Germany a Destination For Higher Studies, Research and Innovation

A world leader in tuition free education and research funding

Unlimited opportunities for high caliber Pakistani students and researchers

Germany is the largest economy in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. A cosmopolitan country which lies at the heart of Europe and more than 80 million people live here, without doubt the most populous country of the EU. It is a federal republic founded in 1949 as a parliamentary democracy. Its constitution guarantees basic rights to all people which include freedom of religion, expression and equality before the law. Germany is divided into 16 federal states and each state has its own political sphere of jurisdiction that includes matter of culture and education called the Lander, these unite to form a superordinate that is known as the BUND. This means Germany has a comprehensive and decentralized system of education. All 16 states have their own university regulations and guidelines.

I had the opportunity of visiting Germany on many occasions that included visits to universities and institutions in the past. However I never had the chance of so closely looking at their education system, structure and policy framework that makes it distinctive from the entire world when it comes to higher education, research and innovation until my recent visit in the middle of April, 2016 on the invitation of their Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I felt highly privileged when I was recommended by the German Ambassador in Pakistan Mrs. Ina Lepel who asked me to represent Pakistan on a themed trip titled “Germany as a location for study and research”. It was an eye opener not only for me but for many of my colleagues who represented 15 other nations on this trip. We were all amazed to see how well structured and organized the system of providing higher education and the way the framework of funding research was designed in the country.

Syed Abidi and delegates from 15 countries with Mr. Michael Reiffenstuel, Director for Cultural Relations Policy at the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin

Syed Abidi and delegates from 15 countries with Mr. Michael Reiffenstuel, Director for Cultural Relations Policy at the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin

The delegation comprised of senior researchers, academics, education mangers and journalists from 16 countries including Greece, Pakistan, Korea, Belarus, Estonia, Spain, Namibia, Paraguay, Canada, Vietnam, Russia, Kosovo, Singapore, Trinidad & Tobago, Slovenia and Slovakia and a fully packed program that involved presentations by managing directors, chairmen, heads of institutions and senior government officials of different universities, research institutions and ministries to apprise us of the latest and in depth information on complete education system, organizational structure, research facilities, research funding and processes involved which are unbiased, transparent and open merit for anyone and everyone across the world.

“We were all amazed to see how well structured and organized the system of providing higher education and the way the framework of funding research was designed in the country.

I thought it was important to disseminate some vital information concerning the huge research opportunities Germany has to offer especially to our inspiring and highly talented youth and young researchers who often end up in frustration and disappointment searching to find placements and funding at reputed international universities. I hope the information below will help Pakistani researchers to locate an appropriate research position or study opportunity with relative ease through simplified and comprehensive guidelines provided by German institutions especially DAAD, universities and non-university research institutions without referring to consultants or wasting time. These institutions have their own dedicated research funding and offer straight forward application and selection process where decisions can be made within 12 weeks provided the application and the documents required are complete in every respect. The key research areas which could connect your M.Phil or Ph.D to further research in the areas of:

Communication and Mobility

  • Automotive Technologies
  • Aviation Technologies
  • Information and Communication Technologies
  • Maritime Technologies
  • Space Technology

Environment and Energy

  • Energy Technologies
  • Environmental Technology
  • Natural Sciences
  • Plants

Future and Society

  • Humanities
  • Services
  • Social Sciences

Health and Security

  • Health Research
  • Medical Technologies
  • Security Research

Interdisciplinary Technologies

  • Biotechnology
  • Materials Technologies
  • Nanotechnology
  • Optical Technologies
  • Production Technologies

Both federal and provincial governments have committed themselves in allocating a huge R&D budget which has been constantly raised since 2013 and currently stands at 16.4 billion Euros, which clearly demonstrates the importance and priority of education and research the federal government plans to give to this sector. This funding is then distributed down to the universities, research institutions and organizations that manage and monitor the entire research landscape. We were told that the federal government’s new high tech strategy will include a further rise in research funding in 2016 and some of the areas highlighted during the presentations were electronic systems, energy technologies and energy use etc. HTS will support Germany in becoming an innovation leader and quickly translating good ideas into innovative product and services and the five pillars of innovative strength highlighted were:

