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Press Release No. 24 | 24 May 2012
DFG Presents "Funding Atlas 2012": Competition for Third-Party Funding an "Everyday Reality"

Growing Numbers of Universities and Research Institutions Competing for Grants from Ministries and Organisations / Comprehensive Collection of Analyses and Statistics Published Under New Title

Over the last decade, grants have come to play an increasingly important role in the funding of research projects within the German science system. Competition for third-party funding from government ministries and funding organisations is quickly becoming a dominant factor within the science and research system, and already involves a large proportion of universities and non-university research institutions as well as individual researchers. This development is documented in the new "Funding Atlas 2012", presented in Berlin on Thursday, 24 May 2012 by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) together with the German Rectors' Conference (HRK) and the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany (Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft).

Published by Germany's central research funding organisation, the "DFG Funding Atlas" builds on a series of five studies published since 1997 under the title "DFG Funding Ranking". Featuring numerous tables, images and maps, the new Funding Atlas provides a broader and more detailed overview of the public funding of research in Germany and the resulting research profiles and areas of focus.

The Funding Atlas analyses a range of key indicators from the statistics of the DFG and numerous other national and international research funding organisations, revealing both the fierce competition for third-party funding and its growing importance. According to the report, between 1998 and 2010 German universities enjoyed only a moderate increase in annual basic funding, which rose from 12.6 to 15.5 billion euros – an overall increase of 23 percent. Within the same period, the total amount of third-party funding sourced by universities rose by over 100 percent, from 2.5 to 5.3 billion euros. This shift has seen the "third-party funding ratio", i.e. the proportion of third-party funding to overall funding provided to universities and associated research, climb from 16 to 26 percent in just over a decade.

The bulk of the over five billion euros in third-party funding in Germany currently comes from just three sources: the DFG with its numerous funding programmes, ranging from individual grants to large research cooperations including Collaborative Research Centres and Research Units, through to Clusters of Excellence established within the framework of the Excellence Initiative; the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and other federal ministries which provide funding to research; and the European Union through its Framework Programmes and European Research Council (ERC), which was launched in 2007. More than 60 percent of all grants received by universities, research institutions and researchers in Germany are provided by these three organisations – with the DFG alone providing 35 percent of all grants. The DFG remains Germany's largest and most important provider of third-party funding. The overall share of third-party funding provided by the DFG has not altered significantly since the late 1990s, however, as strong growth in third-party funding across the German research landscape has kept pace with the frequent increases in the DFG's budget and the establishment of special programmes.

Competition for third-party funding now extends to an ever increasing number of universities and non-university research institutions. Between 1991 and 1995 – the reporting period considered in the first DFG Funding Ranking – a total of 89 universities secured grants from the DFG, while 186 universities secured grants from the DFG during the period considered in the new Funding Atlas (2008 to 2010), more than doubling the number of recipients in less than 20 years. These recipients are joined by the 433 non-university research institutions at which DFG grants currently support research.

This trend is also reflected in the growing competition between individual researchers: two in every three professors submitted at least one funding proposal to the DFG between 2006 and 2010. Competition is particularly fierce in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics and the geosciences – in each of these disciplines more than 90 percent of all professors applied for DFG funding. By comparison, in the humanities and social sciences 45 percent of all professors applied for funding. More and more researchers are now also involved as reviewers in the distribution of third-party funding. At German universities, approximately every second professor participated in the review of at least one funding proposal submitted to the DFG between 2006 and 2010.

"The competition for third-party funding has grown significantly in a matter of just a few years," commented DFG President Professor Matthias Kleiner at the presentation of the Funding Atlas. This development, explained Kleiner, can be viewed from a range of perspectives: "Competition has long ceased to be the exception and is no longer confined to a small number of researchers and institutions. Instead, it has become an everyday reality for large segments of the science system. One could also say that it is not merely a reality, but pure necessity. The number of individuals and institutions competing for funding is growing constantly. Of course, one could also say that competition is impacting on a constantly growing number of individuals and institutions."

Competition, the DFG President continued, is one of the driving forces of science. Within the scientific community "there is vocal concern at the prospect of escalating competition". As the self-governing organisation for science and research in Germany, the DFG has the responsibility to heed such concerns and communicate them within political circles, said Kleiner, who called for an increase in the basic funding provided to universities in order to relieve competitive pressure.

In addition to these aspects, the DFG Funding Atlas also highlights the successes of universities in this competitive environment: as in the results of the last DFG Funding Ranking, Aachen University of Technology took the pole position among the universities which attracted the most funding, receiving 278 million euros from the DFG alone between 2008 and 2010. Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich placed second once again, attracting 264 million euros. The Free University of Berlin received 251 million euros in grants, moving from fifth to third place, followed by the Technical University of Munich, the universities of Heidelberg and Freiburg, and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Compared to the 2009 Funding Ranking, Berlin's Humboldt University climbed two ranks to place eighth in the current study. The universities of Göttingen and Erlangen-Nuremberg complete this list of the ten leading funding recipients.

