The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

While I was in Germany attending the International Dean’s Course in June 2012, there were many topics we discussed and learnt from each other. However, one of the most prominent topics that might be of interest to you, especially those who are seeking scholarships to study graduate levels or to conduct research in Germany, it is the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The session was conducted by Mr. Matthias Hergenhan,  a Berlin Officer.

The Foundation sponsors top-flight foreign scientists and scholars who come to Germany on the strength of research fellowships and research awards to spend extended periods of time working together with German colleagues; it cultivates the relationships ensuing from these visits.

Alexander von Humboldt was a discoverer and cosmopolitan, a universal scholar and fighter for the freedom of research; he was a citizen of the world and patron of excellent scientific talent. Shortly after his death in 1860, Alexander von Humboldt’s friends established a foundation and named it after him. The objective was to utilise science and international exchange in the spirit of Humboldt to overcome barriers and encourage peace. Having experienced many ups and downs, including temporary closures, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation as it is known today was re-established in 1953.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation promotes outstanding researchers from Germany and abroad with its programmes. Sponsorship decisions are based on the applicant’s achievements and qualifications to date. There are no quotas, neither for countries nor disciplines. The Foundation believes that even in the times of increasing team work the ability of the individual is the crucial factor for academic success. This is why it sponsors people not projects. Those chosen on this basis should be given as much freedom as possible to carry out their research projects. This includes allowing Humboldtians to choose their host institutions themselves and to conduct independent research without any stipulations from the Foundation.

The spectrum of work at universities includes basic research, applied research as well as development. Currently, more than 100 universities in Germany are particularly strong in research.
(Universities in Germany: about 370 including more than 100 universities with the right to award doctorates which are particularly strong in research.)

Basic research is conducted at 81 institutes in the Max Planck Society, especially in science and bioscience, but also in the humanities and social sciences.

The Fraunhofer Gesellschaft undertakes applied research. Its contract partners and clients are companies in the manufacturing and service industries, as well as public bodies. It has more than 80 research centres, including 60 Fraunhofer Institutes all over Germany.

The 18 large-scale technical-scientific and biomedical research centres that have joined together in the Hermann von Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres are a significant part of the research landscape of Germany.

86 research institutes and service facilities for research in Germany have amalgamated under the umbrella of the Leibniz Association. The concrete spectrum of tasks ranges from natural science, engineering and environmental science via economics, social and spatial sciences to the humanities.

The Humboldt Foundation sponsors foreign, cutting-edge scientists and scholars who come to Germany on the strength of research fellowships and research awards. Furthermore, it offers opportunities for highly-qualified, German researchers to carry out long-term research projects at institutes abroad.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation sponsors academic cooperation amongst excellent foreign and German academics. Annually, it grants more than 800 research fellowships and research awards that enjoy an outstanding reputation across the globe.

The Foundation‘s research fellowships and awards provide funding to suit every career situation – from young postdoctoral researchers at the beginning of their research careers to experienced researchers or world leaders in their research area.

Taking all fellowship and award programmes together, the success rate for applications lies between 25% and 40%.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation sponsors:

– academics at different career stages, usually after completion of a doctorate
– academics from abroad who wish to conduct research in Germany
– academics from Germany who wish to conduct research abroad

Humboldt Research Fellowships for postdoctoral researchers are the programmes with which the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables highly-qualified scientists and scholars from abroad, who are just embarking on their academic careers and who completed their doctorates less than four years ago, to spend extended periods working on research (6-24 months) in Germany.

Humboldt Research Fellowships for experienced researchers target highly-qualified scientists and scholars from abroad, who completed their doctorates less than twelve years ago, enabling them to spend extended periods working on research (6-18 months; may be divided up into a maximum of three blocks) in Germany.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables highly-qualified scientists and scholars from abroad, who hold doctorates, to carry out research projects of their own choice in Germany. Researchers of all nationalities and disciplines may apply for a Humboldt Research Fellowship for postdoctoral researchers or a Humboldt Research Fellowship for experienced researchers. There are no quotas for individual countries and disciplines.

Furthermore, highly-qualified researchers from developing countries (excluding Turkey, India and the PR of China; see list of eligible countries) may apply for a Georg Forster Fellowship for postdoctoral researchers and a Georg Forster Fellowship für experienced researchers. The subject of the research proposal must be of relevance to development policy and particularly suited to the transfer of knowledge and methods to developing countries.

