The University of Basel awards an honorary doctorate to Katharina Heyer

by firmm Team

Text: Brigitte Achatz; Photos: Thomas Brückmann, Uni Basel/Christian Flierl

On a beautiful mild sunny day Katharina received a very special kind of recognition. She has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Basel and is now entitled to call herself Dr. h. c (honoris causa). Katharina was accompanied by her family and friends, including her long-time advisor Ara Hatzakorzian (with whose advice to travel to Tarifa everything began) and his wife Judith.

The ceremony took place as part of the 557th Dies academicus and was celebrated in the Martinskirche in Basel's Old Town. This time-honoured tradition has existed in Switzerland's oldest university since its foundation in 1460 and the festivities were accordingly ceremonially arranged.

Accompanied by Vivaldis “Spring” the entire professorship marched in, dressed in their black robes lined in the corresponding colours of the respective faculty. Among them was, of course, Prof. Dr. Patricia Holm, member of the firmm foundation board, who, in accordance with the department of philosophy and natural sciences, had hemmed her office attire in green.

Entry of the professors into the church - in green the faculty of philosophy and natural sciences Katharina in the first row with further persons honoured with the honorary doctorate  

The people who were honoured were already sitting in the front row in front of the lectern. Katharina is in best company with her award this year: Roger Federer was awarded an honorary doctorate in medicine (who unfortunately was not personally present as he had to play tennis; his prize was therefore accepted by his sister) and on Katharina's right was Thomas Jordan, the Swiss National Bank President, who was honoured by the Faculty of Economics.

The ceremony was opened with a committed and entertaining speech by the likeable rector Andrea Schenker-Wicki.

She gave thought to the challenges a research university of the early 21st century has to face. These made her worry or at least thoughtful. According to her, four megatrends characterize the development of the economic and social environment: 1.) Globalization that leads to an unprecedented acceleration of life, 2.) demographic change, which is associated with an ageing society and the risk of old-age poverty, 3) the increasing importance of the knowledge society, since the creation of new knowledge is essential for the success of an economy and 4) digitalization, which can be called the "fourth industrial revolution".

Standardized processes can now be taken over by computers without any problems. In this context it is worrying that many lower and middle management functions can be replaced by machines. This means that while jobs are created by digitalization, they are either at the lower end of the spectrum, for the low qualified or at the upper end, for the highly-qualified. In the middle, where the highest employment rate would be possible, there are no more jobs. Due to these four trends, the importance of universities as innovation drivers for an economy has raised sharply. Competition between countries in research and development is increasing and the pressure on universities rises accordingly. In order to preserve prosperity, modern universities still need the opportunity to employ as many bright minds as possible and to conduct competitive research, and they are naturally dependent on human and financial resources. The skyrocketing costs and increasing competition are therefore a concern for all rectors. She concluded by pointing out that these challenges cannot be met by a university alone and therefore they depend on the support of the population and politicians.

Prof. Spiess reads the laudatory speech Presentation of the certificate Congratulations of the University Director Shaking hands… Katharina framed by the Dean of faculty and University Director for the official photo 

After the speech, the time had finally come. The documents that were in a role of the corresponding colour were distributed. Katharina was called as fifth by the Dean of the faculty of philosophy and natural sciences, Prof. Martin Spiess. She stood smiling next to him as he read the eulogy. In it he described her as a critical conservationist and sensitive whale observer, who is fully committed to supporting the whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar. He declares that she carries out decades of research, education and awareness-raising work in close cooperation with the University of Basel. Furthermore she founded and still leads the foundation firmm and for already 20 years has been, together with her team, carrying out whale sightings together with her team, which are scientifically evaluated. The laudatory speech was followed by a handshake with the dean and the rector and a photo for the press.


March out of the faculties led by the respective standard bearers Foundation Councillor Prof. Dr. Patricia Holm looks over to the newly doctorate holder 

After the awarding of all seven honorary doctorates and numerous other awards, the ceremony concluded; the professors left the church with musical accompaniment. For the honoured guests there was a festive lunch at the Theatre of Basel, where Roger Federer was joining via live broadcast on a large screen. He thanked for the honour and wished all those present a good evening.

An exciting and emotional day ended.

We congratulate the new doctor from the bottom of our hearts!

The official photo- Photo: Uni Basel, Christian Flierl 


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