Press Release No. 34 | July 16, 2010

DFG Aims to Strengthen Knowledge Transfer

Closer Integration of Basic and Applied Research / Further Topics from Annual Press Conference: Equality, Flexible Use of Funding, Excellence Initiative

Closer Integration of Basic and Applied Research / Further Topics from Annual Press Conference: Equality, Flexible Use of Funding, Excellence Initiative

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) aims to strengthen knowledge transfer and thus to achieve closer dialogue between basic and applied research. This was announced by DFG President Professor Matthias Kleiner on Thursday, 8 July 2010 at the annual press conference held by Germany’s central research funding organisation in Berlin. “Basic research will continue to form the focus of our activities. We do, however, want to do more to ensure that the discoveries and knowledge resulting from projects funded by us become even more effective”, emphasised Kleiner, whose speech to the DFG’s plenary assembly at the Humboldt University the previous day had focused on the issue of knowledge transfer.

Improved knowledge transfer could bring dual benefits, said the DFG president: “On the one hand, it can lead to increased economic and social innovation and ensure that science generates economic strength. Primarily, though, it benefits science. It’s a give-and-take kind of interaction. Knowledge transfer can raise new scientific issues, and these can, in turn, lead to further and better basic research.”

As Kleiner pointed out, the DFG has been supporting knowledge transfer in individual projects and various programmes for 15 years. Until now, however, it has often been limited to the engineering sciences. “There is, however, great potential for knowledge transfer in all areas of science and the humanities”, the DFG President emphasised. He cited the example of the “Multilingualism” Collaborative Research Centre at the University of Hamburg, the results of which are being utilised in foreign language teaching in schools and in continuing education for bilingual hospital workers. In medicine, too, the intensive exchange of information between basic research and clinical practice could be mutually beneficial. From the DFG’s perspective, one project involving research carried out by Leibniz prizewinner Professor Christoph Klein on cancer in children, and the Collaborative Research Centre in Hanover which focuses on cochlear implants for the deaf are excellent examples of how this works. Both projects were initially basic research projects, the results of which found their way into clinical practice and industrial production. From there, they provided additional impetus for further research.

Further topics addressed at the DFG’s annual press conference included gender equality in research, additional benefits for the universities in the form of even more flexible use of DFG funds, and the launch of the second phase of the Excellence Initiative by the German federal and state governments. Two years after the publication of the DFG’s Research-Oriented Standards on Gender Equality, Kleiner reported positively on the efforts made thus far to improve opportunities for female researchers. “Our standards have given strong impetus to all universities, with promising measures being implemented everywhere”, said the DFG President, referring to the detailed initial reports from the DFG members on the implementation of the standards. Twelve universities are, in the opinion of the DFG, particularly commendable: These are the Aachen University of Technology, the Free University of Berlin and the Humboldt University of Berlin, as well as the universities of Bielefeld, Bremen, Duisburg-Essen, Freiburg, Göttingen, Hamburg, Paderborn, Tübingen and Würzburg. They stand out because they have allocated funding specifically for implementing measures to improve gender equality, or because they have a member on their executive team in charge of this implementation.

In 2009, a good 2.7 billion euros, including funding awarded for multiple years, was allocated to more than 17,000 research projects. Universities and other research facilities receiving funding are to be given greater freedom and flexibility in allocating DFG funds from now on. As Kleiner explained, these institutions should be able to decide for themselves where their needs lie and whether funds are to be used for personnel, direct project costs or equipment. For the future, the DFG will allocate fixed sums of money instead of funding fixed positions,. “This means that full coverage can be achieved among personnel funds, direct project funds and investment funds, a big step forward”, said the DFG President. At the same time, however, he emphasised that this must not lead to reviewer recommendations being bypassed or DFG-financed researchers receiving lower salaries. “Our funding process is becoming even simpler and less bureaucratic”, Kleiner concluded. “We’re giving the universities more freedom – without simultaneously reducing their funding, as is so often the case.”

With an eye to the current situation in research and higher education politics, Kleiner once again thanked the German federal and state governments for continuing to provide full support for the Excellence Initiative, the Pact for Research and Innovation and the Higher Education Pact, despite the financial crisis. With these pacts, around 18 billion euros in funding will make its way into research and education by 2018, five billion alone of which will be channelled into basic research via the DFG. “This sends a strong signal and gives both us and science and the humanities decidedly positive prospects.” The same, concluded Kleiner, applies to the second phase of the Excellence Initiative, which has been running since March and within the framework of which universities have submitted 247 declarations of intent for new projects. “This demonstrates that there is still a strong level of interest in the competition to strengthen top-level research. There is certainly no sign of a decline in the number of proposals, as some people seem to think”, Kleiner emphasised. He further stated that, compared to the first phase of the Excellence Initiative, the number of declarations of intent remains in proportion to the additional available funding volume. Kleiner said that the DFG has also advised the universities to apply the highest standards when making their internal project selections with the aim of submitting fewer but higher-quality applications. “This message has obviously been received.” The next step is for the universities to submit draft proposals for new projects by 1 September in order to meet this year’s review deadline. In spring 2011, the decision will be taken as to which projects will advance to compete with the 85 Excellence Institutions already receiving funding. The final decision on new Excellence Projects will be made in July 2012. “This will be a tough and exciting competition”, said the DFG President with conviction.