The requirements for a research fellowships of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation  are a doctorate or comparable academic qualification, independent research experience, documented by recognised academic publications, preferably in international journals, a confirmed research position, as well as a research project agreed upon with the academic host, and adequate language skills.

As a rule, candidates’ chances are increased if they belong to the top group amongst their peers. The number of publications considered appropriate varies according to discipline and career stage.

What determines an application’s success is academic quality not language skills. In science, in particular, working groups function and publish in English. In such cases, it is not necessary to have a proven knowledge of German at the time of application.

Candidates from the humanities and social sciences, on the other hand, should have a basic knowledge of German at the time of application.

Experienced researchers should have their own, clearly defined academic profile. This means they should usually be working at lest at the level of Assistant Professor or Junior Research Group Leader or be able to document independent research work over a number of years.

Applications may be submitted to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at any time. Application forms can be downloaded from the Internet. Usually, two independent expert opinions will be requested for each application. The decision is made by an independent selection committee made up of academics from all disciplines. They evaluate the applications submitted without any quotas for countries or disciplines. The selection committee meets three times a year. The procedure takes a total of 4-7 months from submission to notification of the committee’s decision immediately after the committee meeting.

One of the hallmarks of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is to provide guest researchers with as much individual assistance as possible.

At the end of August or early in September each year, a two-week study tour is arranged for research fellows and their marital partners.
In addition, there are several regional network meetings held annually for research fellows who newly arrived in Germany. These meetings take place in German university towns. The Foundation‘s annual meeting is held in the summer. All research fellows and research award winners from all disciplines and countries staying in Germany, as well as Feodor Lynen Research Fellows who have returned in the preceding year, are invited to attend this meeting together with their families.

It is the aim of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to sponsor their research fellows on a long-term, individual basis. Contact should be maintained after the initial research stay in Germany in order to ensure that the relationships to specialist colleagues in Germany, which have developed during the fellowship period, can be sustained and strengthened, and academic collaboration consolidated long-term. Alumni sponsorship is not subject to an age limit.

Research fellows can apply for a return fellowship to sponsor reintegration into an institute abroad. Applications may currently be made by academics returning to the following countries:

– developing or emerging countries (Humboldt and Georg Forster Research Fellowships);
– countries in Central and Eastern Europe (Humboldt Research Fellowships)

At the end of the fellowship period, Feodor Lynen Research Fellows are also offered return fellowships. They can be granted for a maximum period of 12 months upon application.

Examples for family benefits:

Fellow, aged 31, 24 month fellowship, basic fellowship amount 1,416 EUR per month, accompanied abroad by at least one child under the age of 12:

Case 1: 12 month extension

No allowances will be provided for childcare costs.

Case 2: no extension

12 (months) x basic fellowship amount, i.e. 16,992 EUR, will be provided for childcare costs.

Case 3: 6 month extension

6 (months) x basic fellowship amount, i.e. 8,496 EUR will be provided for childcare costs.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awards twenty fellowships every year to prospective leaders from emerging and developing countries who are active in the field of climate protection and resource conservation in academia, industry, governmental or non-governmental organisations. They come to Germany for one year in order to carry out a project dedicated to the sharing of knowledge, methods and techniques with a host of their choice.

The fellowships are funded under the Climate Protection Initiative by the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU).

Requirements for an application are leadership potential as well as a first university degree (Bachelor‘s or equivalent degree), completed less than twelve years prior to the start date of the fellowship. Applicants must also hold a further (academic or professional) qualification or have extensive, relevant work experience. Furthermore, a supervision agreement must be in place with a host in Germany.

Fellowship benefits

The fellowship is granted for twelve months, extensions of up to three months are possible. The fellowship amount is between 2,150 EUR and 2,750 EUR per month. The fellowship benefits include joint events (introductory seminar lasting several weeks, training courses, a final meeting of fellows in Berlin) that are intended to familiarise the fellows with the current social, political, cultural, economic and historical dimensions of climate protection and resource conservation in Germany as well as to promote networking within the group and with multipliers in Germany.

On top of this, travel expenses are covered at the beginning and end of the visit to Germany as well as the costs of the language course. Marital and child allowances may be paid on application.

The distribution of research fellows according to countries of origin changes from year to year because the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation does not have any quotas for countries but selects candidates solely on the basis of the academic quality of applications. Thus, the distribution reflects both the countries which have particularly large numbers of applicants and particularly successful applicants and also indicates how attractive Germany is as a research location for certain countries during a certain period. The Foundation welcomes excellent applications from all countries equally.


Bordin Waelateh


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s