Joint Press Release
Press Release No. 15 | May 11, 2021

Germany’s Excellence Strategy: Eager Anticipation of the Second Round of Competition and a Clear Appeal

Expert Committee and discussion forum organised by the DFG advocate for increased funding / Reasonable prospects of success to be ensured for new proposals

Expert Committee and discussion forum organised by the DFG advocate for increased funding / Reasonable prospects of success to be ensured for new proposals

Since funding commenced in 2019, the Excellence Strategy of the German federal and state governments has strengthened research at universities in Germany and raised the visibility of this outstanding academic research internationally. For this reason, the Clusters of Excellence and Universities of Excellence currently receiving funding, along with other potential participants, are already looking ahead to the second funding round of the programme, which is due to start in 2026. However, it will only be possible to build on the positive impact of the existing funding and the spirit of optimism this has created if the foundations are laid for the upcoming round of competition as early as possible. Following the Expert Committee for the Excellence Strategy, this conviction has now also been expressed not just by numerous representatives of Clusters of Excellence and universities themselves but also by stakeholders in the German research system and by research policymakers who attended a “Discussion Forum on Clusters of Excellence 2021” organised by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation).

At the end of last year, the Expert Committee for the Excellence Strategy already discussed preparations for the second round from 2026 onwards including the amount of funding that would be available for it. The 39 international researchers appointed by the Joint Science Conference (GWK) at the suggestion of the DFG and the German Science and Humanities Council (WR) came to the unanimous conclusion “that if the financial framework remained unchanged in the course of continued funding, it would not be possible to achieve or fully achieve the goals of the Excellence Strategy, and much of what has been achieved under the existing funding would be lost”, according to a statement issued to the GWK.

The starting point of the deliberations was the administrative agreement reached between the German federal and state governments in 2016, under which a total of €533 million per year is made available for the Excellence Strategy. With this sum, the Expert Committee is convinced that new proposals for Clusters of Excellence in particular would have no reasonable prospect of success in the second round of the competition: experience indicates that of those Clusters already receiving funding, between 80 and 85 percent can expect their funding to be renewed, only allowing some ten new projects to be funded. The reason for this is that unlike the Universities of Excellence funding line administered by the WR, which allows funding of up to four additional cases in the subsequent funding period, the administrative agreement does not provide for such an increase in the number of Clusters receiving funding.

Given these limited prospects for new Cluster proposals, the Expert Committee does not see the considerable effort required to take part in the competition as justified. In its statement to the GWK, which has now been published, the Expert Committee says that reducing the funding volume per Cluster to promote more Clusters is theoretically possible. However, this would then mean that, depending on the research area and approach, the Clusters would potentially not be able to meet their ambitious research goals and the Excellence Strategy as a whole would fail to achieve its impact as a result. The statement further notes that the existing funding is not sufficient due to the lack of additional resources to compensate for inflation in both funding lines, affecting such areas as personnel costs and the completion funding envisaged for current Clusters that are not approved in the second round.

The Expert Committee therefore sees “an increased budget as absolutely vital to ensuring research-driven competition in the Excellence Strategy and continued progress towards achievement of the goals of this internationally highly visible and renowned programme in the best way possible.”

The same considerations were emphasised once again at a two-day discussion forum at the end of April, where more than 250 participants met at the invitation of the DFG to discuss the framework for current and future funding of Clusters of Excellence. In addition to the spokespersons of all current Clusters as well as those of Cluster proposals that were not approved, members of numerous university administrations, the Expert Committee for the Excellence Strategy along with research policymakers and members of the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany came together to engage in in-depth debate, reflecting a broad spectrum of perspectives on the funding programme.

In a total of six thematic workshops, the discussion forum reviewed the experience gained from the work done by the Clusters of Excellence to date and the resulting challenges in terms of further programme development. Topics included the review process as well as issues relating to future proposal submission for both new initiatives and renewals. The differing structural conditions of the various Clusters of Excellence and the requirements for success in the case of multidisciplinary projects were other subjects that attracted intense debate. Finally, one very topical issue under discussion was the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and how the restrictions on public life had affected the work of the funded Clusters, as well as the role of science communication – something that has very much been brought into the focus of attention in the wake of the pandemic.

Building on previous debate in the workshops, the plenary sessions that rounded off each of the two days of the forum focused on the foundations for future Cluster funding. Here, too, numerous participants emphasised the need for an adequate financial basis to be provided for the second round of competition and funding.

Further Information

Media contact:

  • Marco Finetti
    Head of Press and Public Relations at the DFG
    Tel. +49 228 885-2230
  • Dr. Christiane Kling-Mathey
    Head of Press and Public Relations
    at the German Science and Humanities Council (WR)
    Tel. +49 221 3776-243

Statement by the Expert Committee:

For detailed information on the Excellence Strategy, see also:

Programme contact at the DFG Head Office:

  • Dr. Ulrike Eickhoff
    Head of Coordinated Programmes and Infrastructure
    Tel. +49 228 885-2254

Programme contact at the Head Office of the German Science and Humanities Council (WR):