The reunification of East and West Germany has created great opportunities for the entire population but has also placed great strains on the nation. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in science, engineering and technical education and vocational training. Germany maintains an excellent science and technology educational system and vocational training in many fields. About 140,000 science and engineering students graduated per year in the last years of the twentieth century. Still, the challenge of incorporating the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) into a complete and modern German nation is daunting. Public and university research facilities in the former East Germany are old and poorly maintained, and science and engineering students have been found to be poorly trained and equipped to work in more modern West German institutions and companies. It is believed that the German government will need to completely rebuild the science and technology infrastructure in the former GDR before it can compare with more modern German facilities.
In 1987–97 total research and development expenditures in Germany amounted to 2.4% of GDP; 2,831 scientists and engineers and 1,472 technicians per million people were engaged in research and development. In 1998, high-tech exports were valued at $63.7 billion and accounted for 14% of manufactured exports. The German national science and technology budget is applied to many areas of science and technology, and leading fields include traditional areas of German strength, like chemical, automotive and telecommunications research and development. The current policy emphasis is on applying science and technology to enhance Germany's economic and competitive standing while protecting the nation's health and the environment.
Germany supports national science and technology at many levels. There are independent laboratories, comprised of both the national laboratories and private research institutes like the Max Planck and Fraunhofer Societies. In addition, German industry supports many important types of research and development, and the German states, or Länder, provide still more resources for scientific research. The Ministry for Science and Technology (BMFT), an organization without parallel in the United States, both coordinates and sets priorities for the entire national science and technology program. Finally, Germany's participation in the European Union also has a significant science and technology component—Germany provides funding, scientists, and laboratories for broad European research and development.
Germany has numerous universities and colleges offering courses in basic and applied sciences. In 1987–97, science and engineering students accounted for 47% of university enrollment. The Natural History Museum in Berlin (founded in 1889) has geological, paleontological, mineralogical, zoological, and botanical components. The country has numerous specialized learned societies concerned with agriculture and veterinary science, medicine, the natural sciences, and technology.