Margret Wintermantel is President of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Previously she was President of the German Rectors’ Conference. She started her career as university professor for social psychology at Saarland University, followed by Vice-Presidency for Study and Teaching and Presidency of Saarland University.
Professor Wintermantel, you became President of the German Academic Exchange Service, the world’s largest funding organisation, in January 2012. Before that, you had been head of the German Rectors’ Conference, the association of German universities. How has the German university system changed in recent years?
Far-reaching changes have taken place in all functional areas of higher education. With increasing international competition, the level of research achievements has risen, institutional profiles in research and teaching have evolved, and a fundamental reform of study programmes has been implemented. The Excellence Initiative of the Federal and Länder Governments has substantially boosted research. In two funding lines, universities have been given the opportunity to compete for the establishment of clusters of excellence and graduate schools. In a third funding line, they have been able to apply for the funding of future concepts. Around 45 universities are being supported by this initiative, in which non-university research institutions and other academic partner organisations are also participating. A total of 4.6 billion € is being provided up to 2017, with funding chiefly benefiting research. But by strengthening academic staffing and thanks to the performance levels that are being reckoned with, the Excellence Initiative is going to have a positive impact on the quality of teaching as well.
What kind of perspectives does the DAAD offer young international researchers who would like to pursue a doctorate in Germany?
Our goal is to provide outstanding young international researchers the opportunity to benefit from the excellent research conditions in Germany, while at the same time promoting long-term, international, scientific cooperation. To this end, we strongly focus on supporting doctoral candidates with scholarships to help them on their way to earning a doctorate in Germany. In 2011, the DAAD awarded scholarships to 6,400 doctoral candidates, 4,600 of whom were foreigners. When our DAAD alumni finally earn their doctorates and return to their home countries, they frequently assume leadership positions in science or politics, and serve as Germany’s honorary ambassadors around the world.
The DAAD is strongly interested in promoting internationalisation of doctoral study in Germany. This is why we have begun supplementing our “traditional” scholarship programmes for graduate students with specialised scholarships for doctoral candidates in structured PhD programmes. These programmes are characterised by transparent admission requirements, a clearly-defined duration of doctoral studies – between three and four years - and additional extracurricular activities. The DAAD established the “International Doctoral Study in Germany” (IPID) programme with this goal in mind – namely to create and expand internationally-oriented, structured PhD programmes at German universities. Currently, IPID is supporting 39 outstanding PhD programmes throughout Germany which offer young international researchers excellent doctoral study conditions.
The DAAD’s topic of the year “A Changing Society – Change by Exchange” focuses largely on developing and emerging countries. Are there any funding programmes at the DAAD which are especially targeted at young researchers from these countries?
The DAAD offers a wide range of funding opportunities for students and academics from developing countries as well as programmes for the development of collaborative schemes, such as the “Welcome to Africa” programme with which we are posting German junior scientists and scholars. But we know that it is especially young researchers coming from emerging and developing countries who often have to surmount considerable obstacles in order to finally establish themselves in the scientific community. In addition to awarding individual scholarships, the DAAD has therefore created the Graduate School Scholarship Programme (GSSP), a new funding instrument especially designed to help young researchers from emerging and developing countries gain admission to structured PhD programmes in Germany which have a strong research emphasis. Through the GSSP, the DAAD can award selected PhD programmes with up to four scholarships for outstanding international doctoral candidates. For their part, the selected programmes have to clearly demonstrate how they wish to attract applicants from emerging and developing countries. With the GSSP, the DAAD hopes to benefit from this yet untapped potential for joint research projects, and thereby advance the internationalisation of doctoral study.
Professor Wintermantel, thank you very much for this interview.