Structure and stakeholders

Germany has a highly diverse R&I system, partly as a result of the country’s federal structure and long tradition of science. It has a broad range of research fields and facilitates a high degree of specialisation in core areas. Moreover, the German R&I system owes its efficiency and success to the fact that its many and diverse players are willing to act in concert, by forming research alliances between non-university research institutes, universities and companies, for instance. There is a fundamental distinction between R&D funding and performing sectors.

R&D is often carried out in various public and private institutions. Figure II-1 shows the stakeholders in the R&I system and their interrelationships.

Stakeholders of the German research and innovation system

Fig. II-1: Stakeholders of the German research and innovation system


The Federal Government and Länder as funding stakeholders

As a function of their joint responsibility for research and in accordance with Germany’s constitutional regulations, the Federal Government and the Länder cooperate in supporting research, technology and innovation and are major players in terms of funding research and development. National framework conditions are primarily set forth in the Federal Budget Code (Bundeshaushaltsordnung) and the Federal Budget Act (Bundeshaushaltsgesetz), in conjunction with the relevant law provisions of the Länder. These form the legal basis for the funding instruments that facilitate specific research funding: acting jointly, the Federal Government and the Länder provide institutional funding in a medium to long-term framework, the purpose of which is to safeguard basic research, the research infrastructure and the strategic orientation of the German research system. Provided from federal resources, project funding consists of specialised and support programmes, and provides funding for research, technology and innovation projects with a limited lifespan. Project funding is principally directed at application-oriented research. The Federal Government and the Länder fund approximately one third of all gross domestic expenditure on research and development. (see also II 1.2 State funding instruments and IV The cooperation between the Federal Government and the Länder).

A number of coordinating and advisory bodies are on hand, namely the German Council of Science and Humanities (WR), the Joint Science Conference (GWK) and the joint committee of representatives from the Federal Government and the Länder on Research and Technology. Advisory services are also provided by the Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation (EFI), the High-Tech Forum and the Innovation Dialogue between the Federal Government, industry and science.

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The private sector

The private sector provides about two thirds of the funding invested annually in research and development in Germany. These funds include both expenditure for companies’ own R&D activities and expenditure for joint projects with partners from industry and science (see also II 2.6 Research and development in industry).

The research and development performed in the business enterprise sector is oriented strongly to applications: its overarching objective is to obtain results that can be directly commercialised. By contrast, basic research plays a subordinate role in the private sector. The huge variation in the regional distribution of R&D activities is determined for the most part by large companies. Nevertheless, despite their smaller share, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups also contribute significantly to the innovation performance of Germany‘s business enterprise sector, with this dynamic group blazing a trail in groundbreaking innovations. Another structural feature of private industry is the high concentration of R&D capacities on advanced technology sectors, compared to other countries.

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Public research

A key player in the public research infrastructure is the higher education sector, in other words, the universities and universities of applied science (see also II 2.2 Institutions of higher education). Besides the research conducted at universities, a vast array of non-university research projects are carried out for the most part by institutes that are jointly supported by the Federal Government and the Länder (see also II 2.3 Non-university research institutions). These include the research facilities of the four large research organisations: the Max Planck Society (MPG), the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft (Fraunhofer), the Helmholtz Association (HGF) and the Leibniz Association. Moreover, non-university research organisations include the eight academies of science of the Länder, the National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech), and the Leopoldina – the German National Academy of Sciences, as well as departmental research institutes.

The departmental research conducted by the Federal Government serves to prepare, support and implement political and administrative decision-making. It is linked to the fulfilment of the department’s legal assignments and special tasks. This broad spectrum of challenging assignments is performed by federal institutions with research and development tasks, either independently, in cooperation with other research facilities or by awarding research contracts to external researchers (non-university research institutes). In addition, there are Länder and municipal research facilities, which are financed by the Länder and, to some extent, by third-party funding. (see also II 2.4 State research institutes).

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The intermediary organisations in the German R&I system are essentially those stakeholders who support R&D activities with their own funding programmes and/or represent the interests of the stakeholders II 2.5 Other R&D funding organisations. They also include the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft (Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany).

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Industrial research

The non-profit external industrial research institutes also act as an important interface between academia and an economy that is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises in pre-competitive research. They are mainly organised via the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AIF) and the Zuse Association (Deutsche Industrieforschungsgemeinschaft Konrad Zuse e. V.).

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European Commission

Launched on 1 January 2014, Horizon 2020 (2014–2020), the EU framework programme for research and innovation is playing a key role in developing the European Research Area (ERA) and placing the European research landscape firmly on the global map. Adopted by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, and administered by the European Commission, the world’s largest research and innovation programme has a total funding volume of approximately 77 billion euros. It bundles the research funding programmes at European level and places an even greater emphasis on cooperation between science, research and industry, and on innovation, than previous programmes.

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