As has been mentioned in Chap. 4 (Sect. 4.4), the overall climate for investment in research is good in Germany, something which benefits universities. One interviewee expressed this by saying: ‘Academic research is prospering, quite unlike France, Italy or Great Britain... That’s a catastrophe [there].’ Generic funding and DFG funding under which researchers are free to pursue any direction of research comprises the majority of research funding. Interviewees also felt less pressure from performance indicators implemented into generic funding distribution. Most interviewees, therefore, felt that there was still significant academic freedom in Germany. In thematic calls some interviewees deemed that there was a push towards applied, collaborative and economically impactful research. These programmes would also be influenced by, and merge with, the aims of Bologna and Lisbon/Europe 2020. This was viewed critically by interviewees from two universities since they felt that big collaborations can be suffocated by administrative requirements and communication problems, can require too much to be achieved by a single project and nobody ever seemed to research whether the assumed added value is actually achieved. Most interviewees felt that there was more funding for subjects such as engineering and information technology and less for the humanities. It was also mentioned that inter-disciplinary research sometimes found funding hard to come by as experts from one subject when evaluating a study from another employing their methodology might easily find it lacking. However, a couple of interviewees mentioned that the preferential situation of some subjects could also be explained by different needs (e.g. humanities and social sciences inherently needing lesser resources than human medicine), less of a culture of applying for Drittmittel in certain subjects or simply due to a lack of interest in the topics of the calls. It might thus not (entirely) be the result of intentional governmental steering. Most interviewees mentioned that, within subjects, calls are often issued in particular fashionable areas (e.g. climate change, electronic cars) which might be explained by the accessibility of certain subjects to the public (e.g. curing cancer or preventing climate change is more obviously desirable than studying the Merovingians).
Despite the mentioned criticism, economic constraints and culture changes did not appear to be seen as significant as they were in the other two countries. In particular, it was felt that the situation did not (yet) require researchers to apply for Drittmittel, that through creative proposal writing one could draft applications in a way to fit one’s agenda into a variety of only loosely related calls and that academics had the chance to influence the thematic areas. The latter was viewed critically by one interviewee because the researchers may have personal motives (e.g. trying to continue their research area until retirement). It was also mentioned that young researchers particularly might be influenced by extrinsic pulls of thematic calls. Despite being encouraged to collaborate more with the private sector, private funding was still regarded as playing a minor role in German universities. An interviewee from a category 1 university, however, mentioned that universities are not at an eye to eye level with private sector partners in contract negotiations. In particular, companies would still try not to pay full costs and, especially if the researcher negotiates and signs agreements without the involvement of the relevant research offices, they may succeed in this. More generally it was feared that relying strongly on Drittmittel, particularly if not provided at full cost levels, might be financially unhealthy for universities. Especially in a category 1 university, it was felt that success in attracting Drittmittel was, in this way, being punished. At the same time, it was for certain situations seen as bizarre to ask for full costs. An example given was a funder providing full costs for a visiting researcher, as this would amount to the visitor (or the funder on the visitor’s behalf) paying to come and work at the university. This seemed to collide with the general self-perception and university culture of universities in Germany.
When asked for an opinion on how research and research funding will develop, an interviewee from a category 1 university expressed that generally too much is expected from universities. They were required to do basic research leading to new ideas in all subject areas, innovate, excel in topical subjects, identify a unique focus, provide research informed teaching which also focussed on employability and student satisfaction, engage internationally, attract external funding and perform well in rankings with a variety of parameters. This would lead to a mission overload. Universities would currently have to find their place in all this, also considering their own understanding of their role. The same interviewee said that, despite the generally positive research funding situation in Germany, he believed public research would continue to be underfunded. Especially there was insufficient generic funding which, combined with the fact that non-generic funding is not provided at full cost levels, might lead to insufficient infrastructure. Another problem identified was that the programmatic calls, even though they are supposed to encourage innovation, would often lag behind ‘real cutting edge’ research since once an idea is through the administrative process and a call is issued, research has already developed beyond that. Therefore, innovation can actually be hindered by increasing competitive programmatic calls and, for an institution which invested highly in an area which is discontinued after one call, this may also have significant financial consequences. A focus group expressed their fear of certain subjects being destroyed and that teaching and research could be increasingly separated, something which collides with the traditional German understanding of university education.