During a decade of global financial turbulence, her government has increased annual science budgets in a stable, predictable, quintessentially German way. It has spurred competition among universities and improved collaboration with the country’s unique publicly funded research institutions. Under Merkel’s watch, Germany has maintained its position as a world leader in areas such as renewable energy and climate; and with the guarantee of strong support for basic research, its impact in other sectors has grown. Foreign researchers are increasingly choosing to make their careers in Germany rather than opting for traditional brain magnets such as the United States or the United Kingdom. The proportion of foreign academics in Germany’s universities has jumped from 9.3% in 2005 to 12.9% in 2015. Germany now ranks above the United States for the percentage of papers it publishes among the top 10% most highly cited.
The structure of modern German science rests on concepts developed two centuries ago by Wilhelm von Humboldt, a Prussian educator who pioneered ideas that continue to hold sway around the world. It was he, for example, who suggested that university professors should do front-line research as well as teaching. His philosophy that education should be both broad and deep, and that academic life should be free from politics and religion, remains engraved in the German psyche. “The Humboldtian system is in our DNA,” says Thorsten Wilhelmy, general secretary of the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study. “That’s why politicians are not so tempted to cut basic research when times get tough.” (See ‘Build, link and trust’.) (Fonte: A. Abbott, Nature 06-09-17)