02/2013 University funding


The future prosperity of Germany will depend significantly on the performance and competitive power of the country's academia. Keeping up this performance and competition is therefore a goal of the highest priority for our society.

German universities are state universities. They are the backbone of the tertiary education sector and of publicly funded research. Large research universities in particular compete with the best universities around the world. Yet the German constitution prohibits the federal government from providing sustainable core funding for the operation of these institutions.

I.              Current Situation

The pursuit of science and research in Germany is limited by unfavorable institutional structures and the restrictions imposed by the German constitution.

Inadequate core funding: At this time and in the foreseeable future, the German states are not able to provide adequate and sustainable funding for their research universities in order to keep them internationally competitive. The increase in core funding over the past 15 years was more than offset by the inflation. On the other hand, costs have increased disproportionately, due to higher expenses for energy and the supply of information (libraries, infrastructures), and because universities have assumed additional tasks in teaching, continued education, services and administration, among other cost factors.

Fortunately, the level of research funding available in Germany is currently at a record high. But a successful implementation of third-party funded projects, while maintaining the unity of research and teaching at research universities, is not possible without adequate and sustainable core funding. Currently, the indirect costs associated with third-party funded projects are not covered by overhead funding (20% provided by the DFG and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research respectively). The core funding for the universities only amounts to 50-60% of the total annual budget and continues to decrease in relation to rising income from third-party sources. The universities quickly run out of their basic funding sources, and it is therefore doubtful whether they will be able to maintain and improve their research and teaching performance at an internationally competitive level.

Limited special programmes: We recognize the states' efforts to support the universities in the fulfilment of their basic responsibilities by means of special programmes. However, we find that these funds are often provided at the expense of adequate core funding, and that such short-term, project-specific "secondary funding" schemes are frequently used in an attempt to control the university. This increases the universities' dependency on short-term project funding, including funding for teaching or scientific services, and is often accompanied by demands for supplementary funding from the university's own resources ("matching funds") or sustainable follow-up funding. The long-term benefit of such limited project funding or start-up funding is questionable, especially in light of the precarious nature of the universities' core funding. In addition, this approach increasingly endangers the universities' autonomy—the prerequisite of free, curiosity-driven research. Finally, due to the temporary nature of secondary funding, universities can only offer fixed-term employment contracts to new staff, which does not allow for sustainable personnel development or reliable career planning.

Inadequate planning security: We expressly acknowledge the efforts of the German states and the federal government within the framework of the Excellence Initiative, the Higher Education Pact 2020 and the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation, as well as the efforts of the European Union. However, the conditions for the continuation of the Excellence Initiative projects after 2017 are still unclear. In conjunction with the issues described above, this means that it has become virtually impossible for universities to plan their long-term research and teaching activities in a sustainable manner.

II.            The importance of large research universities

The German system of higher education has become increasingly diversified in the course of the past decades. Moreover, large, internationally renowned research universities in particular that, together with non-university institutions, assume more and more responsibilities at the European as well as at the national level. Interdisciplinary top-level research based on a wide variety of subjects and outstanding research-oriented teaching as a means of educating the next generation of scientists is not possible at the regional level. The leading German universities compete internationally for scientists, junior researchers and the best students, as well as for new ideas and research funding. Any value chain begins with new knowledge, ideas and discoveries. Only universities with sufficient core funding are able to make use of this potential, and only these universities are attractive to institutional partners within and outside their location. Without adequate core financing, they cannot make the best use of the available human and material capital.

However, ensuring the international competitiveness of top German research centers is not just the responsibility of the states. In a scientific landscape that is based on a division of labor, i.e. in which different types of educational or research institutions fulfil different functions, it is the large universities in particular that represent and pursue federal objectives in global scientific competition and that are expected to increase their international appeal in the interest of Germany as a whole, rather than for the individual states. As a result, these universities must also assume responsibilities in the areas of foreign policy and trade, and in particular responsibilities related to development policy. Such responsibilities strongly justify the demand for large research universities to be co-financed by the federal government.

Large research universities cooperate closely with non-university research institutions. Since the latter already benefit from joint funding through the federal government and their state in which they are located, it would be very much appropriate for the cooperating state institutions to receive reliable supplementary funding from the federal government as well. Without such funding, an equal partnership is hardly possible, especially when considering the significantly more varied range of responsibilities that the universities fulfil at their respective locations.

For these reasons, an end to the fragmentation of the German scientific landscape and a permanent allocation of federal funds for international competitive research universities is essential. This is not to suggest, however, that the states should discontinue their financial contributions: As "glocal" institutions, research universities of international renown must also fulfil important functions in the regional economy and in state politics. The states must, therefore, continue to provide their universities with as much financial support as possible.

The research universities of German U15 demand that the federal government and the states acknowledge the division of labor between different types of educational institutions and establish a corresponding funding scheme. This means providing large research universities with a level of funding that follows the example of international top universities. At the least we expect at least an objective investigation of a potential joint funding scheme including the federal government and the states, resulting in a corresponding amendment to the German constitution.

III.            Ensuring the competitive power of universities

We propose a prompt examination and implementation of the following measures in order to avoid adverse effects on the research universities.

Fast decision on follow-up funding and an increase in overhead funding to ensure planning security:Expenses for research infrastructure and research-oriented teaching have multiplied in the last two decades due to the general increase in costs (e.g. energy costs) and the required increase of investments in research equipment. The rise in costs has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase of core funding. The overhead research funding (20%) that has been provided by the DFG since 2007 will be discontinued with the expiration of the Higher Education Pact (2nd funding line) in 2015.

