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Germany in brief
Germany in brief

Picture of a chemist with a latticePhoto: Ute Grabowsky

Germany's science and research landscape


Science and research face great challenges in Germany as a result of globalisation and the transition to a knowledge-based society. A high-performance and competition-oriented aca-demic system is in place so that Germany can maintain its leading position in global competi-tion of centres of research.

Germany’s research landscape is subdivided into the sectors trade and industry, universities and non-university research institutes. Trade and industry is the most important player in the research and development sector (R&D). R&D expenditure by trade and industry reached around 36.8 billion euros in 2003. At universities R&D expenditure totalled 9.1 billion euros, and at non-university institutes around 7.3 billion euros. All in all, therefore, the Federal Republic of Germany’s gross domestic expenditure on R&D in 2003 was 53.2 billion euros, making up 2.5 % of gross domestic product.

University research: the backbone of German science

Universities traditionally form the backbone of German system of research and science. This outstanding position is based on the breadth of university research in terms of subjects and methodology and is secured through the promoting of the new generation of academics. Universities have a central role as sponsors of the greatest, and at the same time most comprehensive, potential of publicly funded research in Germany as well as the basis and most important centres of the German research system.

Due to the institutional link between research, research-oriented training of new academics, and teaching, the efficiency of universities becomes an important prerequisite for the success of the entire German research system. This is because non-university research institutes are to a great extent reliant on highly efficient universities too – as a place of training for new academics, as a broad platform for various disciplines and forms of research as well as a co-operation partner in selected areas of research.

Research at universities ranges from basic research, via application-based research, to development work: Currently, there are 350 universities in Germany, of which 79 are privately funded.

The Higher Education Compass features information from the Association of Universities and other Higher Education Institutions in Germany (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz) on all higher education institutions in Germany, their study courses and international co-operations.

Together with the federal states (Länder), the Federal Government funds the two major research organisations Max Planck Society and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. It is responsible for 50% of the total funding for the Max Planck Society and 90% for the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The Max Planck Society carries out interdisciplinary basic research in new areas of future importance. It focuses mainly on cutting-edge research and performs a complementary function especially to university research. The Fraunhofer Gesellschaft concentrates on applied research. Its objective is to quickly translate research results into new and innovative products, procedures and services.

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is also jointly funded by the Federal Government and the Länder. Primarily, it supports the universities through projects and programmes in all disciplines. The Federal Government is responsible for 50% or more of the funding. Alongside the Max Planck Society and the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, the German Research Foundation (DFG) contributes significantly to the strengthening and integration of research in Germany as well as to international co-operation. Promoting of the new generation of academics remains the key focus.

The 15 major research institutes that have merged under Hermann von Helmholtz-Association of National Research Centres are another essential component of the research landscape of the Federal Republic of Germany. They deal with complex scientific and technical issues and cross-sectional tasks, and they operate scientific-technical large-scale instrumentation and develop system solutions. Each major research institute receives 90 % of its basic funding from the Federal Government and 10 % from the federal state (Land) in which it is based.

The Federal Government and the Länder are responsible mainly for 50% of the funding for the institutes of Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Leibniz Association).Alongside the Hermann von Helmholtz Association of National Research Centres, the Max Planck Society and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, they represent the fourth pillar of joint promotion of research by the Federal Government and the Länder. The Leibniz Institutes are very diverse as regards function, size, location and legal form. The majority of the institutes are dedicated to application-based basic research. Common to all the institutes is the national importance of their work and national interest in their work in terms of science policy.

The 55 national and 188 regional research institutes funded by the Federal Government and/or the Länder represent considerable research capability. In addition to their independent activities, these institutes are primarily responsible for obtaining scientific results in order to carry out departmental tasks, but they also contribute to obtaining general knowledge.

Fostering of young, cutting-edge researchers

As common institute of German universities, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is responsible for promoting university relations with other countries, mainly through student and academic exchanges. Its programmes are, as a rule, open to all disciplines and all countries. They benefit foreigners as well as Germans. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is financed with funds from the Federal Government (90%) and the European Union (6%).

With more than 200 individual programmes, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) pursues the objectives of academic co-operation with other countries, promotion of the German language and German studies abroad, as well as (alumni) assistance for scholarship holders, information and publication, university marketing and policy advice.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation issues up to 600 research scholarships each year to foreign academics up to the age of 40 who have obtained doctorates. There are no quotas for countries or disciplines.

Each year it grants up to 150 Humboldt research awards for different programmes to internationally recognised academics. 80 of these research awards are awarded to natural scientists from the USA. In addition to these, there are up to twelve Max Planck research awards for international co-operations.

The German Federation of Industrial Co-operative Research Associations "Otto von Guericke" occupies an important place in the research landscape. The German Federation of Industrial Co-operative Research Associations is a private-sector umbrella organisation for 104 industrial research organisations. Together with 48 corporate research institutes and - in total - more than 700 closely affiliated institutes, they form the largest (economic) sector of the research landscape in terms of size. Their share of gross domestic expenditure on R&D is around 69 %. The main function of this federation is to promote joint industrial research. It also supports projects in application-based research that take into account the practical needs of small and medium-sized companies.

The seven German Academies of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Göttingen, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Mainz and Munich are merged under the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. Some 1,500 academics from the most diverse disciplines have been appointed ordinary or corresponding members.

The academies, whose basic budget is funded exclusively by the Länder, are responsible for co-ordinating and managing essentially long-term projects of basic research as well as developing and maintaining interdisciplinary dialogue. Advising society on general and future issues is another focal point of the work of the academies. An important function of the academies is to carry out the academy programme, which is financed equally (50% each) by the Federal Government and the Länder to a sum of 42 million euros.

The German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina in Halle, an international society of scholars of natural science and medicine, is funded by the Federal Government and the Land of Saxony-Anhalt at a ratio of 80:20.

The breadth of the research landscape and the execution of its various tasks by academic organisations and research institutes are among the strengths of the German academic system.

You can find more information in the brochure 'Bundesbericht Forschung 2004' (Federal Government report on research 2004).

More information


German Federation of Industrial Co-operative Reasearch Associations "Otto von Guericke"
Academies of Sciences and Humanities
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Federal Government report on research 2004 (PDF, in German)
German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
German Research Foundation (DFG)
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
Hermann von Helmholtz-Association of National Research Centres
German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina
Max Planck Society
Leibniz Association (Wissenschaftsgemeinschaft Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz)

Picture of Cologne Cathedral at night and underneath: picture of Leipzig's Altstadt (Old Town)