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Globally Networked Research

A feature of the research and teaching at the three major Berlin universities and Charité is their international dimension

Carlos Echeverria is from Mexico and studies at the Institute of Mathematics at Technische Universität Berlin.

Carlos Echeverria is from Mexico and studies at the Institute of Mathematics at Technische Universität Berlin.
Image Credit: Christian Kielmann

With its academic programs and outstanding resources, Berlin has attracted more scholars and scientists from all over the world than any other research region in Germany over the last several years. The number of international students also continues to grow. 

Research associations work together across disciplines and are globally networked. Strategic partnerships and profile partnerships with universities throughout the entire world enable targeted cooperation on joint research projects and the promotion of young researchers.

Members of the three major Berlin universities and Charité, including students, researchers, and administrative employees, also visit outstanding institutes in all parts of the world through exchange programs and various cooperation projects. This allows new ideas to emerge from information sharing and networking. The diversity of international perspectives is a crucial aspect contributing to research excellence in Berlin. 

Attracting researchers from all over the world

Berlin is the most popular city in Germany for international researchers. This is reflected in the rankings of the two biggest funding agencies, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which sponsors researchers from all over the world at German universities, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which supports students as well as scholars. Freie Universität, Humboldt-Universität, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin all perform near the top in both rankings.

Freie Universität and Humboldt-Universität occupy first and second place in the Humboldt Ranking for 2012 to 2016, while Technische Universität Berlin ranks seventh. At Freie Universität, 124 researchers from abroad are admitted per 100 professors; at Humboldt-Universität, the figure is 93 – more than double the number at the majority of universities in Germany. Charité, which appears in this list under other institutions, ranks fourth in the field of life sciences. 

Here to stay

Scientists and scholars from all over the world appreciate Berlin not only as a place for temporary research. An increasing number of professors who conduct research and teach at the three major Berlin universities or at Charité have an international background. In 2016, the figure for Humboldt-Universität was 14 percent, while it was 12 percent at Freie Universität, 10 percent at Technische Universität, and 7 percent at Charité. The average figure in Berlin was more than at other universities in Germany.

Young researchers from all over the world

The major Berlin universities and Charité hold particular appeal for young researchers. Around a third of all PhD students at all four institutions come from abroad – 34 percent at Freie Universität Berlin, while 32 percent international PhD students are enrolled each at Humboldt-Universität and Technische Universität Berlin, and 27 percent at Charité.

The number of PhD students from abroad increased steadily at Freie Universität, Technische Universität Berlin, and Humboldt-Universität from 2008 to 2018. The share of these students even tripled at Freie Universität. 

The share of postdoctoral students and other academic employees at the universities is around 20 percent on average at all institutions. 

Successful programs like the EU-funded fellowship of the Dahlem Research School have also played a role in enabling around 100 international PhD graduate researchers to develop an in-house research project at Freie Universität in one of the biggest interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research associations within a period of seven years. At the same time, the scholarship holders contributed to the international networking of the institutions.

Students transcend borders

In the degree programs at the major Berlin universities and at Charité, the share of international students is growing steadily and is far above the German average. Only the Technical University of Munich has a higher percentage of foreign students. The share of these students increases along with the level of study: while 10 to 15 percent of students in bachelor’s programs come from abroad, the figure for consecutive master’s degree programs is already over 20 percent and as high as 24 percent at Technische Universität Berlin. The curriculum, which includes a series of English-language degree programs, is one of the key attractions.

The mobility of Berlin students has also continued to increase over the last several years. Humboldt-Universität, Technische Universität Berlin, and Freie Universität are among the German universities from which the most students spend part of their studies abroad, with aid from Erasmus and via direct exchange. DAAD also sponsors many Berlin students studying abroad. 

Berlin-based researchers are also very active abroad. According to data from German funding agencies for 2014, Freie Universität and Humboldt-Universität were the institutions in Germany that dispatched the most scholars and scientists abroad.

