German government expenditure will be cut from €319.5 billion this year to €307.4 billion in 2011. But in the midst of this national drive for austerity, the federal science budget will increase.

The German government’s Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will have over €780m more to spend next year,  a 7.2% increase on the current €11.65bn budget.  Improving the quality of university teaching (€140m) and university research excellence (€327m) are among the funding priorities.

The Federal Economics Ministry (BMWi) will also increase its support for research and development from €2.48bn to €2.57bn. The BMWi has earmarked €389m for promoting technologically-focused small and medium-sized businesses.  This is in addition to €194m for similar businesses working on joint projects with industry.

There has also been a recent expansion of The Fraunhofer Society of Applied Research innovation clusters programme. A cluster is located near a city with a particular technological focus. The four latest are all near cities in Bavaria and concentrate respectively on sensorics, material consumption & mechatronics, electronics and renewable. Jointly funded with the state of Bavaria, BMBF and industry, these clusters are short-term initiatives designed to kick-start cooperation between universities, industrial companies and non-university research institutions.

The UK’s new minister for universities and science, David Willets MP, has made it clear that he is unsure whether the permanent Fraunhofer institutes would work in the UK innovation system. But he is more sympathetic to the principle of clustering. The previous government used Hermann Hauser’s review of innovation centres to plan  for similar centres in the UK – announcing the scheme in their final budget (chapter 4).  Perhaps Willets  will swap his predecessor’s enthusiasm for Fraunhofer’s institutions for an enthusiasm for the German organisation’s clustering initiative instead.

Whether or not the UK imports particular German technology policies, the two governments’ strategies for science are markedly different. Since the economic downturn in late 2008, Chancellor Merkel has never wavered in her support of increased public funding for science as an economic strategy. When receiving the Royal Society’s King Charles II medal, she used her acceptance speech to emphasise this to a UK audience:

“…during my term as Federal Chancellor, the Federal Government has repeatedly declared that the prosperity of a country such as Germany, with its scarce mineral resources, must be sought through investment in research, education and science, and this to a disproportionate degree.”

For Merkel, strengthening the German science base is key to her country’s strategy for future prosperity, and is necessary even under current fiscal constraints.   This argument makes sense in the UK as well, but without this high-level support, the UK government’s spending review in October is unlikely to bring similarly good news for the domestic science community.

Comments are closed.