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Staatssekretär Prof. Dr. Ingolf V. Hertel: Greetings on behalf of the Senate of Berlin
Deutsch-Chinesisches Symposium der DFG "Impact of National Goals on Basic Research", Monday, 22.3.1999, Magnus-Haus Berlin

Respected Presidents, Ladies and Gentlemen,

it is a great pleasure and honour for me to welcome you here on behalf of the Senate of Berlin. Your bi-national meeting has a very challenging title: Impact of national goals on basic research. A theme of vivid political interest at the present time when every public activity in the highly industrialised nations is regarded in the light of globalisation.

You could not have picked a better location for discussing such a topic: the Magnus-Haus in which we are convening today is not only one of the last well conserved Barock townhouses, built in 1760 - the time of the great Prussian King Federik II., but also a very remarkable place in the history of science. In the 18th century the famous founder of analytical mechanics, J.L. Lagrange worked here and in 1840 the house was bought by Gustav Magnus, then Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Berlin University. He did set up here a private physics laboratory, which was also open to university teaching and which is now considered the oldest physics lab in Germany. The regular physics colloquia which he initiated here in 1845 formed the basis of the German Physical Society.
After a long, partially turbulent history, the house was dedicated to the German Physical Society (DPG) by the Senate of Berlin.

It is said that during one of these early Physics colloquia, about 150 years ago, in 1846 or 1847 Werner von Siemens, the brilliant engineer and Johann Georg Halske, the talented Craftsman met here for the first time. Siemens had an ingenious idea and Halske the means to put it into realisation. As a result of this kind of technology transfer (as we would call it today) the Company Siemens & Halske was founded in 1847 - a success story as we all know. It is this very kind of pioneering sprit, which we want to revive in our New Berlin. Berlin is on its way to become one of the global cities of knowledge production, knowledge communication and education.

This kind of vision for the New Berlin is indeed characteristic for the big national goals. Our most promising natural resources are based on science and technology combined with the talents, the knowledge and the skills of our people whom we must give the best possible education we can - and I believe this is also a goal of the Peoples Republic of China, in spite of the many other natural resources you have and we lack.

The organisers of this symposium, I imagine, want to illuminate this theme from the perspective of two countries with very different, but both very rich, cultural tradition and a very different history of science and knowledge. If this attempt is successful then both sides will not only have learned about each other a lot, they will at the same time also have understood more about themselves. It is this very spirit in which foreign cultures should communicate and thus profit from each others wisdom and experience.

International relations are particularly important for Berlin while developing into a modern metropolis in a world without boundaries. If you remember the recent history of this city you will understand that we are rather proud of our present international immersion and connectednes, in particular in the field of science, research and education. We have, in comparison to other German states (Länder), with 12% a rather large fraction of foreign students at our 3 universities and 12 other colleges. We want to further increase this number of foreign students since we feel that educating young people is the best way to create long lasting good and peaceful relation among nations. Consequently, our scientists and scholars are involved in more that 400 international co-operations and thus are interwoven with the world. 15 of these agreements are with institutions in China and we trust that this number will further increase. The city hosts more than 80 institutes, colleges, learned societies, archives and museums which are involved in one way or other with foreign cultures, languages and international affairs. This extraordinary density and plurality is an essential asset for this city in its new role as the German capital and metropolis in the middle of Europe. Politics, business and industry expect from Berlin as a capital this kind of interface and knowledge about foreign countries and cultures. - We have to compete here with New-York, London, Paris and Tokyo - and more and more so with Bejing and Shanghai.

The impact of national goals on basic research! Should politics try to influence the directions for basic research? Should it control the output? And if yes: which parameters should we measure and try to optimise? Which instruments are needed to allocate public funding most effectively?

I trust that you will address all these questions which I certainly cannot answer in an opening address. Just let me make a few remarks.

  1. Tne essential prerequisite for excellent basic research is the freedom to study what seems most promising or most challenging within the respective scientific context. I am always deeply suspicious whenever anyone pretends to know beforehand where science should go in order to meet the needs of the nation. Even if we would agree on the goals: How can anyone know which is the best way to reach them if finding this out is the very subject of genuine research?
  2. The traditional distinction between basic and applied research is long outdated in our modern, global world of science. Today, knowledge driven and application oriented research overlap strongly and cross fertilise each other.
  3. In Germany, traditionally we have a strong institutional support of research - both in universities and in non-university research institutes. This secures a high degree of freedom for science and research. On the other hand, such system tends to become rigid with time and reluctant to change a direction once taken.
  4. It is thus the role of the state to counterbalance these negative aspects by establishing a framework for competition and strict quality control. In Germany, the DFG plays an essential role in this context. I am told that the NSFC has adapted many structures and procedures from the DFG. You must be aware, however, as successful as the DFG system in Germany is: it distributes only 5 to 10 % of the total public funded research budget.

    Thus, in post unification Germany, i.e. after 1990, "evaluation" became one of the magic buzzwords. In particular in the new German States assessment of universities and research institutes by peers has covered practically all research establishments and has lead to a complete restructuring of the institutional basis. I believe it was a successful transformation, science playing a pioneering role in unifying the national conditions of life. The national goal here was to secure a high standard of research infrastructure in fields which could possibly become future key technologies. And thus to compensate for a massive loss of industrial research in the new German States which happened in combination with the breakdown of East German industry. Only a powerful basis in research and teaching can set the ground for the necessary innovation which we presently need everywhere in our country. Berlin has used its chance for restructuring very well.

    Now, nearly 10 years later, we have asked the German Science Council to re-evaluate the structure of our universities and colleges. The non-university research institutes have already been re-evaluated during the past 2 years and got mostly very good reviews.
  5. Until very recently, another German tradition, meant to balance the institutional freedom, was a rather rigid financial allocation system and a detailed set of laws and rules. It gave parliaments and administrations a feeling of good control. Unfortunately, it also reinforced inflexibility.

    During the last years the deficits of such system became more and more evident and a change of paradigm happened. The rigid financial rules were eased, the new buzzwords being "flexibility" and "competition". Businesslike behaviour of universities and research institutes was called for. The state started to withdraw from the institutions which it still funds, maybe not generously, but - after rigid cuts over several years - now again with some reliability. In Berlin we have contracts with our universities, giving them financial security over some years. The parliament has allowed the universities to experiment with 50% of its respective legal rules. In turn, the universities agree on certain terms of performance, quality control and co-ordination.
  6. Faced with the question what impact national goals (or regional goals for that matter) can and should still have on science and research, I feel that we need a new set of instruments. Not necessarily to plan and control research, or manoeuvre it into supposedly desirable directions. But we must develop incentives: to illuminate pathways which call for more attention, to make the needs of society more visible, to reward good performance, scientific quality and useful output. And to provide platforms for the right people to meet - just as it happened in this house 150 years ago.

In this spirit I wish you a successful meeting.

Prof. Dr. Ingolf Hertel, e-Mail: Hertel@mbi-berlin.de

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