06.07.2021 // (09/21)
Demand remains high for the Einstein Foundation’s academic freedom scheme, with 56 researchers funded since 2018
In June, the Einstein Foundation's Executive Board decided to grant funding to an additional nine researchers who are either experiencing research constraints or are victims of political persecution in their country of origin. The foundation's academic freedom programs - the only regional scheme of its kind in Germany - allow recipients to continue their work at a Berlin university for up to two years. Since 2018, the foundation has supported 56 researchers thanks to more than €6 million in funding provided by the State of Berlin between 2018 and 2021. Berlin's Senate has included provisions for additional funding in its provisional 2022-2023 budget, earmarking €1.5 million annually for the scheme. The budget still awaits the approval of the Berlin House of Representatives. The universities submitting applications on behalf of researchers have already announced further calls for applications.
The vast majority of funding recipients are from Turkey, followed by Syria and Iran. Researchers from Ghana, Albania, Yemen, and Egypt have also been included in the scheme. The research projects pursued by successful candidates during their time in Berlin cover a variety of disciplines. In addition to the social sciences, which are usually well represented, topics range from an art project on coin dies featuring destroyed Syrian monuments, a biochemical study of kefir cultures, a molecular biological analysis of frozen sperm cells, and digital soil mapping in Jordan to an investigation into how Turkey's ruling AKP is influencing the country's media, as well as analyses of urban subcultures and political theater.
The governing mayor of Berlin and the city's senator for higher education and research, Michael Müller, said: "Berlin is a cosmopolitan city and an outstanding research hub with an international reputation. It is also a strong advocate for academic freedom. That is why we believed in the importance of setting up a state-funded scheme in partnership with the Einstein Foundation to promote academic freedom. I greatly appreciate the joint efforts of the foundation and all of Berlin's participating universities and institutions that have already enabled us to offer support to so many at risk and persecuted researchers since 2018 and provide them with a new academic home here in our city. It is vital that the scheme's work continues and that Berlin is able to carry on playing its part in promoting academic freedom. We made this abundantly clear in our Senate proposal for the upcoming 2022-2023 budget."
Prof. Günter Stock, Chair of the Einstein Foundation's Executive Board, welcomes the cooperation between funding organizations to support migrant and refugee researchers: "The way in which various programs offered by the participating organizations complement and work alongside one another is particularly beneficial to the target group." Roughly one third of the just under 50 researchers who were awarded funding by the Einstein Foundation initially came to Germany via the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, a similarly designed, countrywide fellowship scheme organized by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. As Einstein Junior Scholars or Einstein Guest Researchers of the academic freedom scheme, they were able to continue their work in Berlin once their fellowship had ended. Some of the Einstein Fellows have since taken up research posts in Berlin, including at the Technische Universität Berlin and at the Centre Marc Bloch.
"Growing illiberal tendencies or even more dramatic shifts, such as democratic backsliding, are also threatening the autonomy of science and research in many parts of Europe and the world. It often starts with a government slashing funding for, and positions in, unwelcome, critical areas of research and ends with the dismissal or even criminal prosecution of independent researchers," explained Prof. Silvia von Steinsdorff, a political scientist at the Humboldt-Universität who supervises several Einstein Fellows in her Comparative Political Sciences research team. "The continually growing demand for funding programs such as those offered by the Einstein Foundation sadly attests to this international trend," von Steinsdorff added.
To take part in one of the Einstein Foundation's programs, international researchers whose academic freedom or lives are at risk should first contact a Berlin university or the Charité - Universitätsmedizin, who will then submit an Einstein Junior Scholar or Einstein Guest Researcher application on their behalf. Postdoctoral researchers, i.e. early career researchers who have held a PhD for no more than five years, will be prioritized for funding, followed by researchers at an advanced stage in their career. Both funding formats offer a research post in Berlin for a maximum of two years, including a budget for project-specific resources.
The Einstein Foundation Berlin is an independent, not-for-profit, science-led organization established as a foundation under civil law. It promotes international cutting-edge science and research across disciplines and institutions in and for Berlin. To date, it has funded 172 researchers, including three Nobel laureates, 71 projects and six Einstein Centers. For its efforts to promote Berlin as a research hub and to grow the city's international reputation, the Einstein Foundation was named German Research Foundation of the Year 2021.