Go back

German funders press for teaching innovation fund

The German government should urgently create an official funding pot for teaching research and innovation to boost the quality of higher education, according to the Stifterverband.

The association of German research sponsors said that Germany’s professors are keen to improve and innovate teaching and lecturing routines but lack the funds to do so. It said its own funding programme for teaching innovation is every-more heavily oversubscribed.

The Stifterverband offers 15 fellowships per year worth €50,000 each for professors who want to work on developing teaching concepts. Last year it received 180 applications, and this year the number has risen to 210. The fellowships are meant to give professors time off to develop and pilot teaching formats, exchange experiences with colleagues and develop a more systemic approach to teaching methods and content.

“We have simply been overwhelmed by the reaction to the programme”, said Volker Meyer-Guckel, the deputy general secretary of the Stifterverband. “For years we’ve been told that it’s impossible to define teaching innovation projects for higher education, and that there are no assessment criteria and no interested professors. But our programme has refuted every single one of those arguments.”

The call for better teaching in Germany universities grew louder with the establishment in 2005 of the country’s Exzellenzinitiative, which gives extra money to the best research universities. The initiative has so far spent several billion euros on academic research in Germany, but its critics say that it neglects teaching quality. Many of the winning universities, such as Cologne and Aachen, have come under fire from student unions for overflowing lecture theatres and outdated teaching equipment.

In response to the criticisms the German government introduced a €400 million funding pot for teaching in the next Exzellenzinitiative round, which will be paid out between 2015 and 2016. The fund received applications from 169 academic institutions, of which 102 will be funded.

Meyer-Guckel says spending initiatives like this need to be taken forward and institutionalised.

“In the future we desperately need a publicly-funded institution for the selection and funding of peer-reviewed projects for teaching innovation”, he said. “The increase in quality that universities would experience from this would be immeasurable.”