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Research and academic relations policy – objectives

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The Federal Foreign Office’s research and academic relations policy promotes academic and scientific exchange between Germany and the world.

Connecting worlds of knowledge
“Connecting worlds of knowledge© AA

In a globalised knowledge-based society in which education and know-how are universally available and instantly accessible, international networking is essential if Germany is to remain a prime location for science and research. It is the prerequisite for increased knowledge and technological progress, as well as for growth and prosperity in Germany. International exchange is also an excellent way to seek joint solutions to global challenges, such as climate change, energy security and terrorism.


Research and academic relations policy has an important role to play, particularly in an age when new conflicts in Europe’s vicinity and beyond are altering the environment, because its aim is twofold: to advance our general foreign policy goals and to promote Germany as a prime research and business location. It is important for Germany, with its high-tech industries, to be integrated into global knowledge flows and value added chains. Successful international networking brings a direct competitive advantage. Scientific excellence feeds on exchange and on competition between the world’s best. Research and academic relations policy therefore takes measures to further consolidate Germany’s position as an internationally attractive location for study and research.

By training future elites in partner countries, education and research can make a contribution to crisis prevention and crisis management, as well as to transition efforts. Academic and scientific exchange has an impact not only across national borders: it also transcends cultural and political divides and is thus a key element of our cultural relations and education policy.

Germany has become an increasingly popular choice with foreign students over the past few years. In 2015, there were 321,569 foreign students enrolled at German universities, meaning that 11.9 percent of all students at German universities came from abroad. In 2015 the largest number of these foreign students came from China (30,000), followed by India and Russia ahead of Austria, France and Italy. In comparison with German students a relatively large number of foreign students opt to study engineering subjects.

The number of academics working in Germany is also on the rise. It is estimated that there were more than 85,000 foreign researchers working either temporarily or permanently at universities, non-university research institutions and companies in Germany in 2014, with the largest groups coming from China, Italy, Austria, Russia and the United States. There was a strong increase in numbers from Iran (+17 percent) and India (+11 percent) in comparison with the previous year. Compared with their German colleagues, a relatively large number of these foreign researchers come from the fields of mathematics, the sciences, engineering, medicine and health sciences. German universities have ties with all regions of the world. Some 280 German universities operate over 20,000 international cooperation arrangements with around 4100 partner institutions in 141 countries.

What does research and academic relations policy mean in practice?

Basically, the most important features of research and academic relations policy are these:

  • Transnational education projects

    Transnational education projects comprise everything from binational courses to centres of excellence and the establishment of comprehensive binational universities. German universities are involved in 261 transnational education project courses worldwide, with a total of 28,500 students. These courses are beacons of German academic cooperation in partner countries. One focus of the Federal Foreign Office’s activities is the further development of proven measures such as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Centres of Excellence for Research and Teaching and Centres of African Excellence. One outstanding example of a transnational education project is the German-Jordanian University, where the curriculum includes an obligatory year in Germany. Each of the 4000 or so students spends half of this required year studying at a German partner university, and the other six months doing an internship at a German company.


  • Strengthening Germany as a centre for research and innovation and raising its profile abroad

    In 2008/2009, the Federal Foreign Office and the Alliance of Scientific Organizations in Germany initiated the German Science and Innovation Houses with the aim of strengthening Germany as a location for research, science and innovation. The basis for the work of the German Science and Innovation Houses is the Strategy of the Federal Government for the Internationalisation of Science and Research (2008), the Research and Academic Relations Initiative (since 2009) and the “International Cooperation” Action Plan (2014). The Science and Innovation Houses in New York, Tokyo, São Paulo, New Delhi and Moscow are showcases of the German academic and scientific organisations. They promote Germany and they also help build up networks between the scientific research community and the business community and provide interested researchers with advice and support. These joint, cross-organisational showcases of German scientific and research organisations and of industrial research consolidate Germany’s role and network the crucial players better than any other German institution abroad could do.

    The key to research and academic relations policy is to systematically promote international networks among universities and the scientific and research communities in order to create an innovation-friendly environment. Developing structures and supporting scientists and researchers go hand in hand. In this context, Germany’s missions abroad are very important as portals for Germany. With their analyses and reports on developments in research and technology policy in the host country, and with their concrete support for bilateral cooperation arrangements, the help they give experts from Germany and German scientists abroad, and their work to nurture contacts with key actors in the host country, they lay a broad foundation for scientific and technological cooperation worldwide. This network of science and innovation officers, so important for research and academic relations policy, is to be extended to promote centres of innovation.


  • Network development in science and research

    The promotion of international networks of partners from universities, science and research is crucial for a successful research and academic relations policy. Around the world, alumni who have got to know, and grown fond of, Germany are helping to shape and spread our country’s reputation. This exchange of experience and knowledge forms the basis of scientific cooperation.

    Promoting educational biographies with a German connection is the key. The Federal Foreign Office continuously fosters these biographies by supporting everything from school and language education to work by candidates for Nobel Prizes. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s support for excellent scientists from all over the world plays an essential role in this regard. It enables outstanding scientists to realise a research project as one of over 27,000 Humboldt Foundation alumni around the world.

    The Leibniz science internships help to intensify the international science and research network. The programme, developed by the Federal Foreign Office and the Leibniz Association in 2012, enables senior members of staff of the Leibniz Association to intern at German missions abroad and thus to acquire intercultural competence which will subsequently benefit the national research establishments.

    Germany’s research and academic relations policy does not merely focus on expanding its international network, but also on traditional binational institutions. For instance, the Fulbright Commission is one of the most important partners in cultural relations and education policy between Germany and the United States. Ever since the German-American Fulbright Agreement was signed in 1952, the programme has been tremendously successful in promoting mutual understanding between the United States and Germany through academic and cultural exchanges involving highly-qualified students, teachers and scientists who show great commitment to intercultural understanding and strong social engagement.


  • Commitment to integration and crisis prevention

    The continuous development of tried-and-tested measures such as the German Academic Exchange Service’s scholarship and support programme (STIBET) for foreign students at German universities enables foreigners to be effectively integrated into the German education system and scientific and academic structures. The aim is to support them in their studies and work and thus to improve the success rate of academic and scientific cooperation. Moreover, by providing training and study support for present and future elites from countries in crisis regions, research and academic relations policy plays an important role in crisis prevention and in tackling the causes of refugee flows. For 25 years now, the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI), sponsored by the Federal Foreign Office in cooperation with UNHCR, has enabled refugees to study at university in a third state.

    In 2015, the Federal Foreign Office, together with the German Academic Exchange Service, established the “Leadership for Syria” scholarship programme, which will grant a total of 225 scholarships between 2015 and 2019 to enable qualified Syrian applicants from various disciplines to study at university in Germany. Protecting scientists who are in jeopardy is a particular priority. In collaboration with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Federal Foreign Office has launched the “Philipp Schwartz Initiative” (PSI) for persecuted scientists. This initiative makes it possible for German universities and research institutions to offer places to researchers who are affected by war and at risk of persecution in their own countries. In May 2016, 23 researchers were chosen to receive a two-year scholarship. They have now begun work. Another 46 scientists will receive a PSI grant from January 2017. Of these 69, 32 come from Syria and 27 from Turkey. There are three from Iraq and one each from Libya, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Sudan, Burundi and Tajikistan. A third lot of grants for around 25 scientists in danger from war and persecution will be advertised in 2017.

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