Reversing the Trend

The road between Germany and the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) can seem like a one-way street for scientists. While about a quarter of all foreign researchers and students in Germany is from Eastern Europe, only 2% or 3% of mobile Germans choose to go in the opposite direction. In absolute numbers, this means that there are about 34,000 Eastern European students in Germany compared to 1200 to 1500 German students in the CEEC. For researchers, no exact numbers currently exist at all.

Reversing this trend is the ultimate goal of a new campaign called "Go East." The four partners in the initiative, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research ( BMBF), the German Academic Exchange Service ( DAAD), the Humboldt-Foundation, and the Federation of German Industries? Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, unveiled campaign details in Berlin on 11 June.

Each organisation has a different role to play. BMBF is the main funder, putting in a substantial ? 2.5 million on top of existing funding and fellowship schemes for this year. The same amount could also be invested in 2003 and 2004, depending on BMBF?s overall budget and the outcome of the federal elections on 22 September. "Over recent decades, we have been used to looking westward only when we were talking about exchange and studies abroad," said research minister Edelgard Bulmahn. But, she explained, "the world has changed. The unbalance in the level of interest in each other is not appropriate today, particularly in respect of the need for Europe to grow together." Germans? resistance to moving to the East is due to a mixture of factors, including mental barriers, language struggles, and a lack of knowledge about the CEEC?s potential for research, she suggested. She called upon young Germans to put their fears behind them and make use of the opportunities offered by the new scheme.

Incentives will be used to target the exchange mismatch--a role taken on by both the DAAD and the Humboldt Foundation. The size and type of stimulus on offer varies according to the seniority of the recipient. The Humboldt Foundation, for example, is targeting scientists with some experience. For the first time, it is offering researchers from the CEEC return fellowships to support their reintegration into their home country after completion of a research period in Germany. Forty 1-year fellowships of up to ? 500 per month will be awarded annually to support fellows? research and help them build-up research groups in the CEEC.

Researchers of German nationality can also benefit from the fresh injection of money, with a variety of support mechanisms for scientists who are planning to move eastward. Travel allowances are available for short-term visits as guest researchers, while institute partnerships for long-term co-operation in medicine, natural sciences, and engineering sciences can hope for additional money as well. But the core is the Feodor Lynen Programme, which allows German postdocs of all disciplines to carry out up to 3 years of research hosted by a former Humboldt-sponsored, foreign researcher.

"With these measures, we are laying the groundwork for successful implementation of the ?Go East? Campaign", said Dr. Manfred Osten, the foundation?s general secretary. Establishing a network of scientists with good connections to Germany?s scientific community is an important goal. And former Humboldt fellows can be found in important positions all over the CEEC: Poland?s research minister, Professor Michal Kleiber, and the president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Professor Norbert Kroo, are among the prominent members of the Humboldt alumni group.

Spreading the word is another important objective of the campaign. "DAAD will provide better information about study and research opportunities in this region, promote the creation of university partnerships, and provide opportunities for Germans to take language courses in Central or Eastern Europe," said DAAD president, Professor Theodor Berchem.

Industry, especially, is interested in people with these kinds of qualifications and experiences, Oliver Wieck, executive officer of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, told Next Wave. For German industry, the CEEC are one of the most important growth regions, and "companies that are active in the Eastern European market will seek people who are knowledgable about the culture and the language," he pointed out. To help young researchers gain such insight, under the programme German companies will be offering internships in their Eastern European offices or representations.

Do you have experience of living and researching in a Central or Eastern European country? Are you willing to share what you have learned with other Next Wave readers? If so, please contact Next Wave?s German editor!

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