The Federal Government places a clear emphasis on higher education, research and high technology through numerous strategies and initiatives, such as the Excellence Initiative (2005–2017), as well as its successor, the Excellence Strategy, the Internationalisation Strategy and the new High-Tech Strategy. Approx. 30 per cent of spending on research and development in Germany is provided by federal and state governments. Government is thus the main sponsor of research in Germany alongside industry.
Federal and state government financial support for research essentially consists of:
- Institutional funding: In the case of institutional funding, the government directly finances over 1,000 non-university research institutes and 240 public higher education institutions as well as the DFG research funding organisation. Over one third of all government funding is spent on this kind of financial support (9.3 billion euros in 2018).
- Project funding: Direct project funding is allocated to concrete areas of research and is implemented through programmes. This funding does not only benefit higher education institutions and research facilities, but also companies. However, unlike direct institutional funding, project funding is short- to medium-term in nature. Indirect project funding primarily supports the research work of smaller and medium-sized research institutes and enterprises.
- Departmental research: Ministries play a special role in the funding of science and research. They channel the federal share of funds and define their own key areas through specific programmes and approx. 40 federal institutions with R&D responsibilities. German states and municipalities also act as research funding bodies and operate more than 140 Länder research institutions that support state research activities. These institutes cover a broad range of research areas. In addition to the research carried out by federal and state research institutions themselves, research contracts are also awarded to third parties.
Constructive cooperation between the Federal Government and the states
When it comes to projects of national significance, the Federal Government and the states have defined rules that enable cooperation and influence within the German research area. This applies for example to the funding of large German non-university research organisations: the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the institutes of the Leibniz Association and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Additionally, both the Federal Government and the states support academies of science and humanities as well as the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), which was founded jointly as Germany’s main research funding organisation.
Higher education funding
Fundamentally, Germany’s approx. 240 public higher education institutions are funded by the Länder, whose autonomy in cultural and educational matters is anchored in the Basic Law. However, the Federal Government and the states also cooperate when it comes to support for science, research and teaching. Projects of supraregional importance, such as the Excellence Strategy and the Higher Education Pact, are funded jointly.
Additional research funding
In addition, the Federal Government finances large-scale scientific research projects (for example, in the fields of aviation, space, marine or nuclear research). Researchers from German universities participate in research projects involving internationally leading large research infrastructures, such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland or the new European XFEL X-ray laser facility near Hamburg.