Open Access Government provides an overview of the German Research Foundation (DFG), the self-governing organisation concerned with funding and supporting science and research in Germany and beyond
The German Research Foundation (DFG) is a selfgoverning organisation concerned with science and research in Germany, covering all branches of science and the humanities. As an association, its varied membership consists of research universities in Germany, as well as scientific associations and the academies of science and the humanities plus nonuniversity research institutions.
Funding for research
In terms of where it receives its funding, the DFG receives most of this from the federal government and the states. In a recent press release from DFG, we discover that during 2017, they awarded funding to around 32,500 research projects with a volume of nearly €3.2 billion – which represents an increase of roughly 1,000 projects and €120 million, in comparison to 2016. The was included in DFG’s annual report, which also features journalistic articles presenting a number of selected research projects.
DFG President, Prof Dr Peter Strohschneider and Secretary General, Prof Dorothee Dzwonnek in the foreword of this annual report comment that: “The international focus of the report takes account of two factors: firstly, the fact that scientific inquiry can benefit enormously from global dialogue and cooperation and, secondly, the fact that in some areas of the world, conditions are becoming more difficult for the free choice of research topics and methods…Research funding that is oriented towards these freedoms and independent of political, economic and social demands is therefore becoming increasingly important.” (1)
Selecting the best research projects
DFG’s primary task is to select the best projects by researchers at universities and institutions across the country, on a competitive basis and to also to fund such projects. Higher education institutions or individuals are welcome to put forward proposals in a specific field of curiosity-driven basic research as they choose and added to this, interdisciplinary proposals are also taken into consideration.
In what can only be described as a multi-layered decision-making process, a proposal made to the DFG is evaluated by voluntary reviewers in accordance with scientific criteria. On the basis of such an expert review by elected members of a review board, they assess a proposal and the final decision on a proposal is made by a grants committee. By using this process, DFG funding guarantees quality-based differentiation in the country’s research system. In this spirit, it is said that DFG is a cornerstone of Germany’s strength as a research location but looking at the wider picture, we are told that it also helps to shape the European Research Area (ERA).
A prize for two alternatives to animal experiments
In a concrete example of research in Germany that the DFG is supporting, we find out in recent news that Prof Dr Ellen Fritsche from the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf and Dr. Hamid Reza Noori from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen will be presented with the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize by the DFG during November 2018 in Berlin, Germany.
The prize, worth €50,000 each, is being presented for the seventh time and it is awarded to researchers who improve animal welfare in research in line with the principles of the 3Rs: Replacement, Refinement and Reduction, something that DFG Vice President Prof.
Dr. Katja Becker, who will present the Prize in Berlin comments on: “As a research funding organisation, the DFG has a natural and fundamental interest in the consistent implementation and refinement of the 3Rs. The quality of research results is directly linked to the responsible treatment of research animals.” (2)
Early career support
One area of the DFG’s work worth a look at concerns the importance of support for early career researchers. As such, the DFG awards the best researchers with funding and provides them with the means and freedom necessary for success in their work. We know that one of the DFG’s key objectives is the advancement of early career researchers. Programmes which provide appropriate support at every phase of their qualification are, therefore, provided. In addition, the DFG is particularly committed to the early independence of researchers. The recruitment of talented scientists and academics from home, as well as abroad for German research is also a part of this key objective. Funding excellent science without regard to extrascientific factors is something that the DFG believes in very strongly. The same is true where the equal treatment of men and women is concerned, as well as the broad representation of the scientific disciplines in
the self-governance of the organisation, something that enables the diversity and originality required for exceptional research to happen. Interdisciplinary cooperation
We know that the DFG lends its support to all areas of science and the humanities and in particular, promoting interdisciplinary cooperation among researchers. Cooperation between researchers from all areas of science, as well as the formation of internationally visible priorities at universities and non-university research institutions, is a key element of what drives the DFG’s work.
In this vein, the DFG places special emphasis on scientific collaboration within the ERA. Knowledgeoriented research is strongly encouraged, as is the interaction of scientific findings within the private sector and other notable institutions, such as academies of music, museums and hospitals plus public-private partnerships.
Finally, one aspect of the DFG’s work we must mention concerns their role in providing scientific policy advice. The DFG provides a voice of science in political and social discourse, indeed it takes part in political decisionmaking processes in which it can lend its scientific
expertise. The DFG gives recommendations around fundamental issues in science and the responsible application of scientific findings in society. The DFG’s regulations on good scientific practice provide internationally recognised guidelines for this very purpose.