It is therefore essential that overhead funding be increased successively to cover the actual costs of infrastructure, i.e. to maintain and replace standard equipment. The ultimate aim must be to cover the full cost of research. To this end, and according to surveys of the DFG and the EU, overhead funding must be increased to at least 60-70% of the total budget. In coordination with the DFG, overhead funding by the German Ministry of Education and Research should be continued and adjusted as well. This applies equally to funding measures and contract research of other federal institutions.

Projects that demand a high degree of internationality in research and teaching, that support the exchange of students and teachers, thereby encouraging a greater degree of internationalization involve significant service and equipment costs. Such projects are a prime example of the services performed by the leading German universities for the country as a whole. That is why the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD must also – like the DFG and the Ministry of Education and Research – introduce a kind of overhead funding scheme that goes beyond the mere awarding of scholarships.

Elimination of tax disadvantages for German universities: As corporations under public law and as academic institutions funded through private foundations, German universities currently pay a value-added tax (e.g. in EU projects) that is not refunded. Non-university institutions in Germany that are permitted to deduct input tax do not pay this value-added tax. Other European universities are granted tax relief in their home countries or are also permitted to deduct input tax. These costs must be refunded to German universities in order to eliminate their competitive disadvantage on the national and international level.

Continuation and consolidation of development schemes for research-oriented teaching: The number of high school graduates in Germany has increased significantly due to the reduction of the compulsory schooling period from 13 to 12 years, which has resulted in twice as many graduating classes. This increase, along with the suspension of compulsory military service represents a special challenge for the universities. The additional costs generated by rise in the numbers of students are currently financed through special federal and state programmes. Only with great effort and through an internal prioritization of resources at the expense of other areas, can large research universities uphold the high quality of their research-oriented education. German U15 believe that, due to the new attitude towards higher education (increased inclination to study, higher participation in education and continued education), student population is unlikely to decrease in the long run.

Moreover, thousands of new jobs have been created at the universities in the course of their expansion. The career prospects of the new staff members, however, are uncertain. The development programmes must be consolidated beyond the year 2020 to ensure the livelihood of staff members and to give them planning security.

Research-intensive universities train the scientists and leaders of tomorrow. In order to create career opportunities for such candidates and improve their prospects, universities offering master’s degrees must increase the number of available spots in these programmes. In order to realize this, the federal government and the states must establish appropriate schemes.

Demographic change calls for increased internationalization: Large research universities are faced with increasing international competition. Within the framework of the Excellence Initiative, and by raising additional funds beyond the current core funding, German universities have succeeded in greatly increasing their level of internationalization. Only a few universities in Germany are able—thanks to their location, their research and teaching performance and their international orientation—to withstand global competition and attract significant numbers of outstanding international students and scholars which is of critical importance, in view of demographic developments.

The federal government and the states must therefore take appropriate steps to ensure that German universities can develop their activities abroad and advance their internationalization at home in a sustainable, persistent and successful manner. To our knowledge, there is not yet a long-term project of the federal government and states designed to realize the potential of German research universities abroad. German U15 proposes a closer cooperation with the responsible authorities based on their international experiences, for the development of a long-term strategy designed to strengthen the competitive position of German universities at home and abroad.

Investing in infrastructure: Many buildings that house teaching and research facilities constructed in the 1960s to 1980s are worn-out, energy-inefficient, and can no longer be renovated to meet the technical requirements of today's teaching and research standards. The allocation of funds by the federal government for the construction of college and university buildings ended in early 2014. The uncertainty regarding the research and teaching infrastructure jointly financed by the federal government and the states must end, particularly in light of the renovation backlog at universities and university hospitals. The government and the states must find ways to provide more funds—taking into account the inflation rate—than previously allotted up until the present, as well as flexible and innovative financing models for the construction of new research facilities and the improvement of existing buildings, in light of the renovation backlog at universities and university hospitals.

Ensuring a competitive and sustainable IT infrastructure in the face of rapidly increasing data volumes and computer performance requirements is a particularly costly challenge that affects all aspects of a university's operations. In order to secure and improve the international competitiveness of research and teaching at German universities, the government and states must provide the universities with the means they need to maintain their position as pioneers of research.

Excellence Initiative – maintaining the momentum: The German Excellence Initiative has successfully contributed to the advancement of top-level research and to an increased awareness of the division of responsibilities among the institutions engaged in research and teaching. The objective of improving the international ranking of leading German research universities cannot be achieved if successful funding instruments are not continued beyond 2017. Research, research-oriented teaching and strategic instruments that shape the universities’ profiles and improve their infrastructure and framework conditions are the foundation for internationally successful universities.

German U15 demands a prompt decision as to the ways in which successful projects of all three funding lines can be continued beyond the current funding period—and even more so for the sake of responsible personnel planning.


VI.          Conclusion:

  • Germany needs internationally competitive universities that offer outstanding research and research-oriented teaching. This is not possible without internationally competitive core funding.
  • It is high time that politicians and society recognize that the tertiary education sector in Germany is based on a division of responsibilities
  • Only improved and reliable core funding can ensure that top-level research at universities forms a long-term foundation for the social and economic value chain in the long terIn the national economic, as well as in broader terms, universities should not be considered mere expenses covered by the government and the states, but rather as investments in the future of our society.