Regional Studies (Area Studies)

Whether Africa's visions of the future, China's capacity for innovation, or change in Eastern Europe, cross-border questions can be better answered in terms of cross-border cooperation. Regional studies in Germany show how successful this is.

Lupe liegt auf historischem Kartenmaterial; © Adobe Stock / Andrey Burmakin

Adobe Stock / Andrey Burmakin

Contemplating solely the proverbial end of your own nose has never been enough to understand anything. The regions and societies of our world are intertwined, whether in terms of politics, economics, culture, society, religion or digitisation. Researching, documenting and interpreting these interrelationships is a core task of the regional studies. On the basis of their knowledge and interdisciplinary cooperation, which have a regional and thematic focus, they can contribute to a better understanding of current and historical developments.

Expanding the funding

While other countries have cut funding for social science and humanities research in recent years, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has expanded its funding. With two extensive funding measures, it has now been supporting regional studies in Germany for ten years with more than 65 million euros. Studies are conducted into global interdependencies, as well as into the processes of cultural, political, economic and religious exchange. These include China's economic involvement in Africa and the rivalry among the major powers for influence in the Arab world. But that's not all. Beyond the funding guidelines, more than six million euros will be added for the Forum Transregional Studies group and the Max Weber Foundation for Transregional Research. In addition, the BMBF is providing 1.4 million euros for the concept phase of the Interdisciplinary Research Centre Baltic Sea Region (IFZO) at the University of Greifswald, which has been running since April 2019 (see News 26.02.2019, German-language). Regional studies also play a role in the Käte Hamburger International Centres and Merian Centres funding measures and are partly represented in the Secondary Subjects, which are also funded by the BMBF.

social challenges

With the current framework programme “Understanding Society – Shaping the Future” (“Gesellschaft verstehen – Zukunft gestalten“), the BMBF is continuing to support regional academic research in German universities. They make an essential contribution to solving social challenges, for example, to the functioning and legitimacy of liberal democracies or to social cohesion in Germany in view of its international interdependencies and threats. With their first-rate research results, regional studies can provide valuable answers to these or other research questions and, at the same time, can export the excellent research being conducted in Germany to the rest of the world.

For example, the second edition of the volume "Governance and Adaptation of the Communist Party. A Comparative Perspective" was published in Chinese in 2016, which was developed within the framework of the Area Studies competence network “Regieren in China – Voraussetzungen, Beschränkungen und Potenziale politischer Anpassungs- und Innovationsfähigkeit im 21. Jahrhundert“ (Governance in China – Preconditions, Limits and Potentials for Political Adaptability and Innovation in the 21st Century). Interested members of the public can inform themselves about research on China thanks to non-specialist background papers.

New funding guideline 2019

In October 2019, the BMBF published a new funding guideline (German-language)  in order to strengthen the excellent research in regional studies with a high level of technical and methodological competence, and to strengthen interdisciplinary cooperation between regional studies and other disciplines. In addition to the so-called Secondary Subjects, technical sciences, natural sciences and life sciences can now also be integrated.

Further goals include the structural strengthening of regional studies, particularly at universities, the internationalisation of universities and the German academic system, and transfer between research, politics and society.

Training of young talents

The training of young academics is also to be supported by means of international research experience and cooperation. With the planned funding guideline, the BMBF intends to fund research topics that are particularly relevant to the present day. This will take place initially for three years. Subsequent to positive external evaluation, an extension for a further three years is possible.