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Press Release No. 3 | 21 January 2010
Strengthening the Universities

More Freedom, Flexibility, Knowledge Transfer and Internationalisation – DFG Funding Policy Objectives for the New Year

“Strengthen the universities”: this was the motto used by Professor Matthias Kleiner, President of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) to describe a key task of the DFG during the current year. The occasion was a series of talks on science policy this week and the DFG’s New Year’s reception in Berlin. In this context he made special mention of the fact that top-level research and teaching were inseparable. Kleiner showcased the DFG’s accomplishments in recent years toward strengthening universities and basic research, both in individual projects and cooperative networks. These included providing more freedom through flexibility and overhead funding; start-up funding for young first-time applicants; strengthening European and international activities; knowledge transfer; research-oriented gender equality; the Reinhard Koselleck higher-risk projects; the digital information and open access initiatives; improvements regarding doctoral researcher positions and the funding of temporary positions for principal investigators; and the continuation of the CRC/Transregio programme. The DFG President emphasised that these measures would not only be continued but also expanded.

President Kleiner also underscored the impact that the Excellence Initiative has had on the research system as a whole. As a result of the decision-making processes in the initial phase of the Excellence Initiative, a top-level university had in effect been created, distributed over many campuses and encompassing more than 4,000 researchers along with about 330 professorships. Kleiner explicitly drew attention to the fact that these researchers were making contributions both to research knowledge and education. Since, as Kleiner stated, they were well aware that one can only achieve the ideal unity of teaching and research by teaching and conducting research themselves.

In a bold, forward-looking decision in 2009, policymakers extended the Higher Education Pact, together with the Pact for Research and Innovation and the Excellence Initiative. The Higher Education Pact shows that funding for teaching and research is symbiotically intertwined, but requires different forms and approaches. Teaching and research should therefore not compete with one another.

The Excellence Initiative has not only served to enhance university profiles, it has also made the universities stronger partners when collaborating with non-university research institutions. This trend must continue, Kleiner stated.

The universities must also be strengthened in their collaborations with institutions embedded in industry and society. The DFG has begun to expand the opportunities for knowledge transfer from DFG-funded projects. Plans exist to step up these efforts in the current year through a package of measures and an information campaign.

The ongoing Europeanisation and internationalisation of the DFG’s funding activities are also aimed at strengthening the universities. To this end, in 2009 the DFG proposed an initiative for multilateral research funding to the research and funding organisations of the G8 nations. “We expect the first call for proposals to be announced in a pilot phase at the end of this month and are anxious to see what kind of response we will get from researchers in Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Russia, the United Kingdom and the USA.” The DFG President added his hope that this would lead to the recognition and development of additional potential for cooperation in science.