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Education & Knowledge

Non-university research

Large organisations with international reputations help shape the face of German research. Their global connections are outstanding.
Außeruniversitäre Forschung
© Gorodenkoff/

Germany boasts around 1,000 publicly financed research facilities. Alongside higher education institutions, it is primarily four large, non-university research organisations that form the backbone of the research sector. 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. Around 15,000 researchers, 54 percent of them international scientists, work at the 86 Max Planck Institutes and research institutions, including outside of Germany. The Max Planck Institutes are involved in over 3,000 projects with more than 5,500 international partners in over 110 countries. Since it was established, the Max Planck Society has produced 18 Nobel laureates, and since 1979 it has supported around 4,500 inventions through to market launch, of which it registers about 60 annually for patents.

The Helmholtz Association conducts cutting-edge research in six fields: energy, earth, environment, health, key technologies and matter, as well as aeronautics, space and transport. The Helmholtz scientists concentrate on highly complex systems and projects. With around 42,000 staff members at the 19 independent Helmholtz centres, including the German Aerospace Center (DLR) which boasts more than 50 institutes, it is Germany’s biggest research organisation.

With 74 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 representatives in no less than ten European countries, two in each of North and South America and in six Asian countries, as well as in South Africa and Israel, it has a truly global research reach.

The Leibniz Association is the umbrella connecting 96 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 10,000 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, and North and Latin America, and promotes cooperation between researchers in Germany and fellow researchers abroad – particularly, but by no means only, in the European Research Area.