The Jugend forscht Contest is a Unique Way of Assisting Talented People

“We are looking for the scientists of tomorrow!” Henri Nannen, the editor-in-chief of stern magazine, coined this slogan when launching the first Jugend forscht contest in 1965. This is as true today as it was then. In science, technology and engineering there is an unbroken demand for highly qualified people. As a result of declining student numbers in these subjects and due to an increasing global competition, the current lack of specialists is going to get even worse. Jugend forscht makes an important contribution to identifying and supporting the highly gifted people we need in business and academia.

Today, as well over 45 years ago, Germany’s most famous junior talent contest can rightly say that it is setting a good example with the very effective way in which it promotes careers of highly gifted young people. Some of the principal proposals being discussed in the current education reform debate have been part of what Jugend forscht does for many years. For example, project work constitutes an ideal framework for offering pupils the kind of individual attention that will encourage them to make most of their special abilities. Furthermore, inquiry-based learning enables young people to familiarize themselves with the tools of scientific enquiry. They thus acquire methodological skills that are core qualifications of today’s knowledge society.

Jugend forscht does not confine its support and encouragement to the contest itself. Successful participants are given the opportunity to take part in internships at research institutions or universities and to attend scientific conferences in order to enhance and widen their knowledge. This way Jugend forscht supports talented young people in focusing on a goal at an early stage, and motivates them to study a science or engineering-related subject. And there are numerous ways in which talented young people can engage in a transgenerational dialogue with experts from the Jugend forscht network. The contest provides an outlook on the future and ideas on the next steps in their careers.

Surveys have shown that Jugend forscht is an extremely effective way of promoting careers of gifted young people. Nine out of ten successful participants later study a scientific, technological, engineering, mathematical or medical subject. After having completed their university education, about half of the winners of the federal contest work in the area of research and development at universities, research institutes, or for large companies. Over the years more than 200,000 young people have taken part in the Jugend forscht contest.

Jugend forscht has developed a viable organizational structure in order to successfully support talented young people. The contest depends on a broadly-based public-private partnership in which various stakeholders work together in pursuit of a common goal. Jugend forscht’s main patrons are the German government, stern magazine and the business sector. The President of Germany acts as patron. Currently about 250 partners provide the financial support needed for the contest. In addition to medium-sized companies and global corporations they included universities, research institutions, foundations and associations. Our partners run the contests, donate awards, and organize other activities such as alumni meetings. The concept forms the basis for the ongoing expansion of Jugend forscht, which now has more than 100 contests on the regional, state and national levels.

An exemplary aspect of Jugend forscht is the willingness of many teachers to support the contest on a voluntary basis. More than 6,000 science and engineering teachers participate each year as project supervisors, jury members and contest organizers. Their voluntary work is an essential element of the contest, and without it more than 11,000 young people each year would not be able to participate.

As a result of the numerous challenges of the 21st century such as population growth, climate change and globalization Germany needs talented young people who are interested in research, who have minds of their own, and who are keen to produce results. They are going to have to assume social responsibility and to make a contribution to sustainable development. The inventiveness and creativity of young scientists form the basis for future innovation in research and technology. It will help Germany to stay ahead of the growing international competition. That is why educating young people and fostering their careers in the areas of science and engineering is a very important task, if, that is, we want to ensure that our society can meet the challenges of the future. And it is something to which Jugend forscht is and will continue to be committed.

Dr. Daniel Giese
Leader communication & public affairs
Stiftung Jugend forscht e. V.