  1. Prioritizing future challenges
  2. Promoting transfer
  3. Higher dynamism of innovation in industry
  4. Favourable conditions for innovation
  5. Strengthening dialogue

Universities Structure in Germany

Germany’s higher education is characterized by particular variety and versatility. Whatever your current qualification and focused research area is you may be able to find a corresponding program which meets your requirement. Germany is home to proximately 400 higher education institutions which offer the entire range of academic disciplines. The German higher education system is characterized by a close link between learning, teaching and research which was formulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) the philosopher and founder of Universität zu Berlin, the predecessor institution of the renowned Humboldt University in Berlin. The universities in Germany are divided in to three types

  1. Universities (Classical)
  2. Universities of Applied Sciences
  3. Colleges of Art, Film & Music

All these institutions are located and spread throughout the country whether a major city or a rich green country side.


The German Research Landscape

In the winter semester 2014-2015, almost 2.7 million students were enrolled at 427 state-accredited institutions of higher education in Germany: 1.7 million students at 107 universities, 930,000 students at 246 universities of applied sciences, 35,000 students at 52 colleges of art, film and music, 2,500 at 16 colleges of theology and 25,000 at six universities of education.

Science and research in Germany are characterized by a well-organized and excellent infrastructure which covers wide variety of disciplines, well equipped research facilities and competent & trained staff. The research is undertaken at various locations that include universities, non-universities institutes, companies and institutions run by federal orstate (Lander) Authorities.

There are more than 1000 public & publicly funded institutes of science, research and development in Germany and these are joined by a large number of research and development institutes and center of excellences run by the companies. The research conducted in selected fields whether through academia or in the industry work closely through networking and in clusters which provides a huge benefit and increases the efficiency and level of knowledge. This is further supported through cooperation at European as well as international level giving a new dimension to science and research in Germany.

The following facts and figures indicate who is involved at what level in research and development in the whole R&D diaspora.

  • Almost 1,000 public and publicly funded institutions for science, research and development. Approx. 500 research and innovation networks and clusters
  • 605,000 staff in R&D including 361,000 R&D researchers
  • German higher education institutions maintain over 32,000 international collaborative partnerships with roughly 5,200 universities and research institutions in more than 150 countries

The largest share of R&D expenditure, roughly 4.1 billion Euros goes to the field of mathematics & natural sciences; they are closely followed by medical and health research at 3.5 billion Euros a year.

·        The public (81%),

·        Industry (14%) and

·        International funding (5%)

Research Funding ProgramsGermany’s R&D policy framework under the federal government is devoting greater attention to the important subject of international exchange and cross border networking in its international strategy, research and academic relations initiative.

  • Alexander von Humboldt Professorship
  • Anneliese Maier Research Award
  • Bilateral Exchange of Academics
  • ERC Advanced Grants
  • ERC Consolidator Grants
  • ERC Starting Grants
  • Emmy Noether Programme
  • Fraunhofer Attract
  • Fraunhofer-Bessel Research Award
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award

“DAAD is the key body that supports and projects the international activities of German institutions of higher education through marketing services, publications, staging of events, providing information to institutions and students and training courses.”

Key Research Funding Organization

  • German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
  • Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
  • German Research Foundation (DFG)
  • Industry
  • Federal and State Governments
  • StipendiumPlus
  • German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF)

Here I would only like to expand more information about DAAD which perhaps is the key body that supports and projects the international activities of German institutions of higher education through marketing services, publications, staging of events, providing information to institutions and students and training courses. The motto of DAAD is “change by exchange”. DAAD is mainly funded by the federal government and its various ministries primarily the German FCO, but also from the European Union and a number of enterprises, organizations and foreign governments.

