Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

R&D in Germany

The German Research Scene

At the beginning of the 21st century, two basic trends are setting science and research considerable challenges: globalisation and the transition to a society based on knowledge. A highly efficient and competitive system of science is necessary if Germany is to maintain its leading position in the international competition for research locations.

In 1999 gross domestic expenditure on R&D by the Federal Republic of Germany totalled DM € 67 88,8 billion, or 2.84% of the gross domestic product.Within the German research scene economic activity in the field of R&D plays the largest role. In 2009, R&D expenditure by German business exceeded the € 45 billion €. The state was represented with 19,9 billion € in R&D expenditure, the inward investment in R&D was close to 2,6 billion € .

Together with the federal states, the Federal Government supports the two major research organisations, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG) and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FhG). The Federal Government provides 50% of the basic funding for the MPG and 90% for that of the FhG. The MPG conducts free basic research in new fields of importance for the future. It sets priority areas for top-level research and performs a complementary function, in particular with regard to university research. The FhG concentrates on applied research and its principal objective is to translate the results of research into new and innovative products, processes and services.

The support organisation the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) is also funded by the Federal Government and the federal states. In its capacity as a self-governing scientific organisation it primarily supports universities/colleges across all their disciplines by means of projects and programmes. The Federal Government's contribution stands at 50% or more. Together with the MPG and the FhG, the DFG makes a considerable contribution towards the strengthening and integration of research in Germany and also to international co-operation. Support for the next generation of scientists is also of prime importance.

The Federal Government and the federal states also deal with the expansion of existing and the building of new universities/colleges, including university hospitals. In that respect the basic aim is to adapt the universities/colleges to meet national and international requirements as an integral part of the overall system of education and research. That also involves promoting priority areas of research at the universities/colleges in that field, having regard to the non-university research establishments. Furthermore, the Federal Government supports the universities/colleges in areas that require swift and disproportionate support on account of their particular importance or workload by means of fixed-term special programmes that are agreed with the federal states. Such special programmes are used for both teaching and research purposes. Following reunification particular emphasis in that respect was placed on the restructuring of universities/colleges and research in the new federal states.

The Helmholtz Association has the task of pursuing long-term research goals in the interest of state and society with a view to preserving and improving the foundations of human life. To this end it identifies and works on major and urgent social, scientific and economic issues through strategically oriented top-calibre research programmes in six fields: energy, earth and environment, health, key technologies, structure of matter, and aerospace and transportation. The Helmholtz Association comprises 18 scientific, technological and biomedical research centres. With a staff of almost 34,000 and an annual budget of some 3.4 billion euros, it is Germany’s largest scientific organization. The work of the Helmholtz Association continues the tradition of the great physiologist and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894).

Primarily, the Federal Government and the Länder (States) jointly fund the centres of the Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz . Together with the Hermann von Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Leibniz Institutes (formerly known as Blue List Institutes) represent the fourth pillar of research jointly funded by the Federal Government and the Länder. The Leibniz Institutes differ greatly according to their tasks, size, location and legal form. Most of the institutes focus on application-oriented basic research. Recognition beyond State borders and interest in their work from the viewpoint of scientific policy throughout the Länder are common to all the centres. The Leibniz Institutes are subject to a scientific quality evaluation carried out externally on a regular basis, the effects of which are unique in Germany.

The federal and regional research establishments funded by the Federal Government and the federal states provide a considerable capacity for research. Those establishments are primarily responsible - in addition to their territorial activities - for achieving scientific results to meet their departmental responsibilities, but also contribute to the general acquisition of knowledge.

As a joint institution of German universitites, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) [German Academic Exchange Service) has the task of promoting foreign relations in higher education in particular by means of exchanges of students and scientists. Its programmes are usually open to all disciplines and all countries; Germans and foreigners may equally benefit from them. The DAAD is mainly financed by the public purse, primarily the Federal Government (approx. 80%), the EU and private investors.

With its more than 250 individual programmes, the DAAD pursues the objectives of academic cooperation with other countries, the promotion of the German language and of German literature abroad as well as (follow-up) counselling for scholarship holders, information and publication, higher education marketing and advice for policy makers.

The Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (AvH) [Alexander von Humboldt Foundation] awards up to 600 research grants to foreign post-docs. There are no quotas with regard to country or discipline. Research periods abroad of German scholars and scientists are supported in particular by the annually up to 150 Feodor Lyenen research grants awarded by the AvH.

The Arbeitsgemeinschaft industrieller Forschungsvereinigungen e.V. (AiF) [Association of Industrial Research Organisations (registered association)] forms an important part of the research scene. The AiF is a commercial umbrella organisation comprising around 107 industrial research organisations. The main responsibility of the AiF is to support joint industrial research. Public funding is used to support projects relating to applied research that takes account of the practical needs of small and medium-sized undertakings. Together with the research departments of the undertakings, those research establishments account for 68.4% of gross domestic expenditure on R&D in 1997 and constitute the largest (economic) sector of the research scene in terms of quantity.

The R&D expenditure of the 40 federal institutions that perform research functions amounts to some € 830 million (fully funded by the Federal Government). These institutions perform their R&D functions in the framework of their governmental duties. The various activities are assigned to the federal ministries into whose portfolios they fall. The objective of their research activities is therefore first and foremost to obtain scientific findings that will help to perform departmental duties (“departmental or mission-oriented research”); however, they also help to acquire general knowledge. In addition, there are a number of Länder and municipal research institutions (that are not part of the Blue List), which are fully financed from Länder funds.

Germany’s eight academies of sciences - which are located in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Göttingen, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Mainz and Munich and which have over 1,900 ordinary and corresponding members from a wide variety of disciplines - are members of the Union of Germany Academies of Sciences. These academies, whose basic budgets are financed exclusively by the Länder governments, are scientific forums designed to foster science, in particular interdisciplinary reflection and the cross-disciplinary generation of knowledge; they also act as mediators in scientific and societal conflicts related to the assessment of science, and serve as points of contact for international scientific co-operation. An important function of the academies is the implementation of the Academies Programme with a total volume of around € 57 million in the year 2012, half of which is funded by the Federal Government, while the other half is financed by the Länder governments.

The Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (German Academy of Natural Science) in Halle, which is a supranational society of scholars in the fields of science and medicine, is funded by the Federal Government (BMBF) and the Land Government of Sachsen-Anhalt in a ratio of 80:20.

The breadth of the research scene and the fact that a variety of responsibilities are met by the science organisations and research establishments are among the strengths of the German system of science. Its dynamic further development is one of the central aims of Germany research policy. Open-mindedness, an ability to co-operate and excellence are the models for a research scene that is ready to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Further interesting information can be found in the brochure Report of the Federal Government on Research 2012 [PDF]

Last updated: 2014-07-15