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FAQ: Research Units Funding Line

The Research Units Funding Line (FOR, KFO, KFG)

Which variations of Research Units exist?

The DFG funds different variations of Research Units known as “Research Unit” (FOR), “Clinical Research Unit” (KFO) and “Centre for Advanced Studies” (KFG). The common theme between all three is that they enable a close cooperation between outstanding researchers over a medium-term timeframe to work on a particular research project that goes beyond the possibilities of individual projects.

KFOs should be used to fund research networks in disease or patient-oriented (translational) clinical research and to establish permanent scientific working groups in clinical institutions.

KFGs are a special funding option tailored to research in the humanities and social sciences.

Are Research Units tied to a certain location or can they also be spread between locations?

FORs can be based at a university or at various locations, whereby the majority of scientific projects should be based at universities. A KFO is primarily run by university hospitals belonging to a university, so is therefore tied to a certain location. A KFG is likewise based at only one location.

How long is a Research Unit granted funding for?

The following applies to drafts and proposals of FORs and KFOs which are based on drafts submitted from 1 October 2018:

  • The total funding period usually lasts eight years, which is comprised of two funding periods each lasting four years.

The following applies to drafts and proposals of FORs and KFOs which were submitted before the cut-off date of 1 October 2018 and proposals which are based on drafts submitted before 1 October 2018:

  • The total funding period usually lasts six years, but sometimes eight years in justifiable exceptional cases (7th and 8th year). The first and second funding periods typically last three years each. It is not possible for these groups to switch between two funding periods of three years to two periods of four years.

The following applies to drafts and proposals from KFGs regardless of when they were submitted:

  • The total funding period usually lasts eight years, which is comprised of two funding periods each lasting four years.

Preparing and reviewing a proposal

How is a proposal submitted for a Research Unit?

A draft proposal must first be submitted before a Research Unit may submit a proposal. The DFG makes a recommendation on whether or not the full proposal should be submitted based on the draft.

The draft and the full proposal for a FOR or KFO may be submitted at any time. Details on how to prepare the draft and the proposal can be found in the Instructions for Preparing Proposals to Establish or Renew Research Units and Clinical Research Units. Proposals for projects are submitted in accordance with the instructions for funding projects.

A draft proposal for a KFG may only be submitted in conjunction with an annual call for proposals. Details on how to prepare the draft and the proposal can be found in the Instructions for Preparing Draft Proposals and Proposals to Establish or Renew Centres for Advanced Studies.

What do the proposal and the review process look like?

As a first step, the draft proposal for a FOR or KFO is reviewed by means of a written process. The relevant review board creates a proposal for a recommendation for the DFG Senate based on the draft proposal and the review, which gives the final positive or negative recommendation to submit an establishment proposal. As a second step, an establishment proposal is submitted and reviewed by a group of researchers during the course of a meeting, which is usually held on site. The results of the review form the basis for the funding decision, which is prepared by the DFG Senate before a final decision is then made by the Joint Committee.

The draft proposals for a KFG are reviewed by a panel with the participation of members of the review board. The DFG Senate then gives a final positive or negative recommendation as to whether the establishment proposal should be submitted based on a statement issued by this review panel. The subsequent procedure is the same as that for the FOR and KFO.

How long does it take approximately from submitting a draft to getting a decision?

You should expect to wait between one and one and a half years between submitting a draft and receiving a decision on whether or not to submit the establishment proposal. This includes the review of the draft and the establishment proposal. The Senate and Joint Committee meet four times a year. A decision is typically issued approximately three months after an assessment is made.

What is the minimum and maximum number of researchers who may take part in a proposal? Is there a minimum or maximum number of projects?

A FOR or a KFO typically has a single-figure number of projects. There is no upper or lower limit to the number of researchers who may take part, and the number may also vary depending on the subject area. The size of the group should make it possible for all those involved to work closely together in coordination with one another.

At the Centre for Advanced Studies (KFG) it is standard for only 2-3 researchers to work closely together on intensive independent research as a collaborative venture alongside a group of visiting researchers (fellows). The KFGs do not have any projects.

Is there anything we should bear in mind when we want to cooperate with researchers abroad?

It is possible to cooperate with researchers abroad in the Research Unit without any problems. For example, the funding from both the Basic Module (travel costs and funding for visiting researchers) as well as the Mercator Fellow module may be used for this purpose.

It is possible to involve projects from researchers in Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland due to special agreements being in place. As a general rule, these projects must be funded by the respective partner organisations involved. However, this does not apply to Clinical Research Units, since these are tied to a certain location.

It is possible to fund projects in other countries if they promise to add value to the entire Research Unit and they meet the same high research standards as apply in Germany. This likewise does not apply to Clinical Research Units.

Since Centres for Advanced Studies do not work in a project-based way and are also tied to a certain location, projects abroad may not be included. Cooperation with researchers abroad is enabled through the the Fellowship Programme.

Is it possible to apply for transfer projects within a Research Unit? Our research topic is also of interest to an application partner – can our Research Unit collaborate with a company or another institution (museum, school etc)?

The opportunities offered by transfer project funding can be used in Research Units just as in a number of other funding programmes to develop the findings of research networks for practical use together with non-scientific partners.

What are the criteria for reviewing Research Units?

Proposals to establish or renew Research Units (FOR, KFO, KFG) are reviewed by a group of researchers during the course of a meeting as regards the following aspects:

  • The quality of the project, especially in terms of originality and the knowledge expected to be gained from it
  • Objectives and work programme
  • For KFGs: A concept of the Fellowship Programme and the suitability of the fellowship-like collaboration in contrast to the project-based network collaboration
  • For KFOs: A concept relating to the structured integration of students studying for a doctorate in medicine, the Clinician Scientist Programme and cooperation between medical professionals and basic researchers, as well as other structure-enhancing measures and support programmes
  • The soundness of the preliminary work, the quality of the publications and qualifications of the applicants, and the suitability of the spokesperson to lead the group
  • Job opportunities and the scientific environment
  • Measures to promote early career researchers (only applies to KFG to a limited extent)
  • Consideration given to diversity and equal opportunities in the research system
  • Suitability of the funds requested

Where is the review usually held?

The review is usually held at the university of the spokesperson of the Research Unit or at the DFG Head Office.

Is it possible to submit a revised draft proposal if I have not been invited to submit a proposal by the DFG?

You may only resubmit a revised draft proposal once. Please seek advice from the relevant contact person, and be aware of the closing dates for submitting tenders to the Centres for Advanced Studies.

Contact Persons

Programme Contacts

The relevant department at DFG Head Office will gladly inform you about the details of how to submit a proposal.

General Information on the Programmes 

Contact person for general information on the Research Units programme

Contact person for general information on the Centre for Advanced Studies programme

Contact person for general information on the Clinical Research Units programme