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Press Release No. 33 | 8 July 2021
Key Challenges in Focus

DFG annual press conference on the coronavirus pandemic, the upcoming legislative period of the Bundestag, and universities of applied sciences / Presentation of the 2020 Annual Report

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has provided funding of approximately €140 million for research projects in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic. Of this amount, about €93 million has been allocated as additional support for ongoing DFG projects across all disciplines that have been affected by the pandemic and the restrictions on public life. A total of approximately €45 million has gone towards funding more than 150 new projects dedicated to research into COVID-19 as well as other epidemics and pandemics.

These were the figures announced by DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker on Thursday, 8 July 2021, at the annual press conference of the largest research funding organisation and central self-governing body for science and the humanities in Germany. At the virtual press conference, Becker and Secretary General Dr. Heide Ahrens reported on the DFG Annual Meeting 2021, which was also held virtually from 5 to 7 July, and commented on current issues relating to research, research policy and the research system.

Impacts of the Pandemic: Financial Support, Proposal Figures, New Funding

“For more than a year, the pandemic and lockdown have had a considerable impact on the work of many funded projects and the researchers involved in them. For this reason, mitigating these immediate consequences and enabling continuation and successful completion of the research has been our goal from the outset. We have gratefully accepted the opportunities generously granted to us by our financial backers at the federal and state level and continue to do so,” said the DFG President, referring to the support package of up to €175 million that was approved by the DFG’s Joint Committee in the summer of 2020 and expanded in March of this year. Funds of approximately €52 million have been approved for more than 4,000 projects under general research funding. Further supplementary grants went to the Collaborative Research Centres, totalling about €32 million, and to the Research Training Groups with a figure of just under €9 million.

For the time being, the coronavirus pandemic has had no negative impact on proposals for new projects or the continuation of projects already receiving funding, as a recent DFG analysis indicates. From the beginning of March 2020 to the end of February 2021, for example, the number of proposals for individual grants funding increased by approximately 1,800 to almost 16,700. The increase in the number of proposals from female researchers was particularly marked: they submitted 18 percent more proposals than in the same period last year, while 11 percent more proposals were received from male researchers. The overall share of funding proposals received from female researchers also increased to more than 25 percent. Similar developments were also noted by French and Swiss partner organisations and the European Research Council (ERC). “Fortunately, these initial figures belie fears – sometimes discussed in the public arena – that female researchers in particular are currently discouraged from pursuing research as a result of increased care commitments. We now have to take a look at these and other developments from a long-term perspective and on a differentiated basis,” said the DFG President at the press conference.

Becker gave a very positive assessment of the interdisciplinary call for proposals published in June 2020 as well as the seven calls for proposals under the new Focus Funding instrument for research into the coronavirus and other epidemics and pandemics that began in August. “The level of interest in our calls has been tremendous, with a total of almost 700 proposals for either deliberately broad-based or very focused research.” As a result, 151 new research projects are now receiving funding – 51 under the interdisciplinary call and 100 to date under the Focus Funding instrument. As the DFG President concluded: “This response and the quality of the new projects impressively underscore the fact that knowledge-driven research not only creates a reservoir of knowledge, it also ensures innovation in addressing global challenges.”

Stimuli for the Upcoming Legislative Period

In order for research to continue to successfully fulfil this crucial role in the future, the DFG believes that a far-sighted research policy is needed that allows freedom for science-driven decisions and supports flexible action. With a view to the federal elections in September and the upcoming legislative period, the organisation published an impulse paper in May in which it set out key fields of action and recommendations.

The 13 points contained in the paper cover a diverse spectrum, including the Excellence Strategy to further strengthen top-level research at German universities, the programme allowance, and the far-reaching change processes currently underway in science and the humanities as a result of the digital turn, as well as university medicine and translational research, and also new breeding techniques in agriculture. Another focus area is international academic cooperation and academic freedom at the global level.

“In all these areas, we need to set the political agenda as early as possible in the upcoming legislative period,” said the DFG President at the annual press conference. “The short-term strength of science and the humanities depends on the long-term stability of its foundations. This is why the consistent, ongoing strengthening of knowledge-driven research is so vital. It also has to be appropriately funded and promoted in spite of new debt and the decrease in tax revenues in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.”

