Germany Hopes New Innovation Ministry Will Force Closer Indu

Article excerpt

Germany has established a new innovation ministry to rev up the nation's idling R&D machine for the 21st century.

The decision to combine the federal research and education ministries, following Chancellor Helmut Kohl's reelection last year, was prompted in large part by German industry groups, notably the Federation of German Industry and the German Chamber of Industry and Trade. These groups have long criticized the nation's universities and government research institutions for being too slow, too expensive and frequently out of sync with market demand.

Every second scientific project in the country's basic research sector is "economically irrelevant," according to a study by the German Association of Electrical/Electronic Manufacturers (ZVEI). Hans Guenter Danielmeyer, research director at Siemens AG and chairman of the ZVEI research Committee, says the academic training of scientists and engineers in Germany "is far too specialized." He wants science students "exposed to marketing and business disciplines during their academic studies."

Nor have the research centers spared themselves criticism in recent months. "We're too expensive in low-tech sectors and not innovative enough in high-tech sectors," concedes Wolfgang Treusch, chairman of the Committee of Large German Research Institutions. "We must change our ways. The German economy is at stake."

Newly appointed innovation minister Juergen Ruettgers has been put in charge of setting new academic guidelines in science training at German universities and polytechnical colleges, and caning out a new course for the government's basic and applied research institutes. He will also be responsible for breathing life into the new technology council approved by the government last year but which has yet to be organized.

The merger gives Ruettgers a combined budget of around DM 15 billion ($9.7 billion). But the new minister already has sent a message to parliament that he wants more--at least twice as much by the end of the decade--and that he would like to see greater tax incentives for companies investing in R&D. The federal government axed most tax incentives in 1990 as Germany plunged into its worst post-war recession.

Bloated Bureaucracies

Ruettgers' mandate is clear: Shake up state-funded R&D centers and force greater collaboration between government and industry research teams. No easy task considering the different interests of both groups and especially the bloated bureaucracies that have mushroomed within the Fraunhofer Society for applied research, the Max Planck Institute for basic research and the state universities during decades of German economic prosperity.

The relationship between the government R&D institutions and German industry was the focus of a special conference sponsored by Ruettgers' ministry in Essen last December. Government and industry research officials attending the conference agreed that, in the past, valuable scientific information gathered at the basic and applied research institutes had frequently not filtered down to industry and that a cooperative spirit in the German R&D community was still lacking. …