In 1947, the German states agreed to share some of the research financing and other responsibility jointly, and they were joined by the federal government in 1949. This mutual responsibility for research was institutionalized in 1969 by a constitutional change, article 91-B, which allowed the federal government and the states together to support scientific research in institutions outside the universities. Finally, the Unification Treaty of 1990 (Article 38), mandated that all academy of science research institutes should be evaluated by a body of German scientists. A major product of this evaluation, which reduced by about 2/3 the personnel in most institutions, was the Leibniz Association. The Association took over 37 of these institutions, which joined with 40 other institutions in West Germany into the current German research system.
A Research System Distinct from the Universities
Dr. Mayer said that this resulting German research system, distinct from the universities, is now well differentiated into several large programs, each with its own mandate. They include:
• The Max Planck Society, with which he said he had worked for more than 20 years. Each Society institute is directed by a single great scholar who is given virtually complete autonomy.
• The Fraunhofer Institutes focus primarily on industrial research and receive both industry and government funding.
• The Helmholtz Association manages a community of 18 large research laboratories that are similar in some ways to the U.S. national laboratories of the Department of Energy, each focused on a long-term “grand challenge.”
• The Leibniz Association consists of 87 institutions that conduct application-oriented basic research and provide scientific infrastructure.
He elaborated on the Leibniz model, which he called “a kind of a hybrid of research, where we combine basic research, applied research, research infrastructures, and the big research museums. We enjoy a large degree of autonomy in choosing programs, always with the goal of contributing to economic, ecological, and social problems.”
Dr. Mayer gave a broad comparison of the German and U.S. research and education universe. The population of the United States is about four times larger, the GNP per capita of Germany is slightly smaller, R&D spending is about the same, and Germany “does slightly better” in research personnel. For institutions of higher learning, “we could have a long debate,” he said, with about 250 research universities in the United States and 105 in Germany. While this number is proportionately higher in Germany, relative to population, the German universities lag far behind in international rankings. “One reason for