In this connection, Becker said she regarded as “highly encouraging” the address given by German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the ceremony integrated in the DFG’s annual meeting at which the DFG and the Stifterverband jointly celebrated the 100th anniversary of the foundation of their predecessor organisations, thereby marking 100 years of free and independent research and research funding in Germany. In his video message, the Federal President stressed the need for adequate funding for research without pandemic-related cuts.

Universities of Applied Sciences

Another topic addressed at the DFG annual meeting was the research potential and funding needs of universities of applied sciences (UAS): this is currently the subject of intense debate with a view to more permeable boundaries between basic research and applied research, as well as issues relating to the transfer of research findings and innovations in the area of research policy and the research system.

As President Katja Becker emphasised at the annual press conference, the DFG sees further integration of the UAS in the organisation’s funding activities as an opportunity to tap into the research potential that has recently been created or is in the process of being created at these institutions for all actors in the research system. “The DFG promotes high-quality, knowledge-driven research – and that also applies to application-oriented fields. “In this regard, our funding programmes have always been directed at UAS as well,” said Becker, adding that UAS are already represented in numerous areas of DFG funding. However, they have so far submitted only a small number of funding proposals and their success rate is not equal to that of the universities.

In order to improve UAS’ access to funding opportunities, the DFG has developed a package of measures in recent months as the result of an intense consultation process involving UAS, universities and both federal and state governments. First measures have already been implemented, while others have now been discussed and decided on at the annual meeting. Among other things, these seek to give greater recognition to individual career paths, improve the provision of major instrumentation and research infrastructure, and promote the internationalisation of UAS.

“Our measures are deliberately aimed at further opening up our funding instruments to UAS. However, the demand within research itself continues to be the key factor here,” the DFG President emphasised in summary, while also stressing the importance of the independence and knowledge-driven nature of research funding. It is also not the DFG’s task to address UAS’ structural problems, such as the lack of academic mid-level staff or the high teaching load, said the President, and universities and UAS should not be played off against each other when it comes to issues of funding allocation.

2020 DFG Annual Report

The 2020 DFG Annual Report was also presented at the annual press conference. Consisting of approximately 340 pages, it provides information on the most important facts, figures and priorities of the DFG’s funding activities as well as its involvement in issues relating to the research system and research policy. The report also presents selected research projects, the focus this year being on the subject of sustainability.

As Secretary General Heide Ahrens explained, a total of 31,148 projects were funded by the DFG in 2020, with funding amounting to €3.31 billion. As in previous years, more than half of all funded projects – 17,375 projects, or 56 percent – received individual grants funding; a total of about €1.2 billion was approved for these. In the Research Training Groups, Collaborative Research Centres and other coordinated programmes, 844 consortia with about 11,906 projects received total funding of approximately €1.44 billion.

Broken down according to the major research disciplines, the life sciences received the most funding with about €1.2 billion (36.8 percent of the total amount approved), followed by the natural sciences with about €758 million (22.9 percent), the engineering sciences with about €665 million (20.1 percent) and the humanities and social sciences with about €526 million (15.9 percent); projects not assigned to a specific discipline received funding of approximately €143 million (4.3 percent).

Further Information

Media contact:

This and all other press releases relating to the 2021 annual meeting are also available at:

Accompanying information on the annual meeting can also be found on the DFG website at www.dfg.de and via Twitter at

Detailed, continuously updated information on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the DFG’s funding activities and on the measures taken by the DFG is available at:

For a compilation of newly funded projects involving research on COVID-19 and other epidemics and pandemics, see:

The DFG Infobrief “Corona, Gender and Research Funding” (currently available in German only) can be found at:

The DFG impulse paper “Erkenntnisgeleitete Forschung stärken, von Wissensspeichern profitieren“ (Strengthen Knowledge-Driven Research, Benefit from Knowledge Reservoirs) is available at:

The 2020 DFG Annual Report is available on request from