Press Release No. 12 | March 12, 2010

New Phase of the Excellence Initiative by the German Federal Government and States Begins

DFG and German Council of Science and Humanities Announce Call / Science-driven Competition between New and Existing Projects / Decision Expected in June 2012

DFG and German Council of Science and Humanities Announce Call / Science-driven Competition between New and Existing Projects / Decision Expected in June 2012

The second phase of the Excellence Initiative by the German federal and state governments has begun. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the German Council of Science and Humanities (WR) have now published the official call for proposals for the new phase of the programme, aimed at further strengthening top-level research at universities in Germany. This marks the implementation of the agreement made by the federal and state heads of government on 4 June 2009 to continue the Excellence Initiative. New projects may begin applying for funding immediately, while the application phase for the renewal of existing grants will begin next year. The decision to provide funding in this purely science-driven competition will be made in June 2012 following a multi-step review and selection process, with successful projects receiving funding for a period of five years. A total of at least 2.7 billion euros is available for this purpose, of which 75 percent is provided by the federal government and 25 percent by the states.

The terms of the new call were discussed and decided this week by the Joint Commission of the DFG and the German Council of Science and Humanities in Bonn. Following this meeting, the President of the DFG, Professor Matthias Kleiner, and the Chairman of the German Council of Science and Humanities, Professor Peter Strohschneider, briefed the federal and state ministers responsible for science and research on the specifics of the competition’s structure.

As with the first phase of the Excellence Initiative in 2006 and 2007, the new phase of the programme will feature three funding lines.

The following will be selected and funded:

1. Graduate schools to promote young researchers

2. Clusters of excellence to promote top-level research

3. Institutional strategies to promote top-level research

Some modifications have, however, been made since the first phase. These take into account the experiences of the institutions previously funded and the specific concerns of the different scientific disciplines. For example, there will be a greater range of funding amounts for the first two funding lines. Graduate schools are to receive funding of between 1 million and 2.5 million euros per year, while clusters of excellence will receive between 3 million and 8 million euros. There are no predefined annual funding amounts for the institutional strategies. Instead, the aim is to fund up to five new proposals, making a maximum total of twelve institutional strategies.

The timeline issued with the call provides for a two-step process for universities intending to participate with new projects. First, universities must submit their draft proposals to the DFG by 1 September 2010. The draft proposals for graduate schools and clusters of excellence will be reviewed under the aegis of the DFG, with those for institutional strategies being reviewed under the direction of the German Council of Science and Humanities. In March 2011, the Joint Commission of the DFG and German Council of Science and Humanitieswill make a preliminary selection from all the draft proposals. The universities selected will then have until 1 September 2011 to submit their full funding proposals. These universities will compete with those institutions who have already received funding and who would like to be continued. Such institutions may submit their renewal proposals by 1 September 2011 without a preliminary draft proposal. The decision will be made by the Grants Committee in June 2012. Within this framework, the Joint Commission and the federal and state ministers responsible for science and research will decide which universities will receive funding for which projects based on suggestions from the Joint Commission. Funding will begin on 1 November 2012. Institutions that are not renewed may receive expiration funding for up to two years in order to enable the young researchers involved to complete their research.

As DFG President Kleiner and Science Council Chairman Strohschneider emphasised at the publication of the call, the continuation of the Excellence Initiative should also be driven purely by science. “The decision to fund or not to fund is based solely on scientific merit,” explained the heads of the two organisations, which have been entrusted with the implementation of the Excellence Initiative by the federal and state governments. The most important criteria for receiving funding are described in the call as “excellence in research and in promoting young researchers in at least one broad scientific area; a general strategy for interdisciplinarity and international networking in research; cooperation with other universities and/or non-university institutions, usually on the basis of concrete and binding cooperation agreements.” Furthermore, the measures undertaken within universities and projects for promoting gender equality in science and research are also to be taken into account. In formulating and reviewing institutional strategies, the area of teaching as a whole should be given considerably higher priority in the future.

Kleiner and Strohschneider also highlighted the Excellence Initiative’s previous successes, where funding includes 39 graduate schools, 37 clusters of excellence and 9 institutional strategies, at a total cost of 1.9 billion euros: “The Excellence Initiative has led to an unexpectedly widespread spirit of optimism that could not have been anticipated within the German scientific system and it has generated many ideas and research projects of the highest scientific quality. These achievements have been clearly recognised, also abroad where the Excellence Initiative has, once again, considerably increased the visibility of German science.” Kleiner and Strohschneider also pointed out that the Excellence Initiative has facilitated the creation of more than 4,000 additional scientific jobs at universities and research institutions, all of which have been filled by personnel of the highest calibre. As the two men explained, this "benefits both the development of top-level research and academic teaching.”

Both reiterated their thanks to the federal and state governments which, in the spring of last year, not only decided in favour of continuing the Excellence Initiative, but also considerably increased the monies available to it, topping up the available funds by more than 30 percent. In doing so, the governments “sent a strong message of support for science and research in Germany – and this in the midst of a financial crisis.” This courage, of which Kleiner and Strohschneider are convinced, will now be rewarded through the continuation of the competition: "This new phase of the Excellence Initiative will continue to strengthen top-class research at German universities and further increase its international profile.”