Press Release No. 45 | September 3, 2010

Excellence Initiative: Universities Submit 227 Draft Proposals for New Projects

Preliminary decision in March 2011 / DFG President Kleiner: “Great interest, tough con-test”

Preliminary decision in March 2011 / DFG President Kleiner: “Great interest, tough con-test”

The next step in the Excellence Initiative by the German federal and state governments has been taken: Universities across Germany have submitted their draft proposals for new projects and institutions in the second phase of the competition for funding of top-level research. By the 1 September deadline, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Founda-tion) has received 227 draft proposals — 98 for graduate schools, 107 for clusters of excellence, and 22 for institutional strategies to promote top-level research. These first-time proposals were submitted by 65 German universities. All major disciplines — life sciences, natural sciences, en-gineering sciences, as well as the humanities and social sciences — are represented about equally.

“The large number of draft proposals clearly shows the great interest that universities have in the Excellence Initiative, which has changed science and academia in Germany more profoundly than all the other programmes of the past decades,” said DFG President Matthias Kleiner after the last draft proposals were received by the DFG Head Office in Bonn. He is impressed by the level of quality evident in these drafts. “We clearly told the universities in advance that their chances for success will be greater if they apply very strict criteria already in their internal selection process and enter the competition only with very well considered proposals. They got the message. The universities have resisted the temptation of emphasising quantity over quality.”

The draft proposals will now be reviewed until January 2011. The DFG is in charge of the reviews concerning the first two funding lines for graduate schools and clusters of excellence, while the German Council of Science and Humanities oversees the third funding line for institutional strategies. The DFG will present the 205 draft proposals for graduate schools and clusters of excellence to 20 review panels. More than 150 scientists and academics will contribute to the review process. Many of these renowned researchers are from outside of Germany and will be able to evaluate the submissions from an international perspective.

On the basis of these reviews, the Joint Commission of the DFG and the German Council of Sci-ence and Humanities will decide in early March 2011 which new proposals will be allowed to move on to the last round of the contest, where they will compete against institutions already funded in the first phase of the Excellence Initiative. “We expect that all 85 existing institutions of excellence will want continued funding and will therefore compete in the second phase as well,” said DFG President Kleiner. “It’s going to be an exciting and tough contest between ideas and projects that have already received funding and those that are new.”

First-time applicants that make it through the preselection and previously funded institutions will be invited to submit their full proposals by 1 September 2011. These full proposals will then be reviewed until February 2012, again by international panels of experts.

Final decisions will be made in the middle of 2012, first by the Joint Commission of the DFG and the German Council of Science and Humanities, and finally by the Excellence Initiative Grants Committee, which includes representatives from science and academia as well as the federal and state ministers of research. On 15 June 2012 the Grants Committee will decide which graduate schools, clusters of excellence and institutional strategies will be funded for five years beginning in November 2012.

For this second phase of the Excellence Initiative a total of 2.724 billion euros will be available (including overhead, transitional and expiration funding). In June of 2009 Germany’s federal and state governments decided to continue this successful programme for the promotion of top-level research at German universities, which has been running in two rounds since 2006 and 2007. At the same time, financial resources for the second phase of the contest have been increased sig-nificantly, compared to the 1.9 billion euros that were available for the first phase. What has not changed is that 75 percent of the money will come from the federal government and 25 percent from the states in which the funded institutions are located.

In the first phase of the Excellence Initiative, 85 institutions at 37 universities are being funded. 39 of these institutions are graduate schools to promote outstanding early-career researchers. In 37 clusters of excellence, universities, non-university research institutes and often also commercial businesses join forces to investigate forward-looking research topics. Nine entire universities have been chosen to implement institutional strategies and transform themselves into internationally leading research universities.

Different from the first phase of the contest, grant amounts in the second phase may be awarded more flexibly. Graduate schools will be funded with anywhere from one to 2.5 million euros per year; clusters of excellence will receive three to eight million euros.