“No current research projects were canceled for cost reasons. There is neither an approval freeze nor a funding freeze for ongoing projects.” These statements from the Federal Ministry of Research run like a red thread through the answers to 71 questions that, as reported, the Union faction in the Bundestag addressed to Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP).
The answer was exclusively available to the Tagesspiegel in advance. The background to the request is complaints, primarily from the social sciences, but also from the bioeconomy and other subject groups, that research projects and applications for extensions that have already been positively evaluated have not received any funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) at short notice.
The Ministry had previously confirmed, among other things, for its “Social Effects of the Corona Pandemic” funding line that 18 of the 32 projects applied for received approval – each with 90 percent of the requested funding amount and with a start postponed to 2023.
This emerged from a BMBF announcement at the end of July. However, as is common practice in science, the applicants had already concluded employment contracts due to the positive assessment and the resulting unofficial funding commitments.
The BMBF gives the repetitive standard answer that there was no approval or funding stop first of all to the central question of the Union faction, which funding was specifically stopped, reduced or postponed in 2022. Accordingly, the ministry does not provide the required list of all canceled projects, including the funding amount and the number of project employees affected. Project lists are only available for approved projects in the bioeconomy and for a federal program for universities of applied sciences.
“The minister missed the opportunity to explain her strategy. Furthermore, it is claimed that there would be no cuts. However, numerous reports from the scientific community speak a different language,” commented the research policy spokesman for the Union faction, Thomas Jarzombek (CDU), to the Tagesspiegel.
In this way, “trust is lost and insecurity is sown”. The scientific community is “consciously kept in the dark about the goals and strategy of the BMBF,” says Jarzombek.
In some places in the 44-page answer from the BMBF, however, references to reasons for rejection can be found. In right-wing extremism and racism research, the vast majority of positively evaluated projects were officially approved according to a notification from the end of July – 19 projects and five out of six junior research groups received approval. It is now officially stated that the non-approved junior research group was “assessed as only partially eligible for funding” in the assessment process.
And once again it is generally said that “no current research projects have been canceled for cost reasons”. However, it is conceded at one point: “In individual cases, however, it may happen that follow-up projects cannot be funded at all or not to the same extent as before.”
More specifically, it becomes the “Cultural Diversity, Cultural Heritage” funding line and the joint project “PARVENUE – bourgeois advancement in the mirror of object culture in the 18th century”: Here, “against the background of the changed budget situation”, individual approvals were dispensed with, where it was about connection – or graduation grants went.
Apparently what is meant are the burdens of the corona pandemic, the consequences of the Russian war against Ukraine and the “politics in the context of the turning point”, as the preliminary remarks of the BMBF put it. However, the BMBF also emphasizes that Minister Stark-Watzinger was able to negotiate a budget that was three billion euros higher despite planned budget cuts. In 2026 it should be 21.1 billion euros.
But with the planning security after positive reports on funded projects, it is apparently over. The practice that an application that has been assessed as worthy of funding and a verbal or other notification of this means a “go” for the project managers and their teams should no longer apply: “A binding commitment to funding is only given with a corresponding written decision,” clarifies the BMBF .
The questioners from the Union faction also wanted to know how “the minister’s sudden new focus” was justified, on the basis of which she was not (further) funding for projects that were found to be good. “A new focus has not been set”, is the brief answer, whereby the BMBF once again refers to the “changed budget situation”.
Elsewhere, however, there are indications of priorities in terms of content: In the “BioTip” funding priority for climate and biodiversity research, no new projects were approved “due to insufficient funds”. However, climate protection research is supported, for example, by the promotion of green hydrogen or by a new ship for polar research, the BMBF adds by way of explanation.
The sub-project “PRODIGY – soil biodiversity as a tipping point in the Amazon region” is also affected by the end of the “BioTip” project. The cancellation came two years before the end of the term, before the evaluation phase and before the results were to be shared with the residents of the affected countries, as complained at Freie Universität.
Such project terminations in international cooperation projects also affect guest scientists whose residence permit in Germany “depends on the respective project funding”, emphasizes the Union faction.
In this regard, the questioners suggest that the BMBF support those affected and keep them in Germany as skilled workers elsewhere. The ministry simply replies that hiring the international researchers “is, as before, the responsibility of the grant recipients”. Thomas Jarzombek then fears that the high level of commitment that Germany traditionally enjoys in international research collaborations will be underestimated.
“Recognizing this difficult situation of international scientists who are in existential difficulties through no fault of their own and assuming responsibility for this is probably the least that one could expect from a federal research minister,” explains Jarzombek. He criticizes “the bluntedness of the BMBF in communication, clad in bureaucratic phrases”.