New Year’s Reception for the Science Counsellors of the Foreign Embassies

Speech by Dr. Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research Berlin

Dr. Georg Schütte, Staatssekretär im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
Georg Schütte, Staatssekretär im Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF). © Bundesregierung / Steffen Kugler

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Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Esteemed Colleagues,

Welcome to our New Year’s Reception, which has already established itself as a valued tradition. A particularly warm welcome goes to those of you who are here for the first time. May I begin by conveying to you the very best wishes of our Minister Professor Dr Johanna Wanka for the year 2016.

2016 is a new year which will surely be at least as eventful as 2015 – not just in general but also as far as education and research are concerned. We have achieved a great deal together, but we are also faced by new challenges.

This is why I would like to begin this new year together with you with the symbol of a four-leaf clover, which many of you know as a sign of good luck. In my speech today, the four leaves of the clover stand for the following areas:

  • firstly, a brief introduction to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and our investment in research and development;
  • secondly, an overview of current developments in science policy;
  • thirdly, important developments in research policy, and
  • fourthly, an overview of our international activities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have already welcomed you on behalf of Federal Minister Professor Dr Johanna Wanka. I would also like to briefly introduce you to some of the key members of our Ministry.

We also have several colleagues of the Ministry’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation present.
You are invited to talk with them afterwards. These are some of the men and women with whom we will once again be successfully shaping international cooperation in education, science and research in 2016.

What makes me confident for the new year and beyond is the very positive budgetary outlook. Around 16.4 billion euros will be made available for education and research in 2016. The budget of the BMBF will increase once again – by approximately 1.1 billion euros compared to 2015. This means an increase of over 7%. Germany has never before spent this much money on education and research.

Public expenditure on education also reached a new high last year of almost 124 billion (123.7 bn) euros. Since the Federal Government and the Länder agreed to jointly spend 10% of GDP on education and research in 2008, funding by the Federal Government, the Länder and local government has risen by a third. The Federal Government in particular has increased its commitment to education over the past five years. Expenditure on education by the Federal Government is rising according to the budget estimates for 2015 to 9.1 billion euros and is thus at least 80 per cent above the figure for 2008 (5.1 billion euros). The Government raised its education spending by around ten per cent in 2015 alone.

The Federal Government has also greatly strengthened its commitment to higher education. In particular, it has doubled its funding since 2008 with the Higher Education Pact and the Excellence Initiative so that almost one in five euros for public higher education funding now comes from the Federal Government. By assuming the entire responsibility for funding the BAföG – the financial assistance scheme for students – the Federal Government has permanently reduced the financial burden on the Länder, thus freeing up funds for the Länder to invest in their respective higher education institutions in particular.

Education is given high priority by the Federal Government – and this has been so for quite some time. We have consistently invested more money in education over the past years. And this is paying off: The OECD has only recently confirmed that Germany has a high-achieving education system. These investments have laid the basis for a strong education system that is fit for the future.

New challenges lie ahead as we take in refugees: Education and training are the key to integration, and so we are continuing to steer the growth of investment in education. We are supporting the integration of refugees with two big packages of measures backed by more than 230 million euros over the next three years. Additional places are being made available in the Studienkollegs – the higher education preparatory courses, admission procedures are being speeded up and tests offered for scholastic aptitude. Overall, six billion euros have been made available by the Federal Government for priority measures in the education sector in the current legislative term.

Spending on research and development rose to almost 80.2 billion euros in 2013 – an increase of 1.3 per cent compared to the previous year. The Federal Government and the Länder contribute roughly a third of the total amount. Two thirds of spending on research and development is provided by industry. R&D expenditure accounted for 2.87 percent of GDP in 2014. By comparison: R&D accounted for 2.43 percent in 2005. So a lot has been accomplished. And that is a good thing, because investment is the basis of innovation.

I am all the more delighted about Germany’s excellent international rankings, for example with regard to its innovation performance in European comparison. According to the EU’s Innovation Union Scoreboard for 2015, Germany follows closely behind Sweden, Denmark and Finland as an innovation leader. In the Innovation Indicator 2015 published by acatech and the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Germany’s fifth-place ranking makes it the best of the world’s large economies.

Germany also compares excellently with the rest of the world with regard to patents – both in terms of the absolute number and the increase in the number of patents of relevance to the global marketplace as a proportion of its population. This figure increased by about 15 per cent between 2000 and 2011; Germany accounts for around twice as many transnational patents per million citizens as the USA.

