State Secretary for Science and Research
President Prof. Dr. Alt, Prof. Dr. Dreher, Prof. Dr. Zürn, Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to the conference “Planning Research for the Future?”
Some of you may be wondering to what extent research must, should, or can be “planned.” After all, research has to be free to develop dynamically, and – as we all know – we owe some of the most important discoveries in the history of science to serendipity or to unusually creative and unconventional thinking. But even if we take more typical cases as our starting point, scientific insights always depend on other recent work, and the pursuit of new discoveries can be unpredictable. We’re limited in our ability to plan these processes.
On the other hand, however, social and economic issues and goals play a decisive role in initiating research inquiries and fields. Whenever new needs or interests crop up in society, the questions either trigger researchers’ curiosity or new programs are designed to explore these issues.
I’m thinking, for example, of the sustainable use of natural resources, the challenges of demographic change (aging societies here, and overpopulation and the lack of resources elsewhere), or the constant evolution of mobility options (e-mobility is the key word here).
Science and research evolve in the delicate balance between science’s pursuit of knowledge, local and supraregional economic needs, and the tasks of society as a whole, represented by the government.
We are all familiar with the related discussions of basic research versus an application orientation, school funding that focuses on the majority of students versus (or in addition to) support for gifted programs, and the amount of influence politics and society should have on research aims. While these goals may appear to be contradictory, they bring energy to scholarly and scientific work and we need to keep trying to find a balance between them.
Despite the questions I started with on the nature of scientific insights, we can still ask whether research can or must also be plannable. I would prefer to leave this complex question to the experts gathered here – after all, tackling this issue is what brought them here today. Instead I’d like to offer a Solomonic response: what we definitely can and must plan and influence are the institutional structures that make research possible. And of course we policymakers, along with science and industry, need to constantly revisit the question of what the right institutional structures actually are.
Against this backdrop, I’m delighted that the Freie Universität and the Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft are holding this conference here in Berlin and at the FU.
Berlin is a center of science and learning: a total of four universities, four universities of ap-plied science, three colleges of music, performing arts, and fine arts, two religious colleges, and 26 private institutions of higher education are at home in our city, along with more than 60 research institutions with an international reputation.
That gives us one of Europe’s largest and most diverse academic and scientific landscapes. And I am convinced that this also gives us outstanding – perhaps even unique – structural potential and capacity when it comes to research. Strong connections between university and non-university research institutions are possible here. Berlin is a place where disciplinary boundaries can be transcended in unconventional ways and diversity is a source of intellectual inspiration.
At the same time, cooperation between university and non-university research institutions in particular is becoming more and more important. If Berlin is to remain competitive throughout Europe in research and higher education, it is crucial that we take a strategic approach to research planning. Here, too, I believe that diversity is ,the best foundation for a strategy of this kind.
In addition, the Freie Universität itself, as a strong research university that also boasts excellent teaching, is an ideal venue for this conference. Under Germany’s “Excellence Initiative,” it was awarded funding for its long-term institutional strategy. FU graduate schools and “clusters of excellence” have also been singled out by the “Excellence Initiative.” This success demonstrates that the university has set the right course with its strategy, and it also has a very good chance of receiving additional awards in the next round of funding. I would like to take this opportunity to assure you again that the Berlin Senate will support you as you work towards this goal.
We cannot discuss the social, political, and eonomic development of society without also talking about research, innovation, and scientific advances. What direction is research taking, what should its priorities be, and how can these goals be achieved? It’s not just researchers, policymakers, and government departments focused on science who are working hard on the subject of research planning. Rather, interest is growing even among people outside the scientific and academic sector.
The Freie Universität Berlin is an excellent place for intellectually stimulating events, and so I would like to wish you productive conversations and an exciting stay in Berlin, our science capital!