Gernot Erler at the FES conference “Research and academic relations policy – Germany as a junction in the global academic network”, 13 November 2008

13.11.2008 - Speech

Mit einer Außenwissenschaftsinitiative verstärkt das Auswärtige Amt 2009 die Zusammenarbeit deutscher und ausländischer Wissenschaftler. Staatsminister Gernot Erler stellte die Grundlinien der Initiative bei einer Konferenz der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung vor. Er betonte, die internationale Wissenschaftskooperation bringe auch einen konkreten Nutzen für die deutsche Außenpolitik und die Menschen in Deutschland.

-- Translation of advance text --

“Shaping policy through an international academic presence”

Ms Fuchs,

Dr Thomas,

Ms Bulmahn,

Bundestag colleagues,


Ladies and gentlemen,


Knowledge is not a luxury good. Knowledge sits at the core of human existence. And one of the State's most noble tasks is making it possible for its citizens to attain knowledge through education. This is also necessary because we cannot expect participation from our citizens if they lack education. A lively, democratic state needs well-educated citizens who can actively take part in their communities. In the end, democracy is more than just checking a box on a ballot every four years – it is nurtured by people who think independently and contribute to the debate, people who get involved.

At the same time, it is clear that participation cannot be limited to just a few. We need everyone's participation, especially in a democratic society. Receiving a good education cannot depend on what one's parents earn or on ethnic heritage.


We need to look beyond just the national scale. Education policy must also always respond to current challenges. And when we consider the major challenges of our time, the fights against climate change, poverty or international terrorism, they are tasks that demand resources beyond that of the national state alone. This is no pie in the sky, we see this every day. This is the reality of foreign policy!


So what does this mean for us?

For the Federal Foreign Office and for our Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier it means first of all that cultural relations and education policy is at the centre of our foreign policy considerations and actions.

In this context, Willy Brandt once said that culture and education were the “third pillar” of foreign policy. That is correct, but I believe you could even go a step further to say that good work in the field of culture and education is the foundation of successful foreign policy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

None of this should be taken for granted and when we now see how cultural policy is being hailed everywhere as a miracle cure, let me tell you that the Minister and the Federal Foreign Office are not just concerned with the short-term impact. They are concerned with making cultural relations and education policy a sustainable, central component of our political culture. This is not just a good social-democratic tradition that started with Willy Brandt – we have actively pushed this policy over the last 10 years. First, by creating the position of State Minister for Culture and for the last three years now also in cultural relations and education policy.

Thanks to the generous support of the German Bundestag, it has been possible over the last three years to introduce a complete update of cultural relations and education policy instruments. The core aim is to win over young people all over the world for our ideas, as ambassadors in the fields of business and politics, as door-openers, as mediators and networkers, in short: as our partners!

And the search for partners here is just like in real life: we have to compete for these young people and offer them good perspectives in the long term. I think we should do this by working to offer lasting educational partnerships.

We are currently promoting Germany worldwide through Goethe-Instituts, with language courses and film weeks, with exhibitions and concerts. We're saying, “This is Germany – it's worth it to get to know us better!” That's why a first step has been to put the Goethe-Institut on a new and very solid basis financially and strategically. And I am thoroughly proud of the fact that at Foreign Minister Steinmeier's initiative we were able to achieve a real turnaround here over two years ago. Things are looking up now and we are using this momentum to comprehensively address the other areas of cultural relations and education policy.

This year this affects schools above all. Here we can not only promote our cause, but also establish a broad foundation for long-term cooperation. I am convinced that we will be able to win over more young people for Germany in the long run through our partner schools than through any other measure.

We can all still remember our own school days – the friendships and shared experiences from these years often remain with you for the rest of your life!

That is why the Minister has done his utmost to make this area our focus in 2008. With our “Schools: Partners for the Future” initiative we aim to double the number of our partner schools worldwide from some 500 to 1,000. This was and is an ambitious goal. But by the end of September 2008 we had already succeeded in finding 311 new partner schools and will approach the 1,000 school mark by the end of the year.

In 2009, within the framework of a research and academic relations policy initiative we will work on significantly expanding our research and academic relations network.

Here allow me to make a preliminary remark: this “research and academic relations policy” or “academic foreign policy” that is now receiving increased attention, is actually something we have always done. Over the past 60 years we have brought nearly 700,000 foreign students, academics and researchers to Germany with the support of public funds.

