after the reorientation of its field of activity, German WUS continued to actively participate in the work of the General Secretariat of international WUS until its dissolution around 1995/96, especially in its program “Academic Solidarity and Cooperation”. Funding for these activities expanded, moving away from a single sponsor, the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, to a variety of donors in federal, state and local government offices and private institutions such as foundations, church bodies and non-governmental organisations, as well as with donations.


Foreigners’ law, “Ausländerrecht” and restrictions for foreign students The legal framework for foreign students in Germany is complicated and difficult to understand for those affected. One of the most pioneering tasks of WUS has always been to help foreign students to use legal means and to build up representations of their interests. How WUS was able to influence the conditions of studies for foreigners even earlier can be seen in the so-called Loccum Protocol of 1969 on “Questions and Recommendations for a Reform of Studies for Foreigners”. The protocol was drafted by a group of people from federal ministries, the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Agency), the DSE, the VDS and the International Offices at the universities. WUS was not represented, but two of the contributors were active WUS members and brought the ideas of WUS into these elaborations of the Loccum Protocol.

This self-imposed obligation to stand up for the interests of foreign students received a special note in the work of WUS, especially after the reorientation. As early as 1981, WUS had called for an amendment to the Aliens Act (Ausländerrecht) to promote the integration of foreign citizens and to strengthen the internationalisation of universities. In 1988, WUS held a significant consultation of political and academic experts involved in this issue and in 1991 called for the drafting of a modern Aliens Act that would meet the requirements of an integration society and the internationalisation of universities. WUS participated in an inter-ministerial working group of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) on the amendment of Section 16 of the Aliens Act, which deals with the entry and residence of students.


Here, WUS was able to achieve, among other things, that secondary employment of up to 20 hours per week was made possible, so that students without scholarships in particular could finance their studies through secondary employment. It was also stipulated in the administrative regulations for Section 16 of the Aliens Act that student work at WUS is exempt from work permits, as WUS was placed on an equal footing with universities. In particular, it articulated its views on strengthening the protection of foreign students and scholars, as well as the developmental implications

In 2004, the “Law to Control and Limit Immigration and to Regulate the Residence and Integration of Citizens of the Union and Foreigners” was passed with effect from January 1, 2005. For some time before this, WUS, together and in consultation with other universities and university-related organisations, had been pointing out the negative implications both for foreign students, female students and university applicants and for German universities themselves. This was widely recognised by the public and also led to corresponding improvements in other, comparable bills.

STUBE One of the first activities after the reorientation was the “Study Accompaniment Program for Students from Africa, Asia and Latin America in Hesse” – STUBE, which was first developed and started in Baden-Württemberg and Hesse in 1983. The abbreviation STUBE was chosen – with a certain smirk – as a symbiosis of the thoughts of a Protestant church worker and active WUS member (Dr. Karl-Heinz Rudersdorf) and the WUS chairman Dr. Kambiz Ghawami in a Munich pub. STUBE has as its participating target group foreign students from socalled developing and emerging countries who are studying or doing their doctorate at universities in Germany. The program takes the form of seminars, academies and day events, open and free of charge for participants, with the content of promoting career-preparatory internships and study visits in the home country, as well as support in the planning and implementation of self-initiated events by the students. What started in Hesse and Baden-Württemberg now exists in all 16 German states.

STUBE Hessen has had a consistently high number of participants for many years. At the end of the day, there have been around 400 international   students from more than 60 countries and more than 40 faculties, who have also participated in the development policy-oriented events over the years. The students themselves have been shaping the program for years, participating very actively also as co-leaders, as lecturers, on the advisory board and as STUBE “faces” at first semester welcomes and fairs in which STUBE participates. They engage in a South-South dialogue on current challenges and possible solutions in order to contribute to socially and ecologically sustainable development in their countries of origin and in Germany. They promote intercultural dialogue, support anti-racist demonstrations, and strengthen understanding of global interrelationships. In addition to the sustainability goals, the focus is on the exchange of knowledge between students, but also teachers and employees from civil society. After graduation, they are a sought-after group in their home countries as specialists and managers trained in Germany, since they have acquired areas of knowledge and expertise that can be important for the current economic problems and for the social realities of these countries.

In 1988, at a conference of the Protestant Academy Loccum with the theme “Return or Stay”, the STUBE concept was presented and evaluated as a useful alternative to the existing reintegration courses after the end of studies. In the course of time, the STUBE concept of WUS has operated in all German states in co-operation with various sponsors.

In this context, the program “Hospitation and Voluntary Service” for students and for graduates from Africa, Asia and Latin America, which was co-conceived by WUS in 1992 and whose implementation was transferred to the organisation “Dienste in Übersee” (dü), also belongs to the STUBE concept.

From a more recent perspective, the project is guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda, in which the 4th goal is “quality education”. The goal helps to ensure that by 2030 all learners are empowered to acquire knowledge, skills and values necessary to achieve sustainable development.

Author profile
Wolfgang Nies

Wolfgang Nies joined WUS in 1960 when a student in Heidelberg as a staff member of the local committee there. At the General Assembly in Heidelberg in 1961 he was elected to the Executive Board of the German Committee of WUS, where he served until the General Assembly in Hamburg in 1964. He then moved to the main committee, which at that time was to deal with longer-term aspects of the work and tasks of WUS. Also, during his professional activity as a banker (Deutsche Bank AG, Helaba Luxembourg and Helaba Dublin as Managing Director), he remained connected to WUS as a personal member and took over the task of the internal cash audit of the association for some time.