East German universities have strongly improved their research performance in the past five years and are now competing on a nearly even footing with their western competitors, according to a report by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the country's public funding organisation for university research.
Humboldt University in Berlin leapt 20 places up the latest research league table of universities, which is based on the amount of research funds that an institution attracted from the DFG. The historic university on Unter den Linden in central Berlin is now the country's ninth most successful research university.
Its research success is typical of a transformation in former East German universities in recent years. Dresden and Potsdam universities also jumped 11 places up the ranks, Magdeburg University jumped nine places, Jena seven places, and Chemnitz six places.
A DFG spokesman said there are only insignificant research quality differences between eastern and western universities now.
In the former German Democratic Republic, universities were primarily teaching rather than research institutions. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, eastern universities and their academics have undergone a radical and painful transformation to adapt to the West German system.
But it now seems to have paid off. As well as their increasing research success, a league table of university teaching published by Der Spiegel magazine put three small eastern German universities (Chemnitz, Greifswald and Magdeburg) among the top five.
The DFG report is not an official league table. But it is an important indicator of a university's research performance because DFG funds account for a large slice of a university's funding and grants are awarded on a competitive basis.
The latest report covers a total of E3.06 billion (Pounds 1.90 billion) allocated in 1996-98. Apart from the emerging power of the east German universities, it reveals stability of performance among the western universities.
Top of the league was again Munich University, which attracted E100.2 million. In second place was the Technical University of Aachen with E96.1 million. The Technical University of Munich took third place with E3.06 million, followed by Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Tubingen, Hamburg, Erlangen-Nurnberg, Humboldt and Wurzburg universities.
Medical research projects received the highest level (17 per cent) of DFG funds in 1996-98, followed by biology (16 per cent).