Volkswagen Foundation: Freigeist Fellowships

The Volkswagen Foundation is dedicated to the support of the humanities and social sciences as well as science and technology in higher education and research. The Foundation is the largest private research funder in Germany, and since 1962 it has granted more than €5.1 billion of funding for over 33,000 projects. A Freigeist Fellowship will open up new horizons with the initiative focusing on early-career researchers from all disciplines.

Applications open

5 Aug 2023

Last day for applications

11 Oct 2023
Learn more

Application type

Application required
How to apply

Benefit type

General allowance
Full benefit details

Citizenship requirements

Australian / domestic student
International student

Total value

up to $3,500,000

Applicable study areas

All study areas

Number of scholarships awarded

Approximately 15

  • "Volkswagen Foundation funding enabled my colleagues and me to develop fundamental new insights into the generation of patterns in biology (e.g. stripes and spot patterns on animals, or the development of digits and vertebrae in humans). I received funding through Volkswagen’s “Life?” initiative, and the review process was rigorous and typically involved a short outline application followed by a thorough sifting process (in our case 420 applications were reduced to 22 bids that were invited for full applications, of which 10 were funded). Applications, even at the full application stage, are much shorter than Australian researchers might be used to, and the interview, whilst robust and rigorous, was a stimulating affair as it was conducted by world-class and highly experienced domain experts and focused on the scientific and intellectual content of the proposal."
    Read Prof. Michael Stumpf's story
  • Eligibility & selection criteria


    To be eligible for this scholarship, you must:

    • Have obtained a doctorate not longer than four years but at least one year previously (with regard to the date of the defense relative to the deadline of the initiative).
    • Ensure that the Fellowship will be integrated within a university or an extra-mural research institution in Germany.
    • Have already changed your academic environment and moved to a new location – at the latest when starting the Fellowship. A return to the working context of the doctorate will only be accepted under exceptional circumstances.
    • Have completed a previously research sojourn abroad, at the latest integrated in the proposed research project.

    Outstanding junior researchers who wish to carry out research at the boundaries between established fields of research are encouraged to apply.  Please see the Volkswagen Foundation's Freigeist Fellowships website for further details.

    Selection criteria

    The main focus is on junior researchers (up to 4 years of postdoctoral experience) working at the borders of neighbouring fields or disciplines. The 'Freigeist' initiative offers freedom for creative thinking, whilst at the same time providing 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.

  • Application process
  • Variations of this award

    In addition to the “Freigeist Fellowships”, the Volkswagen Foundation also offer funding for:

    - “Artificial Intelligence and the Society of the Future”, with a value of up to €1.5 million over 4 years.
    - “Lichtenberg Endowed Professorships” with a value in excess of €2,000,000 over 5 years.
    - “Life? – A Fresh Scientific Approach to the Basic Principles of Life” awards, with a value of €1,500,000 each over 5 years.

What are the benefits?

Depending on the nature of the project, up to €2,200,000 for two funding phases is available.

  • The first funding phase can encompass either five or six years. This allows the Fellow to be hired as a W1 Junior Professor for the duration of the grant. It is expected that Fellows participate in academic teaching (including examinations), involving generally a teaching load of between two and four weekly hours per semester.
  • A second funding period of two or three years is possible, whereby the total funding period (including the first funding phase) must not exceed eight years. The prerequisite is a positive evaluation carried out by the Foundation and a clear perspective for the continuation of the Freigeist Fellow’s position on the part of the host institution. Flexibility is ensured by allowing a change to another institution for the second phase.

For complete listings of faculty-specific scholarships, please see individual faculty websites.

The information listed here is subject to change without notice. Where we have listed information about jointly run scholarships programs, please also see our partners' websites. Information describing the number and value of scholarships awarded is indicative.