Together, the 20 top funding recipients among Germany's universities received over 60 percent of all third-party funding allocated by the DFG between 2008 and 2010, matching the results of the 2005 to 2007 reporting period. Similarly, the ranking of these universities reflects in large measure their performance in the Funding Ranking 2009. Significant improvements in the performance of individual universities tend to be long-term events, as a close examination of the Funding Atlas together with earlier editions of the Funding Ranking – spanning a period of over twenty years – will reveal. Dresden University of Technology and the University of Bremen are both good examples of such gradual and sustained improvement.

Almost all of the institutions in this top bracket benefited from grants through the Excellence Initiative by the German Federal Government and the States, which was launched in 2006/2007 and will enter its second phase following the latest funding decisions in mid-June. While the Funding Atlas does not provide an adequate basis for empirically sound analyses of the long-term effects of the Excellence Initiative on the balance of power within the German science system – the Initiative does appear to have enabled those universities which had previously developed strong research profiles and successfully attracted third-party funding to increase their overall share of DFG funding slightly.

Whether and precisely how universities use third-party funding to enhance their research profiles is the subject of in-depth analysis in the DFG Funding Atlas. An analysis of the distribution of grants across scientific disciplines provides some insight here. In the humanities and social sciences, the Free University of Berlin and Humboldt University of Berlin led the field, followed by the University of Münster. In the area of life sciences, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the universities of Freiburg and Heidelberg received the most funding from the DFG. The University of Bonn, the Technical University of Munich and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich led the field in the natural sciences (including mathematics), while Aachen University of Technology, TU Darmstadt and KIT were the leading recipients in the engineering sciences.

The study shows that, across all scientific disciplines, universities not among the top forty recipients also used third-party funding to enhance their research profiles. In the humanities and social sciences this group includes higher education institutions in Mannheim, Trier, Bayreuth and Siegen; in the life sciences, Lübeck, Magdeburg and Hohenheim. In the natural sciences, universities in Kaiserslautern, Augsburg and Halle-Wittenberg competed for funding with success; in the engineering sciences, Freiberg, Chemnitz, Clausthal-Zellerfeld and Hamburg-Harburg.

The universities’ success in attracting third-party funding is also affected by their specific research profiles: more than 70 percent of third-party funding awarded to Aachen University of Technology, for example, was directed towards research in the engineering sciences. Elsewhere, more than 50 percent of all third-party funding awarded to the University of Constance was directed to the humanities and social sciences; while over 45 percent of third-party funding awarded to Berlin Institute of Technology was directed towards research in the natural sciences. The Technical University of Munich has established a particularly independent research profile, focussing in equal parts on the life, natural and engineering sciences.

Analyses of Germany's regional research landscapes show that Berlin improved its lead significantly in the period between 2008 and 2010, receiving grants from the DFG totalling 631 million euros. Berlin is followed by the wider Munich region, which received 586 million euros in grants. These two regions placed equally in the last Funding Ranking report (2005 to 2007). Their strong performance stems from the presence of non-university research institutions and the development of strong networks between universities and these research institutions. Other well-performing research landscapes include the Aachen-Bonn-Cologne, Hannover-Braunschweig-Göttingen, and the Rhein-Neckar and Rhein-Main regions.

Alongside these central competitive indicators, the Funding Atlas also documents the contribution of structural measures to the successful development of research profiles. The report's analyses of key indicators by gender underscore the efforts of a large number of universities to set new accents through the active pursuit of equal opportunities policies. In Berlin, for example, the proportion of female professors and researchers employed at all three universities is well above the national average for universities with comparable research profiles.

With its in-depth analyses, numerous graphs and infographics, the DFG Funding Atlas will provide politicians, journalists and interested members of the public with a comprehensive reference work and an overview of the key statistics relating to research and its public funding. The Funding Atlas is also a valuable service instrument for the science community and its various institutions, as the DFG's Secretary General, Dorothee Dzwonnek, noted in Berlin: "More intense competition has also led to the involvement of a growing number of university administrations. Managements at universities and non-university research institutions are becoming increasingly professional and now consult frequently with the DFG on matters relating to planning and strategic development," explained Dzwonnek.

The DFG has met this "growing demand for consultation and service" with the publication of its Funding Atlas. As Dzwonnek emphasised, all of the statistics and data utilized in the Funding Atlas were collated by the funding organisations and not by the universities, research institutions and researchers benefiting from their grants. "Accordingly, the publication of the Funding Atlas will benefit the scientific community and its administrative bodies by allowing them to focus their resources on competition and profile development," stated the DFG Secretary General.

Further Information

Media representatives please contact:

Contact at the DFG's Head Office:

The complete Funding Atlas 2012 is available online together with other information resources:

The print version of this report was published under the title:

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft:
    Förderatlas 2012 – Kennzahlen zur öffentlich finanzierten Forschung in Deutschland
    Wiley-VCH Verlag,
    Weinheim 2012,
    300 pages,
    ISBN: 978-3-527-33378-3

Review copies for editorial offices are available free of charge from the DFG’s Press and Public Relations Office:

  • Kennedyallee 40,
    53175 Bonn