Rita Suessmuth

Rita Suessmuth, PhD

Hall of Fame Class of 2006 - European

Rita Suessmuth, PhD, is an active force in adult and continuing education in Germany, in neighboring countries and UNESCO. She is the president of the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin (OTA), and president of the Deutsche Volkshochschul-Verband (DVV – German Adult and Continuing Education Association), the largest adult education institution in Germany. 

She raised the stature of adult and continuing education in her political roles as a member of the German parliament, as Federal Minister for Youth, Family, Women and Health (1985-1988), and as president of the German Federal Parliament (1988-1998), the highest protocollary position in the German political system. In her academic career as professor of International Comparative Education at the Universities of Bochum and Dortmund, director of the Research Institute and president of the OTA-University of Applied Sciences in Berlin she supported the promotion of international understanding of adult education.

Suessmuth influenced continuing education greatly during her presidency of the UNESCO World Conference on adult and continuing education CONFINTEA V (1997) in Hamburg, Germany. There, her diplomacy and leadership helped the participants develop two major documents, “The Hamburg Declaration,” and the “Agenda for the Future,” thus influencing adult education worldwide. UNESCO honored her leadership with the Avicenna gold medal. 

She enhanced the field of adult and continuing education in Germany by representing the German Association for Adult and Continuing Education (DVV) with her authority as president of the Federal Parliament. Her public speeches and press conferences helped to spread continuing education and lifelong learning in Germany. She also influenced its growth worldwide as chair of UNESCO’s Adult Education World Conference CONFINTEA V in 1997. 

Suessmuth influenced the growth of continuing education in Eastern Europe, i.e. Bulgaria and Serbia, and especially Kosovo. In 2003, she led the Skopje-Conference, bringing together for the first time since the last war all eight ministries of the region of the-once Yugoslav territory to discuss the policy, legislation and financing of adult education. Under her leadership in 2006, the largest adult education conference in Europe was held in Berlin, Germany. Participants included Germany’s president, minister of education, and the European Union commissioner on education and culture. 

Suessmuth’s contributions to higher education have been recognized by honorary doctorates from the German Universities, Bochum and Augsburg; University Weliko, Tarnowo/Bulgaria; Sorbonne Nouvelle University, Paris; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; and Ben-Gurion University, Israel.