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Dealing with diversity/variety of applicants in the processing of proposals

Academic criteria in the review process

The DFG’s core task is to competitively select the best research projects undertaken by academics at universities and research institutions and provide funding for them. Funding proposals submitted to the DFG are evaluated in an honorary capacity by reviewers and members of the responsible decision-making committees exclusively according to academic criteria. But how does the DFG Head Office deal with a situation in which:

a) an applicant wishes to have allowances made for unavoidable downtimes in their academic career, or

b) externally obtained reviews inadmissibly include non-academic criteria to the detriment of the applicant?

a) Making allowance for unavoidable downtimes in an academic career

When the DFG decides on proposals for funding research projects, the key evaluation criteria are the quality of the project and the anticipated results, as well as the prospects of success. The applicant’s previous academic achievements are also included in this overall assessment. In order to adequately assess an individual’s academic performance, their individual circumstances have to be taken into account as well. In this context, equal academic opportunities means making allowance for unavoidable delays in an applicant’s career. This voluntary information is therefore to be taken into account exclusively to the benefit of applicants when assessing their previous academic performance by all those involved in the DFG decision-making process.

b) Exclusion of non-academic criteria included in external reviews to the detriment of the applicant

Non-academic criteria such as age, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, illness or disability must never be used to the disadvantage of applicants in DFG funding decisions. The instructions for the written review which academics receive when they are requested to provide a review contain a notice to this effect.

Evaluation of a funding proposal by a review board is likewise based solely on academic criteria. In particular, the review board members only ever look at academic performance to date based on the specific duration of an academic career. This means that lengthier qualification phases, publication gaps or reduced stays abroad are not interpreted to the detriment of the applicant if they were unavoidable, for example if they resulted from having to provide care for children or relatives, or due to having suffered an illness or disability. Such non-academic criteria are only taken into account in the compensation of a specific personal disadvantage, i.e. exclusively to the benefit of applicants. In such cases, reviewers and members of the DFG’s decision-making committees are usually not informed of the specific reason for a delay in an academic career; they are only informed of the amount of time lost and the fact that this lost time is to be recognised as “unavoidable” based on an internal review by the DFG Head Office. The specific reasons for an application relating to a special personal situation/hardship will only be communicated to the reviewers and committee members if this information is absolutely necessary in order to arrive at a decision on a proposal for additional funding items or regarding other hardship-specific changes to the planned project.

The review boards check written external reviews for non-academic criteria to the detriment of an applicant. Fortunately, such inadmissible criteria in external written reviews only appear in very rare cases. However, the inclusion of inadmissible criteria in this way by external reviewers must in no way influence the DFG’s final funding decision. In such cases, the review board considers the relevance of the inadmissible criterion to the academic content of the review. Only if the review board considers such a criterion to be of marginal relevance can it draw on the academic content of the review in arriving at its decision. In its own academic evaluation of the funding proposal, the review board may not draw on the inadmissible criterion under any circumstances. If the review board considers an external review to be unusable in its scientific content due to the non-academic criteria used by the external reviewer, it will reject the external review completely and request the DFG Head Office to obtain a new review.

This procedure guarantees that the review board’s funding recommendations and the subsequent final committee decisions are never based on non-academic criteria but exclusively on academic criteria. Also, unavoidable disadvantages to applicants are adequately taken into account. Via these measures, DFG ensures an academically based and diversity-sensitive decision-making process in all its funding activities.

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