“Important research can only be done in cooperation”


Cross-European collaborative research may be complicated sometimes, yet the system of supporting University research in the Federal State of Bavaria is flexible and well organized. Mr. Hans Joachim Scholz, Head of the Department for European Affairs and International Organizations in Bavarian State Ministry for Education, Science and the Arts, talks about the University research system in Bavaria, the ways of supporting the scientists as well as the crucial role of excellence in the Universities.

What is the mission of the Bavarian State Ministry for Education, Science and the Arts regarding the university research? Which are your activities to support this research?

As you already said we are responsible for research in Universities. But we must say that research itself is done by them. Our role is to fund the universities. We don’t really fund research by our means. Once we give the money to the universities, we have certain projects, which we call “Forchungsverbünde” (research clusters), which deal with certain topics, for example climate change, health, social change and we support them in giving them a certain amount of money. Scientists from different universities work together for a certain period of time and then this cluster, when the research has been done dissolves and the money that has been used, is used for new projects.

Are there any particular research fields that take priority over others?     

Of course. We have a Research and Innovation Strategy in Bavaria, which was developed in 2011. According to this Strategy, certain topics are at the centre of research attention: digitalization, health, societal change, ageing society, climate change, neuron applications, material technology, nanotechnology and electrical mobility a very important field, regarding the development of climate protecting cars for example.

What is the role of excellence in a University?

Excellence plays a crucial role because it is the key to European competition. If you compare Europe to the Asian countries or the USA it is absolutely necessary to create and to protect excellence. In Bavaria we have a few Universities, which are excellent, die Technische Universität München (TUM) and die Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU). They have been selected among others in a very high level competition, in which many universities have tried to win a lot of money.

What do you think of the funding of the University research from the private sector? Are there any requirements?

This is hard to answer because there are a lot of ethical questions involved. But what is quite clear that the research that it is done today cannot only be funded by the state due to the cost. It is too expensive. So, financing by third parties is very important but the choice, -who the university works with, is theirs. The Professor or the scientist have to decide whether they feel too much influenced by giving us off the money or whether they can handle it. This is a decision that has to be taken by the scientist. We have the liberty of research in Germany and it is very important for us to make their own choice.

How do you see the cooperation with the European Union? Do you think that there could be improvements?

Certainly, the Funding of the European Union for research is a very important source of income for the universities. It is approximately 8% of third party funding in universities. So, it is a very important factor. A few years ago we funded an institution called The “Haus der Forschung”, that means the house of Research. Its role is to help the Universities and the Universities of Applied Sciences to apply for research projects and to get funding. There is of course a lot of possible improvement. We have Horizon2020, where things have got better in comparison to the FP7. The system of funding is very important for the Universities. European funding is extremely complicated. It has to be complicated because the European Union requires cooperation from different universities from different countries. A scientist has to find partners.  And he has to develop a plan how to find them, how to publish the results etc.  This is extremely complicated and on the one hand it takes very long time for the European Union to take a decision whether they will fund the project or not. On the other hand it is very difficult for the universities because they are not sure whether they get the money. To help with all these processes, we have founded this “Haus der Forschung” and help the scientists to develop their applications, show how to present their work etc. I think that we are on a good way. In 2014 Bavaria’s Universities got about 36 million Euros for research funded by the EU.

Are there any possibilities for cooperation with another country, for example between Bayern and Greece? Are there any projects already running?        

I don’t have an insight in all the projects that are running because the research takes place at the universities. Of course they cooperate with partners but it is their choice who they want to cooperate with. Partnerships take place regardless of the distance in Europe or outside of Europe because of course important research can only be done in cooperation. There must be a certain critical mass that has to be creative in order to do really good research. So when universities see that, for example in Greece or wherever there is an interesting partner they will cooperate with them for sure. And they do.

The interview was first published in Science View.