Recalling the four-leaf clover which I referred to at the beginning of my speech, I would now like to move on to the second leaf and give you an overview of current developments in science policy. Prevailing national conditions are of decisive importance here. We provided important impulses in this area in 2015 and will initiate and implement a whole range of activities in 2016 as well. I would like to begin with a concrete initiative of our science policy:

The Federal Government is committed to creating attractive and internationally competitive conditions for pursuing careers and working in science. We have decided to undertake two central measures to achieve this: In the first place, we are currently negotiating with the Länder about a joint offensive to establish predictable and transparent career paths. In the view of my Ministry, the priority should be on establishing tenure-track professorships. These tenure-track professorships are crucial to Germany’s international competitiveness. As of 2017, the Federal Government intends to spend one billion euros on this over a period of ten years. The Federal Government is committed to this structural further development of career paths, although this is normally the responsibility of the higher education institutions and the Länder. Secondly, the Federal Government has introduced a draft bill amending the law on fixed-term academic contracts. This is intended to improve the conditions for early-career scientists with regard to temporary contracts. The changes are aimed at improving the way fixed-term contracts are used and preventing the use of improper short-term contracts. The goal is to counteract undesirable developments in the way fixed-term contracts have been employed without restricting the flexibility and dynamism upon which science depends.

We are also providing important stimulus to strengthen the science system through four major science pacts, namely the Higher Education Pact, the Quality Pact for Teaching in Higher Education, the Excellence Initiative, and the Pact for Research and Innovation.

Through the Higher Education Pact the Federal Government and the Länder are responding to the consistently high numbers of people entering higher education. The Pact will continue to make higher education accessible to everyone interested in studying, whether from Germany or abroad, including refugees. The Federal Government and the Länder will create enough places for a total of 760,000 additional new students up to 2020 compared to 2005. On average, about 37 percent more first-year students will be able to enter higher education institutions between 2016 and 2020. Under the Pact, the Federal Government and the Länder are providing 26,000 euros for every additional first-year student. Over the entire term of the Higher Education Pact lasting from 2007 until 2020 (with full funding until 2023), the Federal Government will provide up to 20.2 billion euros and the Länder will provide around 18.3 billion euros. With their joint investment for the future, the Federal Government and the Länder are creating the necessary teaching capacities at higher education institutions which will then be able, for example, to employ more staff for this purpose.

We are also improving studying conditions and the quality of teaching at higher education institutions in Germany through the Quality Pact for Teaching in Higher Education. The Federal Government is investing about 2 billion euros for this purpose in two funding phases between 2011 and 2020. In all, we have reached 186 higher education institutions in all 16 Länder in the first funding phase which runs until 2016 and will continue to provide funding to 156 such institutions until 2020.

Under the Excellence Initiative we have been funding internationally visible cutting-edge research at universities since 2005. Under the overall programme, 4.6 billion euros are being provided until 2017. I am particularly glad that the Federal Government and the Länder have already decided in principle to follow up the Excellence Initiative with a new collaboration to fund cutting-edge research even after the Excellence Initiative ends in 2017. This will allow the dynamic development of research excellence to continue unabated in Germany.

The third phase of the Pact for Research and Innovation starts in 2016 and will run until 2020.

What is the Pact for Research and Innovation?

The Federal Government and the Länder jointly formulate research policy goals with the science organizations for the following aspects of science: networking between the science organizations and with the universities, internationalization, personnel development, equal opportunities, and the transfer of results to industry and society. The four big non-university research organizations – Fraunhofer, Helmholtz Association, Max Planck Society and the Leibniz Association – as well as the German Research Foundation commit themselves to these goals and set out how they will implement them. In return, they receive planning security for five years, from 2016 to 2020. What is particularly important is that the Pact allows the organizations to act strategically over the medium and long term. An annual increase in funding of 3 percent is foreseen for the individual science organizations. This corresponds to an increase of 3.8 billion euros from the Federal Government alone.

The positive effects of the Pact for Research and Innovation are already being felt:

  • The number of employees in non-university research institutions rose by more than a third, from about 58,500 to over 78,000 between 2005 and 2014.
  • More and more doctoral students are training in structured courses or research groups. The participation of individual research institutions in structured programmes to fund doctoral students (postgraduate research groups or schools or similar) more than trebled between 2005 and 2014.
  • The rate of citations for publications from Germany is among the highest in the world, and far above the average for the EU. Germany is in fifth position behind the UK, the US, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The Pact for Research and Innovation brings me directly to the third leaf of our clover – that is developments in research policy.

The Federal Government adopted its new High-Tech Strategy at the start of September 2014. It systematically considers the entire innovation chain – from creative idea to implementation in new products and services – and in this way supports Germany as a strong location for innovation.

