Although companies carry out the largest share of research and development work in Germany, universities and publicly funded research organisations are also strongly involved in research. They are responsible for just under one third of the spending that Germany invests in research and development every year.
Universities and research organisations are especially strongly involved in basic research, have good international links and are also among the world’s most active applicants for patents when it comes to applied research.
What would make more sense than pooling these strengths? Supporting regional partnerships between industry and research is part of the programme of the Federal Government. This policy is intended to strengthen the reciprocal transfer of ideas, knowledge and technology between companies, universities, non-university research institutions and other societal actors.
Cooperation between industry and research
Which form this takes can vary quite considerably since industry and research cooperate in many areas. For example, there are numerous joint programmes and research projects involving companies as well as higher education institutions and research organisations.
Many different forms of cooperation are possible here:
- Contract research for industry carried out by universities and non-university research institutions
- Joint staffing and funding of research projects
- Industry-funded research groups
- Donations and sponsorship for specific R&D institutes
- Establishment of endowed professorships by companies
- Jointly funded research structures or institutes
- New collaborative models in networks, clusters or public-private partnerships/research campuses
A shining example: light as a tool of the future
These various forms of cooperation are being supported by a broad and specially tailored range of public funding models – for example, the funding initiative Research Campus – Public-Private Partnership for Innovation.
This programme benefits projects like Digital Photonic Production (DPP). RWTH Aachen University, two Fraunhofer institutes and over 20 industrial companies have pooled their resources in this “research campus”. Their goal: to research and develop light as a tool for the industrial production of the future. The interdisciplinary research team aims to find a way of both increasing the customisation of production and reducing manufacturing costs using digital photonic production.
Researchers from academia and industry work together here on a large number of research topics under one umbrella, the Industry Building DPP. For example, they are investigating the properties of powder materials and working on new kinds of measuring systems with high-precision sensors for the quality control of optical components.
For its innovative joint research, the campus is receiving public funding of up to 2 million euros a year over a period of 15 years.
Support for knowledge transfer
The Research Campus programme is by no means the only funding initiative that supports cooperation and knowledge transfer. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has established a broad range of funding programmes aimed at strengthening the links between academia, research, industry and society.
They include Clusterplattform Deutschland, a platform that aims to keep actors in and outside Germany informed of the latest programmes and calls for proposals of the Federal Government, the German states and the European Union.
Another initiative is the go-cluster programme, which offers needs-oriented services for actors not only in clusters themselves, but also in politics, science and industry. It also provides support in the realisation of projects involved in developing new cluster services and cluster concepts.
The German Research Foundation (DFG) also supports knowledge transfer between research and industry. In recent years, the DFG has financed over 400 transfer projects. The DFG hopes this will have a twofold effect: on the one hand, knowledge transfer is expected to contribute to increased innovation in industry and society, while at the same time collaborative projects between research and non-research partners can also give rise to new research questions and in turn deliver ideas for basic research.