German Government Boosts Science Spending

BONN--Germany's research and higher education budget is headed for a real increase for the first time in several years, with special emphasis on bolstering academic research. On Wednesday the German Cabinet agreed to raise the 1999 budget for the Education and Research Ministry by about $540 million, to $9 billion.

"This budget increase shows that higher education and research are once again among Germany's top priorities," says Research and Education Minister Edelgard Bulmahn, who took office last fall after the Social Democrats toppled the 16-year Kohl government. Although the 6.4% increase falls short of her party's campaign promises, Bulmahn says the new governing coalition of Social Democrats and the eco-friendly Green Party plans to continue the increases over the next 5 years.

The new budget plan, which is expected to be rubber-stamped later this month by the Parliament, boosts federal spending by 5% for three of Germany's major research and granting institutions: the Max Planck Society; the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), Germany's basic research granting agency; and a bit more for the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft applied science agency. That's the same amount as the Kohl government had planned for Max Planck and DFG, and a bit more for the Fraunhofer. However, the favored child is the ministry's research promotion and higher education planning program, whose total budget will more than double. Included in that increase is a new $18 million program within the DFG that creates 100 new slots for postdoctoral students and gives them greater independence. Part of the extra money will be used to support 2-year overseas stints for those in the biomedical sciences.

The research ministry also intends to provide money, matched by state governments, to help renovate deteriorating university laboratories, as well as expand a program to encourage more applied research. In addition, Bulmahn is launching a $5 million effort to increase research opportunities for women in academia, who have traditionally been underrepresented in German science.