The implementation of the High-Tech Strategy is well under way. And we will be moving full speed ahead in 2016 to push Germany’s innovative strength still further:

  • In energy research, for example, the first Copernicus projects are starting in early 2016. By 2025, 400 million euros are to go towards research projects on major topics concerning the transformation of Germany’s energy system, such as the storage of excess electricity. With these projects we are promoting a new form of cooperation between all the players who are making the Energiewende possible.
  • Scientists, urban planners, municipalities, industry, civil society and government departments all got together to draw up a common vision for the city of the future and related research. This vision was published last year in February as the City of the Future Research and Innovation Agenda (or FINA). In order to implement the Agenda, we have set up the City of the Future Innovation Platform (or IPZ), which will be launched at an official conference in February 2016.
  • The BMBF has established the National Platform for Sustainable Development in order to firmly establish sustainable thinking and action in the education system. The first agenda conference takes place in July 2016 in the context of the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development 2015–2019.
  • Furthermore, we published our strategy to strengthen innovative SMEs just a few days ago. We need small and medium-sized enterprises which conduct cutting-edge research to help solve the societal challenges of today. This is why we involve the Mittelstand in key innovation processes for Germany such as Industry 4.0, digitization of the health system, the Energiewende, and sustainable economy.

A further priority in this year will be to find good solutions for managing the digital transformation.

All areas of modern-day life, including industry, science, society and policy-making are experiencing digital transformation. This is creating new possibilities for learning, teaching and research. And it changes the way we work: The real and virtual worlds are growing together into an Internet of Things – into Industry 4.0. A large part of Germany's industrial production depends on the use of modern information and communication technologies (ICT). Security is vital in this context. After all, science thrives on open access to literature and materials. The Government’s Digital Agenda 2014-2017 therefore aims to combine the forces of all those involved. The Digital Agenda’s action area number 5 is concerned with education, research and science and is coordinated by the BMBF. The 2016 National IT Summit will have a focus on the topic of digital education; the summit platform “Digitization in Education and Science” led by the BMBF will provide impulses for this.

Education and research are not only themselves important fields of application for new digital possibilities but are also major drivers of further digital development as well as essential keys to leveraging potential for society and the economy. In order to research the effects of digitization on society, the BMBF is funding the establishment of a German Internet Institute which will have the task of investigating the ethical, legal, economic and participatory aspects of the Internet and digitization in an interdisciplinary approach. To this end, we have launched an ideas competition to develop concrete strategies during this year.

Research enables innovation and intelligent solutions that help us to deal with the challenges of digitization for industry and society – whether these relate to security in the digital world, dealing with big data or addressing innovations for a location for production that is fit for the future, for example in microelectronics, Industry 4.0, work and services in a digital world.

We want to make use of the major opportunities offered by dynamically progressive digitization – for more equity in education, excellence in science and research and for more growth and employment.

We will also be committed to core challenges with our coming Year of Science whose theme is the “Seas and Oceans”.

Let me illustrate this by asking two questions:

What do you think is our planet’s biggest ecosystem? [The deep sea: with depths in excess of 1000 metres, the areas of the seabed completely devoid of light make up more than 70 percent of the world's oceans. According to the United Nations it enjoys special protection as the common heritage of mankind.]
And how many years do you think a typical plastic PET bottle remains in the sea until it is broken down into microplastics? [450 years]

Oceans and seas are a climate machine, food source, and economic area – they serve as a habitat for numerous plants and animals and as a place of leisure and relaxation for us humans. Scientists have been studying the oceans and seas for a long time, and yet they are still full of mystery, large swaths of which remain completely unexplored.

In view of the great variety of topics and the sheer scale of the seas and oceans, we have decided to devote our Science Year 2016-2017 to this major topic of the future. Under the motto “Discover, utilize, protect” we are focusing on raising awareness of the importance of the world’s seas for our modern societies. A total of six million euros are available for the science year.

It is our goal to get the broad general public interested in the world’s oceans as a source of sustenance for all our lives. It is only if we know about something that we can truly protect and utilize it wisely. We will be presenting the diversity of our oceans at hundreds of events, discussions, exhibitions and competitions throughout the country.  The topics range from the marine ecosystem to its role as a raw materials store, from energy generation to a source of food and an economic space, from climate influencer to weather lab, from the Arctic Sea to the South Pacific, and from places of yearning to tourist destinations.

The future of the seas and oceans was also a focus of the meeting of the G7 science ministers last October alongside other key topics. And with that I come to the fourth and final clover leaf: international activities in science and research.

The meeting of the G7 science ministers took place in Berlin on the 8th and 9th of October last year. The meeting’s motto was “Think ahead, act together”. It was emphasized there that science and research play an important role in solving global challenges. The Ministers resolved that public funding of research on the four topics of neglected, poverty-related infectious diseases, the future of the seas and oceans, clean energy, and global research infrastructures should be comprehensively and continuously mapped and the results of the research should be shared with relevant stakeholders. Sustainability was another important issue for the science ministers. They therefore intend to make the G7 science ministers meeting a permanent regular event in order to ensure progress in the above areas. In addition, regular meetings are also to take place at working level.

