Dr. Georg Schütte, Secretary General of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
By Georg Schütte
When the Humboldt Foundation first announced the award winners of the multi-million Alexander von Humboldt Professorship a few weeks ago, the press and the German research scene were all abuzz. A lot of people made very positive noises, but there were those who expressed their concern: Is the Humboldt Foundation, whose hallmark is academic exchange, turning into a recruitment agency for Germany as a research location?
After all, for more than five decades, the Humboldt Foundation has been exclusively sponsoring the comings and goings of highly-qualified academics to Germany and back to their own countries. And now it is providing up to five million EUR for each Humboldt Professorship on the strength of funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to bring the award winners from abroad and finance their research work in Germany over a period of five years – which is one way of creating attractive conditions for international academics in Germany and ensuring that they stay for many years.
So, does this mean global headhunting instead of exchange? Certainly not! Alexander von Humboldt Fellows will continue to be at the very heart of our sponsorship. Every year, some 700 scientists and scholars from all over the world receive a fellowship. They conduct their research for an average of 18 months as post-docs or experienced academics at German universities and research institutions. They then return to their universities and laboratories in their own countries, but their contacts to Germany are maintained over many decades. They are the anchor for a wealth of bilateral and multilateral collaborative projects which ensue from the research stays in Germany. They are the bridges to their own countries which are so important in a global world, not only for research, but for the economy and politics, too.
However, this global world presents Germany and, indeed, the Humboldt Foundation with new challenges. Nowadays, more than ever before, academics are competing in an international contest. The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship contributes to ensuring that German universities are a visible feature of this contest. Similarly, the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award, which gives young international scientists and scholars the opportunity to build up research groups at German universities, helps this international light to shine. As a result, German universities continue to remain internationally visible and attractive as host institutions for Humboldt Research Fellows from the entire globe. Then there is the Humboldt Research Award which is still an international honour for top-rank researchers, rewarding them for their ground-breaking performance and enabling them to cooperate with German colleagues on fixed-term projects.
Excellence and widespread impact are not mutually exclusive. We have made a conscious decision to locate the Alexander von Humboldt Professors at universities. Non-university research institutions can only apply for the professorship together with German universities. And incidentally, in most cases the Humboldt Professors will be involved in teaching, too, even though the emphasis is on research. Talented young people, so says the ABC of global academic mobility, are drawn to outstanding academics. The Alexander von Humboldt Professorships will thus shine like a beacon in the world and guide the way to research institutions in Germany. The diversity and strength of these research institutions should make them the envy of many parts of the world.
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