For a high-performing science system

Germany has a powerful attraction for national and international students and researchers. This happens also thanks to the programmes like Higher Education Pact, Initiative for Excellence and Pact for Research and Innovation, established by the Federal Government in cooperation with the Länder.

In cooperation with the Länder, the Federal Government’s Higher Education Pact, Initiative for Excellence, Pact for Research and Innovation, Quality Pact for Teaching and Teacher Training Quality Campaign have all reinforced the science, research and innovation landscape in Germany. The goal now is to maintain this strength and consolidate Germany’s position in the global competition. To this end, the Federal Government is raising the visibility of the country’s science and research system, while increasing the focus on excellence. The extension of the opportunities for cooperation between the Federal Government and the Länder, pursuant to the amendment of Grundgesetz Article 91b (German Basic Law, GG), represents an important element in this respect.

As a leading centre of science, research and innovation, Germany has a powerful attraction for national and international students and researchers:

  • With 1,318 scientific publications per million inhabitants in 2014, Germany has a higher publication intensity than either the United States or France.
  • The excellence rate of these publications has increased steadily over the last few years, finally peaking at 16%. Therefore, approximately one sixth of the scientific papers published in Germany are among the most cited works around the world.
  • In 2013, over 230,000 individuals were employed in the higher education sector and the non-university research facilities (including governmental research institutes). Compared with 2005, this represents an increase of some 34%. Women currently account for approximately 40% of this Group.
  • More and more students of a given age cohort are completing their education with a university degree. The so-called graduation rate rose from 19.9% in 2005 to 31.6% in 2014. Over time, a sharp growth was recorded in the number of graduates in engineering as well as in mathematics and natural sciences.
  • Both students and established scientists regard Germany as an attractive host country, with its popularity continuing to soar over the past few years. Between 2008 and 2014, the number of foreign students in Germany rose by 30% from approximately 233,600 to 301,400.

A decade of pacts: an impressive track record

Since 2005, the Federal Government and the Länder have jointly administered a ‘package of pacts’ – the Initiative for Excellence, the Higher Education Pact and the Pact for Research and Innovation – that has achieved significant advances in the research system. The Federal Government is now carrying on this legacy.

By continuing the Pact for Research and Innovation for the years 2016 to 2020, the Federal Government and the Länder are making provision for the financial security of science organisations. They are aiming to grant individual science organisations an annual funding increase of three percent, provided the legislative bodies allocate sufficient resources. Regardless of the permanent Federal Government/Länder financing basis defined in the implementation agreements, the funding increase will be financed exclusively by the Federal Government during this period. The non-university research and science organisations included in the pact have opened up forward-looking fields, strengthened their national and international networks and enshrined the transfer of knowledge and technology in their strategic mission. The combination of research policy goals and financial security has reaped tangible rewards.

The Initiative for Excellence has brought new energy and dynamism to the German science landscape. Research endeavours are outstanding in numerous fields, while many universities have realigned their strategic focus. The Federal Government firmly believes that fostering cutting-edge research at universities is the right way forward in international competition.

The international, independent expert committee commissioned by the Federal Government and the Länder to evaluate the Initiative for Excellence and its impact on Germany’s science system reached a similar conclusion. Chaired by Prof. Dr. Dieter Imboden, the committee evaluated the Initiative for Excellence in its final report, which was published on 29 January 2016, as a successful instrument for improving the quality and international competitiveness of the German science system.

