Research at Universities of Applied Sciences

The Role of Universities of Applied Sciences in Germany

Universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen in German) offer courses with a practical focus that are tailored to the needs of industry and conduct application and transfer-oriented research. They are also valuable partners for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises. Universities of applied sciences develop tailor-made solutions to concrete societal or economic challenges by collaborating with businesses and other non-academic partners such as associations, municipalities or charitable organizations. In so doing they are at the forefront of new developments and translate good ideas into innovative products and services. This is essential for securing the competitiveness of our industry and thus also for the success of Germany as a location for business and innovation.

Research work has long become an integral part of the activities of many professors at universities of applied sciences. It is through their research work that they remain in contact with professional and industrial practice in order to ensure the high quality and practical orientation of their teaching. Furthermore, professors at universities of applied sciences conduct research in close collaboration with universities (Universitäten) and non-university research partners.

The most important research outcome as far as universities of applied sciences are concerned is the translation of research findings into innovative products and services. Research results are presented at technical conferences and findings published in specialist journals. All universities of applied sciences involve their students in their research work. The empirical study to accompany the “Research at Universities of Applied Sciences” programme (1) found that 93 percent of the principal investigators of projects funded by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF) stated that their students had completed their theses – that is to say Bachelor’s and Master’s theses as well as collaborative phD theses – within the framework of a research project. The research outcomes serve to update and assure the quality of the institutional study and teaching system. They also help to maintain the appeal of universities of applied sciences for students and enhance employment opportunities for graduates. A total of 90 percent of principal investigators of BMBF-funded projects considered that their projects achieved these goals.

Why is the BMBF supporting research at Germany’s Universities of Applied Sciences?

The BMBF has been funding application-oriented research at universities of applied sciences with partners from industry and practice for more than 20 years. This funding is aimed at:

  • Supporting practice-oriented training for young scientists through research and development (R&D) projects,
  • Raising the profiles of the universities of applied sciences,
  • Transferring the results of R&D to business enterprises and other partners,
  • Strengthening Germany as a centre of innovation,
  • Enhancing their ability to cooperate in science and research at national and international level and increasing their participation in the European Research Area,
  • Stimulating social innovation, particularly in the field of health maintenance and in the context of linking societal and technological developments,
  • Establishing structures to facilitate business start-ups at universities of applied sciences.

How does the BMBF fund application-­oriented research at Universities of Applied Sciences?

The “Research at Universities of Applied Sciences” programme is the only national research programme aimed exclusively at universities of applied sciences. Its budget has increased more than fivefold since it was launched, from 10.5 million euros in 2005 to 55 million euros in 2017. Around 130 universities of applied sciences benefited from the programme between 2006 and 2016 – with almost 1,600 research projects and funding of about 360 million euros.

In the Coalition Agreement, the Federal Government confirms its continued support for universities of applied sciences and looks to increase the amount of funding provided.

Ongoing funding lines and funding measures under the “Research at Universities of Applied Sciences” programme

  • FHprofUnt: This funding line focuses on the promotion of application-oriented R&D projects in which universities of applied sciences collaborate with business enterprises. The measure is aimed at enhancing the mutual transfer of knowledge and technology.
  • IngenieurNachwuchs – Kooperative Promotion: This funding line is aimed at supporting young engineers and natural scientists with strong research skills for acquiring a phD degree.
  • FH-Sozial: Under the “Social innovation for a better quality of life” funding line, funding is provided for interdisciplinary research projects to promote social innovation aimed at health maintenance and the digital inclusion of vulnerable groups in particular.
  • FH-Impuls: The funding measure for “Strong universities of applied sciences – providing fresh impetus for their regions” places a focus on supporting innovation partnerships based on close R&D cooperation between industry and academia.
  • EU-Antrag-FH: This funding measure supports universities of applied sciences in strengthening their cross-border networks as well as in applying for funding under the EU Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation “Horizon 2020”.
  • EU-Strategie-FH: This funding measure supports universities of applied sciences in strengthening their strategic position with regard to European research topics and in increasing their visibility within the European Research Area.

The “Research at Universities of Applied Sciences” programme provides funding for application-oriented research and offers a win-win situation for higher education institutions, regions and business enterprises as knowledge transfer takes place in both directions: The business enterprises provide the universities of applied sciences with new stimuli with regard to current research topics, while both businesses and regions benefit from tailor-made research results and the availability of skilled experts on the labour market.

“Research projects often result in university spin-offs and the establishment of new enterprises. All of this serves to re-energize our industry and ultimately strengthens Germany as a business location.” – Professor Christiane Vaeßen, Managing Director of the Zweckverband Region Aachen, former Vice Rector for Research, Development and Technology Transfer at FH Aachen (2005-2009)

How is knowledge transferred to the regions?

How can we use sensory data to assess the quality of food? The research team behind the QSFood project at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences is studying this question.
How can we use sensory data to assess the quality of food? The research team behind the QSFood project at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences is studying this question. (picture: Hochschule Lemgo/Arthur Isaak)

The short distances required for the transfer of knowledge and research results from R&D projects to the surrounding regions are a central characteristic of universities of applied sciences. Here are two examples from the vast range of funded projects to demonstrate the largely open-topic nature of the funding measures:

Researchers at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences in Lemgo are collaborating with business enterprises to find ways to use the data obtained from raw materials and sensory measurements to accelerate the process of identifying quality deviations and avoid reject batches. The results will provide regional businesses with new opportunities for making more efficient use of their resources and reducing safety risks.(QSFood project under the FH-Impuls funding measure)

Researchers at the HTF Stuttgart are measuring the heat flux from a historic window as part of the ENO.SAFE project.
Researchers at the HTF Stuttgart are measuring the heat flux from a historic window as part of the ENO.SAFE project.
(picture: HTF Stuttgart)

A team of researchers at the HFT Stuttgart is looking for ways to modernize listed buildings with windows made from pine, spruce or oak so as to make them more energy-efficient while at the same time maintaining their historic character. The project also involves the Baden-Württemberg State Office for Heritage Conservation and regional businesses in the construction and restoration sector. The research team is developing digital software to help professionals, for example in planning, heritage-related crafts and trades and conservation, as well as laypersons to decide on the right restoration measures. This is providing the region with new opportunities for the conservation of historical buildings. (ENO.SAFE project under the FHprofUnt funding line)

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(1) Final report of the empirical support study for the "Research at Universities of Applied Sciences" programme, technopolis group 13th of May 2016.