20 Planck labs risk axe

February 7, 2003

About 20 pure research laboratories operated by the Max Planck institutes face closure following a decision by the German federal ministry for education to cut funding.

Although a general increase of 3-3.5 per cent was promised across the board for all research bodies, the ministry has decided that only the German Research Association (DFG) will get an increase of 2.5 per cent.

Researchers and administrators reacted with dismay, and the challenged the minister of education, Edelgard Bulmahn, to explain why the ministry budget of 8 million (£5.2 million) did not cover the costs of the DFG and the Max Planck institutes.

Arend Oetker, president of the German Association of Private Donors, said the Social Democrat and Green coalition government "was sending an absolutely wrong signal" to the rest of the world.

Dr Oetker said that about 1,500 researchers would be put out of work by the decision.

He demanded that the government meet its share of the costs. In 2002, the private sector increased its contribution, while state spending was reduced to 35 per cent.

"Entrepreneurs will not accept a further reduction in government spending," Dr Oetker warned.

In 2002, the association, which administers private scholarship and grants for about 347 foundations, increased donations from industry by 1.6 million, bringing total funding to 30.4 million.

On top of this effort by German industry to fund more research, another 30 foundations were registered with the association last year. These enjoy a total funding capital of 80 million to be spent each year on scientific projects.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung warned that top German scientists would either leave the country in search of more secure working conditions or change careers.

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