On 22 April 2016, the Joint Science Conference of the Federal Government and the Länder (GWK, incl. the financial side) unanimously approved the draft of the administrative arrangement in accordance with Article 91b (1) GG to promote cutting-edge research at universities and resolved to submit it for approval and signature to the leaders of the Federal Government and the Länder for their meeting on 16 June 2016. The core elements of the arrangement are as follows:

  • The Federal-Länder agreement is concluded for an indefinite period. The overall programme is endowed with the sum of 533 million euros per year. The funds will be provided by the Federal Government and the respective Land in which the individual universities are located at a ratio of 75 to 25.
  • The clusters of excellence promote internationally competitive research fields at universities or consortia of universities on a project-by-project basis. Annual funding of approximately 385 million euros is earmarked for clusters of excellence. Every year, funding of between 3 and 10 million euros per cluster of excellence is appropriated for 45 to 50 eligible projects. As a rule, funding is granted for two periods of seven years; it is also possible to reapply. Universities with clusters of excellence may apply for a university lump sum as a strategy award to strengthen their governance and strategic focus. This amounts to one million euros annually per cluster of excellence. If a university has several clusters of excellence, the university lump sum for the second cluster of excellence is 750,000 euros and 500,000 euros for the third.
  • The University of Excellence funding scheme is directed towards permanently strengthening the universities as institutions (or a consortium of universities) and consolidating their leading position in the international research system based on their successful clusters of excellence. Every year, monies in the amount of approximately 148 million euros are earmarked to fund universities of excellence. The funding scheme sponsors between eight and eleven eligible projects, which undergo an independent, external evaluation every seven years.
  • Provided they support the ultimate goal of top-level research, both funding schemes also underpin measures in the field of research-oriented teaching, research infrastructures or the transfer of ideas and knowledge. The decision-making process regarding the allocation of funding to clusters and universities of excellence is based on scientific criteria.

The Federal Government and the Länder have extended the opportunities for cooperation in the research sector, pursuant to the amendment of German Basic Law. The Federal Government initiated the amendment to Art. 91b GG, meaning that, in future, it can engage in joint funding measures with the Länder to support not just non-university research institutes, but also universities.

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Ensuring the effective promotion of early career researchers and scientists

Germany’s science system must attract brilliant minds and creative thinkers. Therefore, the Federal Government is committed to establishing working conditions and career prospects in the scientific community that are internationally competitive. The Federal Government and the Länder are currently negotiating a joint initiative that aims to make it easier for young scientists to plan their careers, while enhancing the transparency of the various steps.

The reform of the Academic Fixed-Term Contract Act (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz) initiated by the Federal Government entered into force on 18 March 2016. The reform is designed to improve the management of fixed-term regulations in an academic context and is directed at improper short-term contracts in particular. In future, the duration of fixed-term contracts for scientific personnel must be commensurate with the intended qualification; where the limitation is due to third-party funding, it should be based on the approved project duration. This amendment counteracts the undesirable developments in the practice of issuing fixed-term contracts, without prejudicing the essential flexibility and dynamism of the research sector; moreover, it underpins the activities of universities and research institutes, thereby improving the conditions of employment for young scientists.

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Fostering departmental research

The departmental research conducted by the Federal Government at the interface of science, society, politics and industry is an indispensable component of the country’s science system. Departmental research is carried out by 38 federal institutions with R&D responsibilities, together with seven non-university R&D organisations, working within a framework of continuous collaboration. By functioning as an interface, they contribute substantially to the success of relevant social, political and economic innovation processes. The various institutes and organisations meet the departments’ R&D requirements by conducting research of their own, by acting in concert with other research institutes or by assigning research contracts to external researchers.

Departmental research covers a broad spectrum of tasks. Its remit includes such areas as scientific research on statutory tasks; scientific and technical services such as permits and approvals; maintaining databases, operating expert systems and monitoring networks, collaboration in developing and updating legislation and standards at national, European and international level; knowledge and technology transfer; research, studies and social reporting on current socio-political issues.

The departmental research institutes maintain a wealth of scientific expertise that is available at short notice to support the government’s actions and provide advisory services to aid the political decision-making process. To this end, they address current, ongoing problems affecting society, science and industry, and develop various options for government measures. They conduct research into relevant issues within their individual areas of responsibility and undertake initial research with a long-term perspective in preparation for future social challenges.

For this reason, as stipulated in the coalition agreement, the Federal Government is working to strengthen its departmental research. This ensures that all departmental research institutes are able to profit from the Freedom of Science Act.

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