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Where scientists from abroad want to conduct research

Universities in smaller cities becoming increasingly popular


The universities in the major conurbations Berlin and Munich are in particular demand among foreign researchers according to the Humboldt Rankings released today. The ranking list shows how many researchers have come to Germany on a fellowship from the Humboldt Foundation in the last five years ‒ and the institutions where the greatest numbers of these researchers spent their research stays.

The top three positions in the Humboldt Rankings are held by the cities Berlin with the Freie Universität Berlin (FU) and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) and Munich with the University of Munich. The order of the top three has not changed since the publication of the last Humboldt Rankings in 2012. Universities in smaller cities however are catching up in the latest ranking: The University of Göttingen has climbed to fifth place. Just two years ago, it placed ninth. RWTH Aachen University rose from 14th to 12th place. The Universität Regensburg improved its standing from 18th to 16th place. The University of Münster made a leap from 22nd to 15th place ‒ making it a newcomer to the top 20 addresses that are particularly popular among high-calibre foreign researchers.

“Foreign researchers apparently choose the institution for their research stays not only on the basis of whether it is located in one of Germany’s largest cities”, says the president of the Humboldt Foundation, Helmut Schwarz, looking at the rankings. “This shows how much faith there is worldwide in the quality of science and research in Germany ‒ be it in Berlin, Munich or Westphalia. That is not only good for Germany as a location for research work but also for our foreign relations in general”, Schwarz explains.

In order to determine the Humboldt Rankings, the number of research stays by top international researchers and junior researchers who have conducted research in Germany in the last five years in connection with a fellowship or award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation are counted. To avoid statistical bias arising from differences in the size of the host institutes, the rankings relate the number of research stays to the number of professors at the respective university. Despite this weighting, universities in Berlin and Munich top the list ‒ cities that are also at the top of the rankings in terms of the absolute number of research stays (see Table). It is also striking that only half of the top 10 slots are held by universities that are considered “elite universities” based on their performance in the third funding line of the Initiative for Excellence.

Max Planck institutes take a clear lead in the rankings of non-university research institutions: The Fritz Haber Institut in Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz hold the top three positions.

Top 20 host universities

Weighted rankings Institution Weighted (absolute) number of guest researchers*
1 Freie Universität Berlin  141,67 (289)
2 Humboldt-Universität Berlin  112,45 (271)
3 Universität München  73,11 (261)
4 Universität Bonn  63,19 (182)
5 Universität Göttingen  58,5 (148)
6 Technische Universität München  57,39 (167)
7 Universität Heidelberg  56,17 (182)
8 Technische Universität Berlin  54,84 (119)
9 Universität Bayreuth  53,44 (70)
10 Universität Freiburg  53,16 (143)
11 Universität Bielefeld  48,15 (78)
12 Technische Hochschule Aachen  47,67 (123)
13 Technische Universität Darmstadt  47,4 (82)
14 Universität Frankfurt am Main  47,35 (125)
15 Universität Münster  47,14 (140)
16 Universität Regensburg  46,75 (79)
17 Universität Potsdam  45,67 (58)
18 Universität Köln  44,57 (119)
19 Universität Konstanz  43,18 (57)
20 Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)  41,57 (106)

*Number of foreign guest researchers per 100 professors at the host university

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