By: Ned Stafford
On Sunday millions of Germans will cast their votes in a federal election that will determine Germany’s chancellor for the next four years. First elected chancellor in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, physicist Angela Merkel will be expecting strong support from scientists and educators, feeling that she has done plenty during the past eight years to keep them happy. Recent polls put Merkel’s centre-right CDU/CSU union in the lead with around 40% of the vote.
Merkel originally studied physics at the University of Leipzig from 1973 to 1978 before completing her doctoral thesis on the reactions of hydrocarbons in 1986. She entered politics after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and has supported science during her eight years as chancellor. According to the research and education ministry, federal funding for R&D has rocketed by about 60% during that period – from €9bn in 2005 to €14.5bn now. The ministry also says that federal spending on education rose by 70% to €7.3bn in the seven years to 2012 compared with a 30% rise from €3.3bn from 1995 to 2005.
Thomas Mannel, a theoretical particle physicist at the University of Siegen, says that one of Merkel’s most significant contributions is her support for the Excellence Initiative, which is designed to produce internationally recognized universities in Germany that can match rivals in the UK and US. Merkel launched the programme in 2007 with €1.9bn for the first five years and it was renewed in 2012.
Germany now has 11 Ivy-League-style universities receiving top-up funding. “The positive side is that it was real money for the universities,” Mannel says. “The negative side is that the university landscape is changing because of this and students tend to go to the ‘excellence’ universities.”