EURAXESS Members in Focus: Germany
Research-performing institutions and organisations
In Germany, research takes place in a number of different settings including universities and centres for applied sciences, non-university research institutions, in companies and at institutions run by federal or state (Länder) authorities.
There are close to 400 higher education institutions (HEIs) offering a wide range of academic disciplines, including 120 universities, 213 centres of applied sciences and 57 colleges of music and art. Unique to the German higher education system is the close link between learning, teaching and research – a principle which goes back to Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the Universität zu Berlin in 1810, which is today the Humboldt University in Berlin. The Research Map of the German Rector’s Conference details the key research priorities of HEIs in Germany.
Other important research-performing organisations in Germany include the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FhG) which currently operates 74 institutes and research institutions within Germany, the Helmholtz Association (HGF), Germany’s largest scientific association with about 7,000 foreign scientists working at Helmholtz Centres, the Leibniz Association (WGL) which connects 96 research institutions that address issues of social, economic and ecological relevance, and the Max Planck Society (MPG), Germany’s most successful research organisation, as 20 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists since its establishment in 1948.
Known for their innovation, German companies collaborate closely with universities, science institutions and non-university research organisations. Germany’s industry carries out and funds at least two-thirds of research and development (R&D) activities. The automotive sector, followed by the electrical engineering and mechanical engineering sectors make the largest investments. Companies such as Volkswagen, Siemens and Bayer are known for their high R&D spending.
Since January 2020, companies that are active in R&D and taxable in Germany can benefit from a tax incentive for research. The new R&D allowance for enterprises conducting research is 25% of eligible expenses. The goal behind the tax is to enhance Germany’s competitiveness in innovation and to stimulate more R&D activities, particularly by small and medium-sized enterprises, which employ 16 million people in Germany.
Germany’s federal ministries fund 40 R&D institutions that conduct research in almost all areas. An example is the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin, which is the government’s central scientific institution in the field of biomedicine. Research and prevention of infections is one of RKI’s classic fields of work, and the Institute has played a prominent role in the current Covid-19 pandemic.
On the state level, the 16 German Länder act as research funding bodies and operate over 160 institutions that conduct research on a broad range of areas. On example is the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence.
R&D strategies and policy framework
Germany’s research and innovation policy framework document, the High-Tech Strategy (HTS), was first introduced in 2006 and has since been renewed and developed further. The latest version, HTS 2025, consolidates R&I funding across all ministries and concentrates on three crucial fields of action: 1) tackling major challenges for society, 2) strengthening Germany’s future competencies, and 3) establishing an open innovation and risk culture. The HTS 2025 strives for concrete goals through 12 missions which require the science community, the private sector as well as civil society to join forces.
Building on the Federal Government’s Internationalisation Strategy of 2008, under the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), a new Strategy for the Internationalisation of Education, Science and Research was developed and adopted in 2017. The Strategy focuses on five target areas such as “strengthening excellence through global cooperation” and “developing Germany’s strength in innovation on the international stage”.
The Pact for Research and Innovation, first adopted in 2005, was recently extended and will now run for ten years. Until 2030, the Federal Government and the Länder will grant the individual research organisations (DFG, MPG, FhG, HGF, WGL) an annual increase in funding of 3%, giving them long-term financial planning security.
The Excellence Strategy, which was adopted in 2016, builds upon its predecessor programme – the so-called Excellence Initiative which ran from 2007 to 2017, and is planned for the long term. The Strategy aims to strengthen cutting-edge research at universities in two funding lines: ‘clusters of excellence’ and ‘universities of excellence’. Since 2018, the Federal Government and the Länder have provided funding of €553 million annually to support cutting-edge research at ten universities of excellence, one excellence network and 57 clusters of excellence.
Germany has invested more funds in R&D in recent years than ever before. In 2018, a total of €105 billion was invested in R&D by the Federal Government and the private sector. This represents 3.13% of Germany’s gross domestic product (GDP). Germany accounts for 31% of all R&D expenditure in the European Union (based on the EU28). For the year 2025, the Federal Government has set the ambitious target of investing 3.5% of the GDP in R&D.
In 2018, almost 708,000 individuals were employed in R&D (full-time equivalents) of which more than 63% worked in the private sector. This marks a new peak and an increase of 45% in the last 12 years. Germany lies also well above the EU average in the share of R&D personnel in the total number of employed persons. Over 402,000 worked at German universities as academic staff in 2018. A total of 49,600 of them came from outside of Germany. The number of foreign academic staff doing research at the four largest non-university research institutions (Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Helmholtz Association, Leibniz Association, Max Planck Society) in Germany added up to 11,830 in 2017.
Germany is one of the leading innovation countries, which is also reflected in the European Innovation Scoreboard, produced by the European Commission, which places Germany in the group of ‘strong innovators’. The Global Innovation Index also puts Germany among the most pioneering countries. Germany is a leader when it comes to patent applications. Almost 400 patents relevant to the world market per million inhabitants were filed in 2017 from Germany.
There are various organisations in Germany funding research projects as well as individual researchers.
There are also a number of foundations which support research projects, research institutions as well as individual researchers, such as the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Volkswagen Foundation or the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU), among others.
The following databases are recommended when searching for research funding opportunities:
National Coordination Point at the German Aerospace Centre, DLR Project Management Agency, European and International Cooperation
Felix Beckendorf, Vitaliy Bondarenko & Christina Witt: email@example.com
Contact details and list of important links
Germany is part of the European initiative EURAXESS. Currently, 91 German EURAXESS centres advise international mobile researchers on mobility-related questions.
German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW) / German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Wissenschaft weltoffen kompakt 2020 English edition