VolkswagenStiftung was established in 1961, and started its activities in the spring of 1962. Its origins are based on a government treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Lower Saxony, which settled the controversy over the ownership of the Volkswagen factories after 1945. The then Volkswagen GmbH was converted into a joint stock company under German law. The proceeds were transferred to the Volkswagen Foundation.


VolkswagenStiftung is dedicated to the support of the humanities and social sciences as well as science and technology in higher education and research. It funds research projects and provides assistance to academic institutions for the improvement of the structural conditions for their work. In particular, the Foundation perceives its mission in supporting aspiring young researchers and in promoting interdisciplinary and international collaboration.

Geographic focus


Programme areas

The Foundation focuses its funding activities on selected initiatives. By means of these initiatives, it endeavours to provide effective stimuli for research and to establish forward-looking topics. The funding initiatives are grouped into the areas:

• Persons and Structures

• Challenges – for Academia and Society

• International Focus

• Research in the Digital Age

• Completed Initiatives

In addition to its funding initiatives, the Foundation is providing support for:

• Research institutions in Lower Saxony: Niedersächsisches Vorab

• Outstanding projects which do not fit into its current funding initiatives: Off the beaten track

• Supporting grantees’ interaction with the public and with the scientific community at large: Communicating Science and Research

The Foundation organise also a program of events. Events of the Volkswagen Foundation are aimed at strengthening the bond between science and society at large and generating fresh impetus for the transfer of research results.

Persons and Structures

• Lichtenberg professorships: provides support to junior academics in connection with innovative fields of research located between the disciplines as well as new teaching concepts within the respective research environment

• Opus Magnum: the initiative aims at providing more freedom for writing a larger scholarly treatise to professors from the humanities and social sciences who have already achieved a degree of renown by virtue of (a first) outstanding research performance.

• ‘Freigeist’ Fellowships: The ‘Freigeist’ scheme is deliberately left open to all disciplines and topics. The main focus is on junior researchers (up to 5 years of postdoctoral experience). It offers freedom for creative thinking, whilst at the same time security for at least 5 years and in the long run the opportunity to establish a career within a scientific research organization or university in Germany.

• Research in Museums

• University of the Future: aims to support projects on structural innovation and to promote the internationalization of German universities.

• Call: Arts and Science

Challenges – For Academia and Society

• Symposia and SummerSchools: to support events in all subject areas dealing with new ideas and research approaches in order to encourage innovative event formats as well as new ways of supporting interaction and networking among the participants. Future Issues of Our Society: analysis, advice and communication between academia and practice.

• Macroscopic Functional Systems … : to promote the advancement of molecular or nanoscale units to more complex functional systems at a macroscopic scale.

• Experiment!

• “Original – isn’t it?” : to promote the exploration of research ideas of groundbreaking originality in the humanities and cultural studies.

• Life? : encourages projects that contribute to comprehending fundamental principles of life by working with systems resembling those of living ones or by exploring chemical and physical cellular processes.

International Focus

The funding initiatives relating to other countries serve international cooperation and the systematic support of institutions and projects outside Germany.

• Knowledge for Tomorrow: cooperative research projects in Sub-Saharan Africa

• Between Europe and the Orient: a focus on research and higher education in/on Central Asia and the Caucasus

• Europe and Global Challenges

• Call : Arab World : support for cooperative research projects focusing on the Arab world and addressing issues related to “experience of violence”, “trauma relief”, and “commemorative culture”.

• “Postdoctoral Fellowships in the Humanities at Universities and Research Institutes in Germany and the USA” aims to strengthen transatlantic academic relations, especially in the field of the Humanities. In this funding initiative, the Volkswagen Foundation works closely with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New York.

Research in the Digital Age

International Research in Computational Social Sciences

‘Mixed Methods’ in the Humanities

Science and Data-Driven Journalism


Since 2012 the Volkswagen Foundation has been holding all its funded international scientific conferences and public events in the Herrenhausen Palace Conference Center in Hannover. The background idea is to further discourses on current research issues and provide stimulus for the transfer of knowledge to the general public. The Foundation also welcomes proposals to hold symposia and summer schools at the Herrenhausen Palace Conference Center.