Networking in research associations

International cooperation projects are an outstanding feature of the major research associations from the German Excellence Strategy. The SCRIPTS excellence cluster of Freie Universität has developed institutional partnerships with universities in every region of the world in order to investigate the global challenges facing liberal democracy. Academic cooperation partners of the cluster are based in locations such as the Middle East at the Bilkent University in Ankara, at the Southeast Asian Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and at the University of California in Berkeley. 

The UniSysCat excellence cluster also cooperates with many international partners with the aim of promoting catalysis research across geographical borders. The cooperation partners include the Catalan Institute for Catalysis (ICIQ) in Tarragona, Spain, the Kaist Consortium for Catalysis in Korea, and Stanford University in the US, among others. Young researchers also benefit from the academic networks of the association partners by conducting research as part of PhD programs or in graduate schools at a partner institution for a specific time frame.

University partnerships 

Apart from the existing university partnerships, some of which date back several decades, Freie Universität, Humboldt-Universität, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité have developed very close strategic partnerships with selected universities. These partnerships promote exchange between university members at all levels through a range of formats: they facilitate the development of joint research projects while also promoting young scholars and scientists through joint doctoral programs, for example.

While Humboldt-Universität cooperates with Princeton University, the National University of Singapore, and the University of São Paulo, Freie Universitätis currently involved in six strategic partnerships. These include the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Peking University, Saint Petersburg State University, the University of British Columbia, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Zurich. Technische Universität Berlin has traditionally focused its partnerships on Eastern Europe, with Technische Universität Wien, St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University, the Warsaw University of Technology, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Politecnico Milano and the University of Technology Sydney have also joined as non-European partners. 

Charité is a founding member of the European University Hospital Alliance. The objective of the association is to promote an active exchange of performance models and staff in all areas and at all levels in order to set standards of excellence in patient treatment, medical research, innovation and technology transfer, and training and education for all of Europe. The alliance also acts as a consultant for stakeholders in EU politics, NGOs, industry, and science. Assistance publique – Hôpitaux de Paris, Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, King’s Health Partners in London, University Hospitals Leuven, the Medical University of Vienna, and Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona are the partners in the alliance.

The three major Berlin universities and Charité have also concluded a strategic cooperation with Oxford University (link to Oxford webpage https://www.berlin-university-alliance.de/en/commitments/international/oxford/index.html) and entered into joint partnerships with the University of Melbourne (link) and the National University of Singapore (link). 

Research centers abroad

Freie Universität Berlin is involved in two Maria Sibylla Merian research collegia. In cooperation with the center, named after the naturalist Merian (1647-1717), the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) wants to promote the internationalization of humanities and cultural and social sciences in locations outside of Germany. The Maria Sibylla Merian Centre for Advanced Studies “Conviviality in Unequal Societies” was opened in São Paulo in 2017, together with Freie Universität, the Ibero-American Institute (IAI) of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the University of São Paulo, and other German and Latin American institutions.

Since 2010, Technische Universität Berlin has been running a satellite campus in El Gouna, Egypt, which is set up as a nonprofit public-private partnership. The degree courses offered on the campus are exclusively subject to German university legislation in terms of both content and structure.

Charité is a consulting partner for the construction and operation of a mother and child clinic in Shanghai. For the past four years, it has been training young interns from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in a six-year program to become specialists in various disciplines.

Event calendar with global perspectives

Interested Berlin residents and visitors to the city can also participate in the global networking of the three major Berlin universities and Charité by attending public lectures and lecture series. 

The Queen’s Lecture was established at Technische Universität Berlin as far back as 1965 as a gift from the Queen to the city of Berlin. Since then, many renowned British scholars and scientists have spoken in Berlin, with a break during the 1970s and 1980s. Queen Elizabeth II, who opened the lecture during her first visit to Berlin, returned after 50 years for its anniversary in 2015. 

There are also many regular lectures at Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin given by outstanding international researchers from all disciplines, from mathematics to philosophy, most of which are open to the public and therefore accessible to students, colleagues, and anyone in the city seeking inspiration.