16 November 2017

The German funding landscape

Germany is one of the leading countries worldwide in terms of research and funding opportunities. The Research Office presents here a broad outline of the German funding lanscape as well as funding opportunities that may be of interest to the Graduate Institute’s research community.

Germany has the highest expenditure on R&D of any country in the European Union. In 2015 it spent 89 billion euros on R&D, amounting to 2.84% of its GDP (EU members have set for themselves the target of 3%) and to one third of total R&D expenditure in the EU. Private companies account for two thirds of R&D investment while the rest is financed by public funds and foundations. Home to approximately 400 higher education institutions, including 110 universities, Germany is placed third (behind the United States and Great Britain) for number of universities ranked among the top 100 institutions in the Times Higher Education ranking. Germany counts the highest number of ERC (European Research Council) grantees and is the most important non–English speaking host country for academics, counting over 38,000 international academics and 26,000 international PhD candidates. With the Excellence Initiative launched in 2005, the German government has invested 4.6 billion euros into promoting topā€level research, improving the quality of universities, and increasing international competitiveness.

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Universities, research institutions and industrial research entities constitute the three pillars of Germany’s research landscape. They are funded by federal and state agencies, foundations, academies and the private sector. Overall, there are approximately 1,000 publicly funded institutions for science, research and development. Non-university research institutes constitute a special characteristic of R&D in Germany. They are mostly run by four major internationally renowned research organisations: the Max Planck Society, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association and the Leibniz Association, which manage institutes at over 250 locations throughout Germany. The Max Planck Society, for instance, with an annual budget of 2.2 billion euros and 47% of international researchers, runs 84 research institutes and funds 13,300 research projects in the natural sciences, life sciences and social sciences.

The German Research Foundation (DFG), the German equivalent of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), is the largest research funding organisation in Germany with a budget of 3 billion euros in 2016. It supports knowledge-driven/basic research projects, the organisation of conferences and workshops as well as research centres and networks. The DFG also provides research grants for postdocs such as the Emmy Noether Programme and fellowships for senior researchers such as the highly regarded Mercator visiting professorships. International collaborations are possible in all DFG funding programmes. Under the Lead Agency process, a joint application by researchers in Switzerland and Germany can be submitted to one of the two national research funding organisations. In the framework of this bilateral agreement, the submission process is governed by the provisions in force at the relevant organisation and each country covers the costs incumbent to the research conducted on its territory. Like the SNSF, the DFG also promotes travel and international workshops for planning and developing joint research cooperation.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)  is the largest organisation promoting academic and scientific exchange in the world. It provides funding programmes for international researchers at the postdoc or senior scientist level to conduct research in Germany. Its funding programmes range from congress participation to short and long term research stays abroad and guest professorships. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) equally promotes academic exchange and dialogue by inviting postdoctoral researchers and experienced researchers to work at a German research institution. Internationally renowned researchers may receive one of up to 100 Humboldt research awards in order to conduct an original 6-to-12-month research project in collaboration with German colleagues. Postdoctoral researchers may apply for fellowships of 6 to 24 months or for the Anneliese Maier Research Award for postdoctoral stays of up to five years.

Germany’s 430 foundations provide the most interesting opportunities with regards to direct project funding open to foreign applicants. Several of the more important private foundations may be of particular interest to researchers from the Graduate Institute.

The Volkswagen Foundation, established in 1962, provides funding to stimulate research collaborations in the humanities and social sciences as well as science and technology for a total annual budget of 150 million euros. It is the largest private research funder in Germany. Applications must reply to specific funding calls in line with priorities identified by the foundation (top-down approach). Projects vary in duration and amount of funding. Foreign applicants are welcome as long as the project includes substantial cooperation with German researchers. For some of its funding initiatives, the foundation explicitly encourages the formation of international research teams. The initiative Europe and Global Challenges, for instance, supports projects between researchers in Europe and other parts of the world on important global issues such as energy and food security, pandemics, water scarcity, climate change, regional conflicts, migration, terrorism, financial instability and economic uncertainties.

The Thyssen Foundation, established in 1961, supports projects of up to three years in the humanities, social sciences and biomedicine fields. Projects with international cooperation need to have a clear connection to the German research system (through German scientists working on the project, through non-German scientists being affiliated to German research institutes, or through topics related to Germany). Privileging junior researchers, the Thyssen Foundation also funds conferences, stipends and travel grants. Funding is broken down by areas of support: in 2015, 8.2 million euros went for history, language and culture, 5 million for state, economy and society, 2.8 million for medicine and natural sciences, and  0.7 million for international grants, scholarships and exchange programmes. There are two application deadlines each year, usually in February and September, with no minimum or maximum amounts stated per project.

The Gerda Henkel Foundation supports projects and conferences and provides research fellowships in the field of the humanities, mainly in history, archaeology, the history of art, the history of law, the history of science, prehistory and early history. The foundation also addresses issues of great relevance to contemporary life and the future through its special programmes “Islam, the Modern Nation State and Transnational Movements” and “Security, Society and the State”. Project staff on research projects may only be financed by PhD or research grants. There are usually two calls per year. Smaller funding amounts are granted on a rolling basis. Candidates can apply regardless of their nationality and place of work.

The Robert Bosch Foundation, one of the leading private foundations of Europe, promotes research in natural and social sciences, including public health and science, education, society and culture, and international relations. It provides funding on a call basis in line with its own research priorities and also supports conferences/round tables, exchange programmes, prizes and scholarships.

To conclude, here is a list of further resources useful for identifying funding opportunities or ongoing research projects in Germany:

  • Research in Germany provides an overview of German research and research funding.
  • The DFG provides and regularly updates a list of current calls with international components.
  • The German Project Information System (GEPRIS) is an online database made available by the DFG to provide information on current and completed DFG-funded research projects.
  • The Federal Funding Advisory Service on Research and Innovation is the central point of contact for any questions concerning research and innovation funding in Germany.
  • The German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) produces a Research Map presenting key research priorities of German universities of engineering and technology and of universities of applied sciences.
  • The Research Explorer database contains entries on more than 23,000 institutes at German universities and non-university research institutions, and is searchable by geographic location, subject area and other structural criteria.
  • The Higher Education Compass contains entries for over 20,000 international research partnerships involving German higher education institutions. It provides the cooperating institutions, subject areas, content of collaborations as well as contact details.
  • The DAAD hosts a scholarship database that provides informations on its programmes as well as on scholarship-awarding organisations for foreign students, academics and researchers.

Illustration: Goethe in the Roman Campagna. By Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.