Thomas Auf der Heyde


Since November 2019, Thomas Auf der Heyde has been a professor at Jacobs University Bremen, where he holds the post of Provost and is responsible at the strategic level for all academic, scientific, and transfer activities. Prior to this, Thomas was a Deputy Director General at the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) from 2008-2018, where he initially managed international scientific cooperation at both bilateral and multilateral levels. In this capacity, he developed a solid foundation in science diplomacy and established extensive networks, especially in Europe, Southern Africa, and South America. During this time, Thomas represented South Africa in numerous international organisations, and was also its chief technology negotiator in the UNFCC process.

For his last six years in the DST, Dr. Auf der Heyde led national planning for support to basic and strategic sciences, research development and funding, infrastructure provision, national cyberinfrastructure, capacity building, postgraduate training, and science engagement. In this capacity, he was responsible for oversight of South Africa’s astronomy activities, including its large-scale international initiatives, the Southern African Large Telescope, the SKA project, and the African VLBI Network initiative. He led the BRICS astronomy working group and was a core member of the Oceans science working group too. Most recently, in close conjunction with colleagues in Brazil and the European Commission, Thomas had driven the establishment of major international initiatives around multi-lateral Atlantic Ocean research cooperation, including a South-South trans-Atlantic research partnership, as well as a South-North partnership (the Belem Partnership).

His efforts resulted in national legislation, policy, and strategies for human capital development, marine and polar research, palaeosciences, science engagement, indigenous knowledge, astronomy, infrastructure, high-performance computing, e-science, and national data centers. He was responsible for a budget of just under EUR400m, managed a staff of 50, overseeing the activities of the National Research Foundation and the Academy of Science of South Africa on behalf of the Minister of Science and Technology.

For over 25 years prior to joining the DST, Dr. Auf der Heyde held teaching, research, and executive management positions at the universities of the Western Cape, Cape Town, Bern, Cambridge, Princeton, and Johannesburg. Having obtained a PhD in chemistry in 1988, Dr Auf der Heyde established a successful early career as a structural chemist, attaining the rank of Professor of Chemistry, but then moved into science and technology policy and from there into university administration and management, and eventually into public service.

In addition to a well-developed understanding of institutional development in public research institutions and universities, over his career Thomas has gained much insight into and experience in applying contemporary strategic planning, and performance measurement and management approach to his work. In South Africa, he pioneered the application of scientometric methods to research planning at both institutional and national levels, and he continues to be intellectually involved in developing this field and its applications in the country. Thomas also has deep corporate governance experience, having served on the boards of numerous national public sector institutions in South Africa, as well as several international organisations.

Drawing on this wide set of experiences as both a practitioner and an executive manager in the national science and higher education systems and in the civil service, Dr. Auf der Heyde is also active as a consultant on science, technology, innovation, and higher education matters. In a part-time capacity he currently serves the National Council for Science and Technology of Rwanda as a Strategic and Technical Advisor, and in 2019 managed a R500m per annum fund for the development of historically black universities on behalf of the Department of Higher Education and Training in South Africa.

He believes he is an effective written and verbal communicator with a good degree of emotional intelligence and is sure that these skills have been key to the excellent working relations he enjoys with all his colleagues, staff, and stakeholders, and his comparatively high levels of success as a manager, especially considering the highly complex and heterogeneous environments in which he works.

Dr. Auf der Heyde was born in South Africa in 1958, holds both German and South African nationality, and speaks and writes German, English, and Afrikaans fluently. He is married to Liz Linsell who works in the NGO sector, and they have twin sons. To relax, Thomas reads extensively and keeps himself physically active.

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