Status and Development Prospects of Research at German Universities

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In recent years, universities in Germany have seen a process of remarkable shakeout. Their restructuring does not only address financial issues, but also the capabilities for university administrations to coordinate and, as regards contents, exert influence on research activities via strategic concepts. Among others, such strategic goal-setting touches upon changing relationships between universities and non-university partners (both private and public entities), as well as on the way universities should better collaborate with each others. While universities are naturally governed by Germany’s sixteen Laender, one strategic shift derives from stretching federal funds (Germany’s Excellence Initiative) and creating so called excellence universities. Our study sheds light on the question, whether and how external incentives are seized by university administrations to induce actual change in researchers’ orientation and to govern the content of research. Special attention is paid to the puzzle, if those new incentives can be translated in such ways that they bear the potential to be adequately conceived by researchers; that is according to their original intention.

The project is funded by the Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation (Expertenkommission Forschung und Innovation - EFI), a body providing scientific advice to the German Federal Government and periodically delivering reports on research, innovation and technological productivity in Germany.

Our study addresses the question, as to whether these incentives and stimuli for university administrations, particularly university presidents, and for university researchers have an impact toward their actually intended directions; that is first and foremost make research become internationally more competitive.

Of particular interest is whether and to what extent researchers truly embrace incentives intended by university administrations. By comparing different perspectives, we can draw conclusions about the impact of the respective steering and coordination mechanisms.

On the basis of quantitative and qualitative analyses, the following aspects will be touched upon:
•    Current organisational framework conditions at German universities. These include, in particular, the impact of leadership structures and global research strategies on university research. Here, the study will be geared toward comparing university systems internationally.
•    Potential change for university research triggered by Germany’s Excellence Initiative will be paid extra attention to. Under the assumption that the initiative is punching through, we differentiate its impact on both, research taking place in awarded “universities of excellence” and on other universities (indirect impact).
•    The financial basis and staff configuration for research at German universities and their potential divergence given various different types of universities.
•    What drivers and barriers in performing research do university professors and institutes’ directors see in Germany? Providing answers to this question, we will compare researchers’ time allotments, workloads to teach university courses (including PhD supervision) and career perspectives.
•    Research collaboration within universities and beyond as well as transfer activities by university researchers are assessed.

Methodology and Empirical Approach
Two levels of observation are elected for this project. On one hand, universities are regarded as organisations providing an institutional, a financial and an infrastructural framework likewise, in which research activities are taking place. How well this framework is arranged will be analysed via interviews with heads of university administrations. On the other hand, we encompass the individual perspectives of university researchers, in particular those of university professors and institutes’ directors, asking how distinct initiatives might (not) transfer onto the level where research is actually planned and performed. The specific context of the latter will be assessed survey-based.

Research Consortium
The study is carried out in collaboration of Joanneum Research (Vienna), Fraunhofer Institute of System’s and Innovation Research (Karlsruhe), the Center for European Economic Research (Mannheim) and the Social Science Research Center (Berlin).