different institutions, with a clear division of labor, different mandates, varying degrees of autonomy and state control, varying degrees of bottom-up and top-down approaches to science, distinctive types of research organizations, and partly overlapping and partly different areas of research.” He noted that the system was often “pilloried,” but said he would “present it as a very functional kind of productive system.”

A ‘Jump-start’ for German Public Science

In recent years, Dr. Mayer said, the German public science system had experienced a “veritable jump-start” in regard to the resources allocated, level of competitiveness, increased national and international cooperation, and measured outputs. Three things responsible for this renewal were major topics for the workshop: the Excellence Initiative defined by Prof. Pinkwart, the contract for research and innovation, and the European Research Council. He suggested that these measures were “segregated and not functioning well together.”

His final thesis was that the challenges to the science system arise mainly from two sources. The first “has to do with the balance of financing the tech space between the states and the federal government.” The other source is the very successes of the system itself—the “downsides or unintended consequences of some very positive developments.”

Dr. Mayer said he would begin with a “three-minute history of the German science system.” It essentially began in 1810, with the creation of the German model of the research university—the “very model that was taken over by Johns Hopkins University” in the United States. He referred to a question asked in a recent book on the American university by Jonathan R. Cole, provost of Columbia University: what is its base, and what can explain its success? In his answer, Cole described the value of the German model in terms of its unity of instruction and research.24

In 1911, as part of the 100th birthday commemoration of that event, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science was established.25This, he said, was the first large research organization outside the university and was launched primarily by private and commercial interests. In 1946, it was the Allied powers that set the path for the later development of what became the research system in Germany today, decreeing no central German government should be in charge of education and higher education. By formalizing this mandate into the constitution, he said, “we have an institutional structure and structural financing that explains a lot which happened later.”


24Jonathan R. Cole, “The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensible National Role, Why It Must Be Protected,” Public Affairs, 2010.

25The Kaiser Wilhelm Society was an umbrella organization for many institutions, testing stations, and research units. After World War II its functions were taken over by the Max Planck Society.

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