NewsGerman Research Foundation's Annual General Meeting 2022: Focus on International Research Cooperation

German Research Foundation's Annual General Meeting 2022: Focus on International Research Cooperation

The 2022 General Assembly of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) came to an end in Freiburg im Breisgau on Wednesday, 29 June. One major topic was international cooperation in science in view of the current global political situation. The DFG also presented its annual report 2021, which provides an overview of the organisation’s news and funding activities.

The three-day meeting was the first gathering of the largest research funding organisation and central self-governing body for science in Germany since 2019 to be held on an in-person basis, the 2020 and 2021 DFG Annual General Meetings having been held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.  At the committee meetings and also at the festive function – which was held as a public event for the first time since 2019 – one major topic was international cooperation in science in view of the current global political situation.

In her reports to the Senate, the Joint Committee and the General Assembly, as well as in her speech at the festive function on the subject of “Science and War”, DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker emphasised the importance and necessity of a resolute response on the part of the DFG – as well as the entire academic community and society at large in Germany – to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. She said the war violated all the fundamental values not only of civilisation and Europe, but also of science and its bridge-building ideals. In response to the war, the DFG suspended all research projects it was funding jointly with Russian partner organisations at the institutional level at the beginning of March.

As Becker reported, the support measures for Ukrainian academics that were set in motion at that time are now to be further expanded. In addition to the assistance offered to those who have fled Ukraine because of the war, funding is currently being considered for researchers who are unable or unwilling to leave their country in spite of the war. For example, they could be temporarily integrated in existing or even newly founded German-Ukrainian research consortia: this would not just give them material security but also ensure they were connected to the international academic community. From the DFG’s perspective, these measures and others like them are crucial in the long term, too. Becker said:

“Strengthening Ukraine as a research base and maintaining it in the medium term is the responsibility of civil society and one that the DFG is happy to take on.”

She also went into detail about the challenges of science cooperation with China, which is currently the subject of extensive media research and reporting (“China Science Investigation”). The DFG expressly welcomes the discussion this has triggered on the applicable guidelines and rules, for example with regard to dual-use projects and good research practice, and has sought to encourage this debate itself. Becker said:

“Nonetheless, we currently see no reason to impose fundamental restrictions on our cooperation activities with China, let alone put a stop to them.”

However, said Becker, when it came to academic cooperation with China, the DFG, other members of the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany and the universities and researchers themselves had to do a better job of handling the fundamental contradiction between the desire to engage in cooperation and achieve academic excellence while at the same time being subject to political control and China’s pursuit of its own national interests. The DFG President said:

“China is already a technological leader in some areas and a key partner when it comes to tackling global challenges such as climate and health issues. At the same time, German science must become more aware of the fact that China has to be seen as a competitor and a strategic rival, too.”

Against this backdrop, the DFG is expanding its cooperation with other Asian partners such as Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan and deepening its contacts with partner organisations in Japan, South Korea and India.

Despite the current crisis in foreign and science policy, the DFG President believes there are also some encouraging signs of solidarity as well as indications that bridge-building efforts within the international academic community have borne fruit. As examples, she cited the DFG’s extremely trusting collaboration with its Polish partner organisations and also the annual meeting of the worldwide association of research funding organisations – the Global Research Council (GRC) – which Becker chaired in Panama at the end of May.

The DFG Executive Committee also presented a position paper exploring fundamental issues. It emphasizes the importance of international cooperation in science and research and the targeted support of international collaborations as part of the funding strategy.

2021 Annual Report

As the largest research funding organisation in Germany, the DFG funded 31,625 projects last year, providing a total of around €3.65 billion. This emerges from the 2021 Annual Report presented at the concluding General Assembly in Freiburg, which contains the main facts, figures and priorities relating to the DFG’s funding activities and its involvement in issues relating to the science system and science policy. In addition, the report presents selected research projects, the focus this year being on the subject of pandemic research.

In 2021, too, more than half of all funded projects – 17,598 projects, or 55.6 percent – were individually funded; a total amount of around €1.3 billion was approved for these. In terms of Research Training Groups, Collaborative Research Centres and other Coordinated Programmes, 880 consortia with 12,282 individual projects received a total amount of approximately €1.56 billion euros.

Broken down according to the major academic disciplines, the life sciences received the most funding with about €1.3 billion (36.3 percent of the total amount approved), followed by the natural sciences with about €853 million (23.4 percent), the engineering sciences with about €724 million (19.9 percent) and the humanities and social sciences with about €590 million (16.2 percent); projects not assigned to a specific discipline received funding of approximately €156 million (4.3 percent).

Source: DFG Editor by Tim Mörsch, VDI Technologiezentrum GmbH Countries / organization: China Germany Russia Ukraine Global Topic: Funding Strategic Issues and Framework
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