A study released this week revealed which universities in Germany receive the most funding for research and brought a bit of competition into a system that has long been based on equality.
Forty top universities receive most of the third-party research funding
Munich's Ludwig Maximilians University and the Technical College in Aachen bring in the most third-party research funds in the country, the German Research Society (DFG) announced on Wednesday.
"Competition is the best means to more competence in the academic system -- when there's a winner and a loser. Then everyone will try to improve," said Arend Oetker, president of the Association for German Academics, the organization that financed the study.
To introduce a bit of competition, Germany is on the process of revamping its system of higher education to include internationally recognized bachelor and master degrees and a collection of so-called "elite universities." Traditionally, German higher education institutions have been governed by an unspoken code of equality, even if differences do exist in practice.
The DFG study, which covered the period 2002 to 2004, focused on funding at the nation's top 40 research universities. Third-party funding is money that comes not from the state or federal budgets for universities, but from government ministries, EU research programs, foundations, or the DFG itself.
The DFG is the country's largest distributor of public research funds. It administers about 1 billion euros ($1.27 billion) per year.
Few universities receive majority of funds
Universities -- not just their students -- want to make the grade
A total of 3.2 billion euros went to research at universities between 2002 and 2004, according to the study. Of that, the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich received 131 million euros and the Technical College in Aachen 126 million. The two institutions have been competing for the top spot since the study was first conducted in 1997.
There was a tie for third place, with the universities of Heidelberg and Würzburg each receiving 105 million euros.
"The 10 most successful universities received nearly a third of the funds, and the 40 best universities came away with 86 percent," said DFG President Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker. "Smaller universities or those that specialize in specific fields automatically don't fare well in this kind of overall comparison -- but that doesn't say anything about the research done there."
But it was a small university -- the Technical College in Karlsruhe -- that had the highest funding per instructor at 407,000 euros.
Funding varies by field
Size is not the only caveat to the study's results. They are also dependent on the particular fields emphasized at each university, as some areas are more cost intensive than others.
Over all, the majority of the funding went to medical research (2.6 billion euros), then to technical fields of engineering, materials science and technology (1.2 billion euros).
The majority of research funding goes to the medical field
Engineering professors received an average of 1.1 million euros each for research purposes because they often need expensive tools. Humanities professors, whose research funding mainly covers "think time," only came away with 107,000 euros each over the three-year period.
University profile building
The study is useful for more than just number crunching, said Jürgen Güdler, DFG's director of information management.
"The data gives us information about the status of top research in Germany, the structural aspects of research funding and which fields are emphasized by individual research institutions and regions," Güdler said. "Our study is also an innovative contribution to the discussion on university profile building."
On Oct. 13, Germany's "elite universities" will be announced as part of an effort to improve the reputation of higher education in the country. The winners will receive 35 million euros in funding annually until 2011.