We are particularly delighted that the Japanese G7 Presidency also plans to hold a meeting of G7 science ministers in May of this year. At the same time, we are busy implementing the ministers’ decisions from last year. At the end of March we will hold a workshop together with the EU Commission in order to improve the agreed coordination of our measures with all the G7 countries and to establish the basis for the development of common research and development measures in the area of health. A preparatory meeting at working level is being held this week. The first implementing steps are also being taken with regard to the future of the seas and oceans. For example, as a contribution towards the implementation of the G7 Action Plan to Combat Marine Litter, we are planning a programme of action to raise public awareness about these issues in the G7 countries.

Our attention this year will also be focused on the key task of integrating these and other international activities in a strategic framework.

We need a well-tailored strategic framework for successful international cooperation – a framework which both covers our various activities and sets key priorities. This is why we are currently working on enhancing the Federal Government's Strategy for the Internationalization of Science and Research ("Strengthening Germany's Role in the Global Knowledge Society") with which you are familiar. As a basis for this process, we first of all drew up the “International Cooperation” Action Plan.

The Action Plan helps us in setting our priorities and to enhance our discussions with all stakeholders. With the Action Plan’s concrete measures and initiatives, we are able to show how the BMBF intends to shape its international cooperation in the years to come. It also includes schemes which can serve as models for further measures in view of their structural approach, networking and impact. The main principles of these schemes are greater mobility, greater effectiveness, and greater awareness about the development of our national bases for science, research and industry.

Our aim is to bring our national, European and international activities closer together and to exploit the resulting synergies more effectively on the basis of five target areas.  These target areas are backed up in the Action Plan with individual concrete activities known as beacons.

International cooperation is a source of innovation – this applies to science and research in particular. That is why we are intensifying our cooperation with strategically important partners not only on a global level but also by thinking and acting region-specific; bilateral strategies are a visible sign of this, and the China Strategy as well as the Africa Strategy were launched very recently. However, bilateral cooperation can only be successful if there is measurable added value compared to the absence of such cooperation. Such mutual added value arises in international research cooperation particularly when the partners’ activities are complementary.

We have reached the implementation stage of our Africa Strategy 2014-2018. This strategy pools all the BMBF’s measures in the field of education and research cooperation with countries in Africa. Our cooperation focuses on joint research issues which are important for tackling global challenges. What is so special about the BMBF’s Africa Strategy is that we have developed it together with our African partners. On the one hand, it documents our joint schemes and projects on the African continent. On the other hand, it also provides a guide for the future. The most important points come at the end of the Africa Strategy: A catalogue of 30 measures which we plan to introduce. Allow me to emphasize two of these measures in particular:

  • We are planning to set up Research Networks for Health Innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa. With these, we will be better able to combat the diseases that are particularly relevant in Africa.
  • The BMBF’s “German Research Chairs” initiative is already funding a research chair in Senegal and plans to fund research chairs in Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon and Tanzania as well as accompanying measures at centres of the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). The initiative is intended as a contribution towards establishing centres of excellence which will offer early career researchers tremendous prospects and attract highly qualified people from all over the world.

In autumn last year, we published with the China Strategy another regional strategy. Part of the responsibility of the political decision-makers in international cooperation is also to actively represent the interests of German science, research and industry. In order to ensure this happens, the BMBF drew up the China Strategy in an extensive consultation process with precisely those stakeholder groups.

The opportunities offered by cooperation with such a large and populous country as China are as numerous and diverse as the challenges involved. In implementing the China Strategy, the BMBF will therefore create the appropriate framework for cooperation on different levels. These are:

  • The creation of greater expertise about China in Germany, for example through continual monitoring and better preparation and communication of information as well as the launch of a new measure to promote China expertise at German universities and research institutions;
  • The building of sustainable cooperation structures and researcher networks: We will fund sustainable, structural cooperation with proven and new instruments. (The proven instruments being the funding of joint study courses and double degree programmes and the Sino-German College for Applied Sciences; the new instruments being long-term sustainable research collaborations between universities.)
  • The optimization of framework conditions in cooperation with the Chinese side and, where relevant in coordination with European and international players (for example, as regards the protection of intellectual property and the lack of legal certainty when it comes to the application of key technologies);
  • The promotion of thematic areas that can provide the greatest benefit for both sides, such as mastering common global challenges (clean water/environment, health, and urbanization), selected key technologies (LED, electric mobility) as well as the humanities and the social sciences;
  • It is particularly important for German companies which are active in China that we provide political support for vocational education and training cooperation and also drive our own initiatives in this area.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I started out with the image of a four-leaf clover as a symbol of good luck, and that is the note on which I would like to end. I wish all of us every success for what we set out to achieve in 2016 as well as many fruitful and interesting meetings and discussions. In the context of international cooperation, I would like to end with the following quote by the Roman historian and politician, Sallust: “Before you act, consider; when you have considered, it is fully time to act.”

Thank you.