German Scientists Grapple with Spending Freeze | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.01.2003
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German Scientists Grapple with Spending Freeze

The government's freeze on subsidies for Germany's leading scientific institutes may lead to a major setback to the organizations' international competitiveness and the future of German research.


German research institutes are looking for ways to deal with the current financial squeeze

In December, the president of the renowned Max Planck Institute announced at least 20 departments in the research organization would have to be closed due to budgetary constraints in cash-strapped Germany. But the institute, internationally respected in the world of science, is not the only German research center facing major financial difficulties in the coming year.

According to Planck's president, Peter Gruss, if the government sticks to its currently planned budget freeze for science organizations, it may have to shut down whole branches altogether.

In 2002, as part of the government's plans to plug Germany's increasing budget gaps, Education and Research Minister Edelgard Buhlmahn announced a spending freeze for Germany's leading science organizations, despite a common stance across the party landscape that more effort was needed to promote German research.

Among those organizations hardest hit by the freeze are the Max Planck Institute, the Frauenhofer Society and the German Research Society. All these institutes have dedicated themselves to support Germany's scientific offspring, and are well-known abroad due to their excellent work and international orientation.

Never enough

For years, Germany's leading scientific institutes have been grappling with state subsidies which, despite increasing slowly, have never reached the level needed by top research organizations in order to compete internationally.

The government's recently adopted plans to freeze further state support means 28 million fewer euros ($29.2 million) this year for the Max Planck Institute than it had expected. In order to play an active role on the international stage of science, 50 million more euros are needed for 2003, the institute argues.

"The planned budget freeze in 2003 is a catastrophe for the Max Planck Society," the organization's president says.

The main problem which science organizations are now faced with is having to decide where and how to cut costs, as most of the money goes to ongoing projects and, therefore, is very often spent before the projects are completed.

Max Planck will now have to rethink its strategies for the coming year. Among those topics up for debate will be new research projects including a planned further institute for IT research and one for gerontology. The latter was planned for research on work on imminent developments linked to Germany's ageing society, covering fields such as the future of medical research in an ageing society, but also issues relating to social security and pension systems.

Growing divide between U.S., German research

The government's spending freeze has hit the organizations at a time in which competition between research institutes, and in particular the fight for the best researchers, is increasing fast.

"The international competition for the best scientists makes each appointment more expensive and demands more, and better, equipment," says Barbara Bludau, general secretary of the Max Planck Institute.

Even as state support in Germany diminishes, research organizations in the U.S. are gaining in influence, not least due to increasing financial support from the U.S. government.

With rising costs and sinking revenues, the competitiveness of Germany's leading scientific institutions could be permanently damaged. For Max Planck's Peter Gruss, the U.S. is a good example of the central role scientific research can play in the economy.

In the U.S., three-quarters of all publications quoted in patents are the result of work by scientists whose work is at least partially financed by the government.

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