DAAD has its head office in Bonn but works through a comprehensive network of regional offices and information centers throughout the globe including a full-fledge office in Islamabad. The presence of DAAD in Pakistan has seen a sharp rise not only in student mobility from Pakistan towards Germany but also has led to signing of several strategic and academic partnerships with higher education commission and other public and private institutions the following graphs shows the growth of Pakistani students in Germany.

Source: DAAD

According to the statistics available it has funded more than 112,660 German and international scholars worldwide. This ranges from a year abroad through exchange programs at undergraduate level to doctoral programs, internships, information gathering and exploratory visits in assisting institutions and establishments of new universities. Therefore I strongly recommended DADD to be the first point of contact for Pakistani students by logging at DAAD website

Doing a PhD in Germany

Germany is on lookout for talented, skilled and high caliber students and young researchers. There are number of ways and routes to explore PhD positions at German universities and research institutions through paid and part time jobs that could be working at German universities or a paid PhD position at a non-university. Numerous support programs and sponsorship organizations also support upcoming researchers outside higher education. Non-university research establishments such as Max Planck Society, Helmholtz Association offer PhD/ Doctoral scholarships usually through fixed term contract of employment. This means that your funding for PhD could come from the industry, European Union, Fraunhofer, DAAD, Industrial Research Association (AIR), German research foundations, Leibniz Association, Max Planck or Federal Institutions.


Germany is offering career positions to post-doctoral students and a path to professorship. Post-docs can also find positions as junior professors, junior research group leaders or researchers in the industry. A post-doc can explore a German university, one of the research institute or industry. All above funding organizations provide research funding and assistance.

The unique aspect to doing a post doctoral in Germany is one that offers a dual career which means if both partners are researchers they can come as a family to commence a dual career in Germany.

Senior Researchers

If you are a qualified PhD researcher with several years of Post-Doc research experience you can have several career options in Germany these include professorship, visiting professorship or visiting lectureship, leading a research group or heading a research cluster in a company. Senior researchers can stay till the completion of their projects and are funded and also given prizes on research in particular areas through a number of organizations which include Academies of Sciences and Humanities, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, European Union, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), German Research Foundation (DFG) and Leibniz-Association.

Some important websites for your guidelines



If you are a qualified PhD researcher with several years of Post-Doc research experience you can have several career options in Germany.”

How to get your funding

First of all let me emphasize all research funding, fellowship, research stays in Germany for Post-doctoral and experienced researchers are open worldwide in all disciplines and have no quotas whether he or she belongs to the developed, emerging or developing country etc. The only condition is that your research should be relevant to the development. Following is an example of a funding that post-doc and experienced researchers get during their stays in Germany alongwith details of benefits.

Postdoctoral researchers

Duration of sponsorship: 6 to 24 months

Application period: applications at any time, doctorates completed less than 4 years ago

Fellowship amount: 2,650 EUR per month (plus additional benefits)

Experienced researchers

Duration of sponsorship: 6 to 18 months, may be divided up into 3 stays

Application period: Applications at any time, doctorates completed less than 12 years ago

Fellowship amount: 3,150 EUR per month (plus additional benefits)

Benefits provided

  • Fellowship
  • Travel lump sum, language courses
  • Benefits for families
  • Allowance for research costs for the host institute
  • Study tour, network meeting, annual meeting
  • Intensive and individual mentoring in Germany and abroad by personal contacts at the Foundation
  • Return fellowships for specific regions
  • Alumni sponsorship

On conclusion of this trip all participants agreed that Germany can easily be defined as a country which has the world’s most generous, comprehensive and well-structured research funding and framework. The intentions of the German government were crystal clear, they wanted the best of the best to be the part of German research and innovation initiatives no matter which country, cast or religion they belonged to and they were confident that this cutting edge research will help Germany to emerge as a top country in science, technology and innovation. I would therefore recommended my student and young researchers who wish to explore their opportunities world-wide should consider Germany on the top of the list.

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