09 April 2014, Nr. 07/2014

Five million euros for foreign researchers: an offer you can’t refuse (almost)

Thanks to the Humboldt Professorship, Germany has been attracting international research stars since 2009. A review of the first years.

Endowed with up to five million euros, the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship is the most valuable research award in Germany. It enables Germany universities to recruit and retain top international talents from abroad on a longer-term basis. To date, 41 researchers have been advancing their careers since 2009 with a Humboldt Professorship in Germany. Researchers who were also wooed in their own countries ultimately chose Aachen over New York, Halle over Stanford and Bonn over Cambridge.

What factors determine the success or failure of global headhunting, and to what extent the award fulfils expectations were questions the Humboldt Foundation examined in its recent interim evaluation. The first award winners from 2009 are just completing their five-year appointment as Humboldt Professors. The Humboldt Foundation recently asked current award winners and universities about their experiences and conducted bibliometric analyses.

For most of the professors surveyed, the German appointment package was so attractive that their previous institutions were unable to make a competitive offer to stay there. Furthermore, the award has already gained such international renown that a Humboldt Professorship has become “an offer you can’t refuse”, one professor commented. However, there are those who take a cut in salary by accepting the award. In return, Germany scores high on job security. There is also less pressure to do applied research, so Germany is seen as a paradise for conducting basic research. Many Humboldt Professors commend the amount of latitude they have for conducting creative research without having to justify every step. Cultural factors are also important. More than half of the award winners are of German descent or have been connected with Germany for a very long time, because of previous stays or a German spouse, or because they already speak German.

Many have reached a stage in their lives when packing up house and home and moving to another country is a decision not to be taken lightly. Consequently, the conditions for the award winner’s family play a major role in the level of their contentment in Germany. The search for an adequate job option for the award winner’s partner reportedly presents the greatest difficulties. Frequent mention was made of Germany’s poor image with regard to family-friendliness and women’s career prospects. The work of Humboldt Professors is also affected by German bureaucracy. Internal processes at universities are often experienced as inefficient and strenuous. Some award winners complain about a lack of transparency in the use of funds and protracted discussions with the administration.

Background information, news and current photos and video material about the Humboldt Professorship and all Humboldt Professors are available at www.humboldt-professur.de.

Attention editors:
Meet the latest Humboldt Professors at the award ceremony in Berlin on 8 May!

You will have the opportunity at the award ceremony to ask the award winners about their experiences and impressions and learn more first-hand. We offer photographs and footage in various formats for each award winner free of charge.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of well over 26,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 140 countries worldwide – including 50 Nobel Prize winners.


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