Evaluation of the Humboldt Research Fellowship programme (2021)

Since 1954, financed by the Federal Foreign Office (AA) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has been sponsoring study and research stays of highly qualified academic researchers and scholars from abroad at German universities and research institutions through the Humboldt Research Fellowship Programme (HRF programme). Depending on their career stage, academic researchers and scholars with above-average qualifications either apply in the funding line for post-doctoral researchers (for applicants who completed their doctorate no more than four years prior to the application) or in the funding line for experienced researchers (for applicants who completed their doctorate no more than twelve years prior to the application). HRF fellows get the opportunity to carry out a long-term research project of their own choice in collaboration with a host at a German research institution.

With the fellowship, the researchers become members of the Humboldt Network. The Humboldt Foundation supports the networking of its fellows during and after their sponsorship stay in Germany. The Humboldt Foundation's alumni programmes aim to continuously maintain and strengthen the Humboldt Network. Today, more than 30,000 researchers from all academic disciplines worldwide belong to the Humboldt Network.

Evaluations of the Humboldt Foundation’s sponsorship programmes 

Purpose of the evaluation

The purpose of the evaluation was to examine to which extent the Humboldt Foundation succeeds in achieving its objectives in implementing the HRF programme. These objectives are:

  1. to attract academically highly qualified applicants;
  2. initiating long-term research collaborations;
  3. permanent use of the cooperation network for international research collaborations;
  4. access to international experts and decision-makers in science, politics, culture and the business sector for partners in Germany;
  5. allowing personal and nuanced insights into German science and research, German society and culture.

The HRF programme was already evaluated for the first time between 2009 and 2011. In the first evaluation, the evaluators concluded that the HRF programme overall achieves its goals. The new evaluation was therefore meant to set specific priorities. The evaluation focused on issues regarding the academic excellence of the applicants, the (country-specific) push and pull factors that, from the perspective of researchers abroad, speak for or against applying to the HRF programme, as well as issues regarding the safeguarding the excellence of applicants in the selection process.

Conclusion of the evaluation

The results of the evaluation show that the HRF programme is very successful in achieving the goals of the programme: The programme appeals to academic researchers and scholars with above-average qualifications. To a high degree the programme succeeds in facilitating sustainable scientific and research collaborations between the fellows and researchers in Germany. The research stays provide the fellows with deep personal experiences and insights into German science, research, society and culture, which show themselves in improved German language skills and a continuing interest in Germany. Alumni make use of the Humboldt Collaboration Network, although postdoctoral researchers in particular would like to see more opportunities for research networking and academic collaboration.