About the BMBF Funding Priority

About the BMBF Funding Priority

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) supports projects for research on higher education and science, in the framework of a separate funding priority established especially for this purpose.

The research field in question focuses on an area of society that, over the past few decades, has been steadily gaining economic and macrosocial importance. It is an area in which both non-university research institutions and universities have been making significant contributions to technical innovations and economic growth, to the integration of sustainability concepts and instruments, and to rising levels of education in the general population. In today's world, many products and services, and many of the decisions made by organisations and individuals, are based on knowledge that is science-based and imparted via tertiary education (cf. Wissenschaftsrat (German Council of Science and Humanities), Position Paper 2014). Consequently, excellent research on higher education and science, inspired by theory and using empirical research methods, plays an indispensable role in ensuring the availability of the valid information and analyses needed for policy-making and management in the science sector.

About the BMBF Funding Priority

What are the key characteristics of research on higher education and science?

Research on higher education and science studies the bases, structures and performance processes of scientific research and tertiary education, along with related activities (promotion of academic success and of young scientists and researchers; promotion of the "third mission," etc.). It also identifies and examines general trends in the science system – especially in higher education institutions, the system's "gravitation centres."

It is an interdisciplinary, application-oriented research field that scientifically studies higher education institutions and non-university research institutions, along with their key players and societal (inter) actions. On the one hand, it focuses on the research system, including its organisational structures, and its specific performance processes and standards; on the other, it examines higher education teaching – especially the ways in which teaching and learning processes are designed, the curricula used in study programmes and the governance structures tied to teaching.

What topics shape the research field?

The field's central focuses reflect the diversity of the science system's tasks. Research on higher education, a sub-area of the field, has in Germany traditionally focused on teaching. As a result, it shares topic focuses with conventional education research, which tends to concentrate on schools. With topics such as "internationalisation" and the "Bologna process," however, higher education research pursues different emphases. Research on science, another sub-area of the field, which traditionally has tended to focus on the area of research, is closely related to the areas of research on technology and innovation, science and technology studies, and sociology of knowledge.

What exactly is the BMBF supporting?

In this funding priority, the BMBF plans primarily to support R&D projects that can submit applications in the framework of regularly published, topic-specific funding offers ("funding guidelines").

Projects are selected for support via a review process that includes peer review by scientists/researchers active in the relevant field in each case.

The following funding lines have been carried out and brought to a conclusion since the establishment of this funding priority:

Currently, projects are being supported in the context of the following funding lines:

In January 2020, a further funding line was published:

  • Knowledge transfer (Wissenstransfer) (2021)


What are the aims of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research's research funding in this area?

As this societal area's importance has continued to increase for industrialised countries, and in the context of the significant modernisation and reform measures implemented in recent years, researchers have increasingly been turning their focus to the relevant institutions themselves – to research institutions and higher education institutions. At the same time, policymakers and science-system stakeholders have been calling, more and more urgently, for reliable findings regarding the change processes underway in the science system, and their impacts. In light of policymakers' and the science sector's current requirements for information, and the questions they are now posing, the status of research in this area is still inadequate. Too often, decisions and actions of science-system managers, and of policymakers with responsibility for the science sector, are still based on pre-scientific opinions, rather than on scientific findings. The institutional enshrinement of research in this area, in the form of professorships and institutes, is still inadequate. Similarly, content-related networking between the two sub-areas of research on higher education and research on science – and efforts to transfer findings between the two areas – also needs to be improved. The BMBF's project funding is thus expected to help offset and overcome these deficits.