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Science council urges higher education funding re-think

It is a good time to reassess the development of Germany’s higher education and research funding system, according to the Wissenschaftsrat, the German government’s science council.

With the higher education pact for university development and the Exzellenzinitiative for research funding excellence ending in 2015 and 2017 respectively, it was important to develop better and more sustainable higher education financing plans, the Wissenschaftsrat said.

In its annual report on the state of German science, published on 11 July, the Wissenschaftsrat urged Länder and the federal government to work with universities on future financing systems.

The report found that third party income was responsible for most of the recent funding increases achieved by universities and research institutes. The Wissenschaftsrat warned that basic funding from the state and Länder governments increased only 6 per cent between 1995 and 2008.

“For universities it is becoming more difficult to live up to their core business—the production of scientific talent,” said Wolfgang Marquardt, the head of the Wissenschaftsrat and author of the report. “This problem cannot be solved with third party income, because this has to be spent on targeted research projects.”

Marquardt admitted that the Wissenschaftsrat had previously recommended that universities should make an effort to get more third party income from industry and private funders. However, now would be a good time for the Länder and the government to help universities divert from this path and improve teaching and academic careers to guarantee the long-term excellence of the system, the report said.

The report noted that Schleswig-Holstein’s medical universities in Kiel and Lübeck had reached the status of internationally visible scientific institutes. It praised the universities for their strong developments in neuroscience and infection research.

The Wissenschaftsrat also said that it was unable to re-accredit one university during the annual round of teaching quality assessment at higher education institutes. The university was not named, pending further investigations.