Ambitious Cutting-Edge Research

Never before has investment in research and development been as high as it is today
Never before has investment in research and development been as high as it is today Thomas Ernsting/laif
Germany consciously invests in research and science and has an excellent research infrastructure. The major research organisations enjoy a worldwide reputation.

Science and research are held in high esteem in Germany. Over the past few years, businesses and the government have continually increased their knowledge work budgets. In 2016 the proportion of the gross domestic product (GDP) spent on research was 2.93 percent. Internationally this put Germany in the top group of countries that invest more than 2.5 percent of their GDP in research and development (R&D). In 2016 in Germany a total of almost 92.2 billion euros was spent on R&D. Industry sources just short of 63 billion euros of spending on research, with higher education institutions contributing about 16.5 billion and the state around 12 billion euros.


The European Commission’s “European Innovation Scoreboard 2017” study places Germany, together with Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Great Britain in the top group of “innovation leaders” in the European Union (EU). The study emphasises that German industry’s high investments in R&D are exemplary for Europe. Between 2006 and 2016, industrial companies in Ger­many increased spending on R&D to about 50 percent. Since 2005, joint R&D spending by government, industry, and higher education institutions has risen by 65 percent, and the plan is to boost the ratio of R&D spending to GDP to 3.5 percent by 2025.

German academics’ results are highly presentable: In the Nature Index Global, which evaluates the publication output of research facilities and higher education institutions, published in 2018, Germany achieved top marks in Europe. At the international level it is in third place behind the USA and China.

Since 2006 Germany has developed a particular innovation tool in the form of its interdepartmental High-Tech Strategy. Since then, High-Tech Strategy research projects have prompted a raft of innovations – from energy-saving LED bulbs to a tissue-engin­eered heart valve. The High-Tech Strategy initially had the market potential of specific fields of technology in its sights, whereas since 2010 it has been focussing on society’s need for solutions that are fit for the future, and their realisation.

As a research and innovation strategy, the High-Tech Strategy focuses on the major challenges of digitisation, health, climate and energy, mobility, security, social innovations, and the future of work. Within the framework of the High-Tech Strategy, 15 cutting-edge clusters which receive special funding were selected in three competition rounds. In 2014 an evaluation revealed 
that the cutting-edge clusters had pro­duced 900 innovative products, 300 patents, 450 dissertation and habilitation theses, 1,000 Bachelor’s and Master’s theses, and 40 start-ups. Germany boasts around 1,000 publicly financed research facilities. Alongside higher education institutions, it is primarily four non-university research organisations that form the backbone of the research sector.

Excellent non-university research institutions

Founded in 1948, the Max Planck Society (MPG) is the most important centre for conducting basic research outside universities in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Over 14,000 researchers, 47 percent of them international scientists, work at the 84 Max Planck Institutes in Germany and research institutions, including six other institutes in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, the USA, and Brazil. Since it was established, the Max Planck Society has produced 18 Nobel laureates. Since 1970 it has supported over 4,000 inventions through to market launch, and registers about 75 annually for patents.

The Helmholtz Association conducts cutting-edge research in six fields: energy, earth and environment, health, aeronautics, space and transport, key technologies and matter. The Helmholtz scientists concentrate on highly complex systems and projects. With just under 40,000 staff members at the 18 independent Helmholtz centres, including the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which has 20 sites in Germany alone, it is Germany’s biggest research organisation.

With 72 institutes, the Fraunhofer-Gesell­schaft is considered to be the largest ap­plication-oriented development organisation in Europe. Its most important fields 
of research are, for example, health and the environment, mobility and transportation, and energy and raw materials. With subsidiaries, branches and representative offices in no less than ten European countries, two in each of North and South America, seven Asian, two African countries, as well as in Israel, it has a truly global research reach.

The Leibniz Association is the umbrella connecting 93 independent research institutions that range in focus from the natural sciences, engineering, and environmental sciences through economics, spatial, and social sciences to the humanities. A focus common to the 9,900 researchers is knowl­edge transfer to policy makers, industry, and the general public.

The German Research Foundation (DFG), Europe’s largest organisation of this kind, is responsible for funding science and research. Alongside its head office in Bonn, the DFG maintains offices in China, Japan, India, Russia, North and Latin America, and promotes cooperation between researchers in Ger­many and fellow researchers abroad.

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