In turn, we have sent nearly 800,000 young people from Germany out into the world. Germany ranks third after the US and Great Britain on the scale of the most popular countries for foreign students. 12 percent of all students studying abroad are enrolled at a German university.

What is new is the scale of today's global transfer of knowledge and also people. In 2007 around 2.7 million students were enrolled at universities outside of their home countries and by 2025 estimates predict that number will be 7.2 million globally. We need to start preparing for this today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In this respect, I would like to discuss three aspects that I find important:

1. We have to find a way to balance national interest and international partnerships.

Access to education and research is vital for the creation of knowledge. That's why the principle we promote at home also holds internationally: education and training must be generally accessible. Only by working to ensure that all countries participate in global knowledge production can we secure long-term growth and prosperity.

Here we have to accept that in the short term we are helping other countries compete against us. But competition is healthy for us, too. And in a globalized world, as we have recently experienced once again, national defensive actions are doomed to fail.

Therefore, we have to have an interest in helping weaker countries develop their own education and research capacities and integrating them into the global knowledge community. We want to offer these countries partnerships without robbing them of their most important resource by luring their brightest people abroad permanently in the war for talent.

So for us it's about “brain circulation” rather than “brain drain”. This approach alone gives countries the opportunity for self-supporting, sustainable growth.

There is a lot of talk about the “digital divide”. But we should also talk about the “scientific divide”. A large part of the world continues to be left out of international scientific cooperation. For this reason we need to export science to less developed countries to promote future competition and assist crisis prevention. This means we need to work to see that greater importance is attached to research topics in the natural sciences, medicine and technology which have priority for the development of these countries.

2. We have to deliberately combine our research interests with other political interests.

Our research and academic relations policy is based on the overarching goals of German foreign policy. This includes fighting poverty, as well as promoting security and stability, ensuring energy security and securing Germany as a top location for study and research.

We want to bring research, business, development and foreign policy closer together. This also means that we will have to coordinate the cooperation of all those involved – the Federal Government, the Länder, universities, research institutions and other intermediary organizations – more closely.

And finally, we want to strengthen our own innovation capacity. In 2008 we spent roughly a third of the Federal Foreign Office's cultural relations and education budget on international academic cooperation. With these resources we're not just educating the talent that is so urgently needed in the 21st century, through shared learning we are also promoting cultural tolerance.

3. We will only succeed in the competition for the best ideas and technologies if we create overall better conditions for scientists in Germany.

It's simple: without scientists there's no science. Of course we're happy that we have another German Nobel Laureate this year. We are also happy that within the framework of the Excellence Initiative, the universities' visions for the future are showing the first signs of success and young German scientists are returning to Germany.

But success will also depend on being able to convince foreign students and scientists to spend some time in Germany. We will only be able to do this if they and their families feel comfortable in Germany. And to achieve this we need not just financial, professional or technological aspects, but also and above all, a basic attitude of tolerance and openness. So if we want to attract young people from all over the world to Germany, we need better framework conditions here in Germany.

What does all of this mean in practice?

First, we need to undertake a structural improvement of our academic network. We want to increase Germany's visibility as a research location abroad and approach our foreign partners there with a stronger promotional and advisory presence. And we will only be able to do this by creating the necessary connections and contact points.

Next, we want to promote academic exchange through tailored study programmes and a better international network of academics and researchers. With further attractive scholarships we hope to bring more young people to Germany, win them over, and support them.

Beyond that, I believe it is important to actively support and foster new university partnerships. Our universities' international Excellence cooperation initiatives are especially important to me. The German University in Cairo, as well as the German-Kazakh University and the German-Vietnamese University, which just opened its doors to the first students in September, or the German-Turkish University for which Minister Steinmeier and Ms Schavan, Minister of Education and Research, recently signed the necessary agreement – these are all beacons of bilateral academic cooperation and we need to work together to expand these efforts.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In addition, we need a solid base for academic cooperation. That's why we want to create central contact points for the entire spectrum of our academic offers abroad and establish “German Houses of Science”. This will be complemented by significantly expanding the capacity of our missions abroad in the area of academic cooperation. In practice, this means more and better-qualified science officers.


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