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Press Release No. 33 | 2 July 2015
"Continue Successful Ventures, Address Urgent Problems"

The DFG's Annual Press Conference with Appeals and Suggestions for Further Development of the Excellence Initiative / Slight Increase in Funding Quotas with Continued High Demand

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) names a substantial increase in basic funding for higher education institutions, continued dedicated support for top-level research and the improvement of career prospects for young researchers as the key challenges for the research system, the research community and research policy in Germany.

"In recent years there has been considerable growth in the amount of money dedicated for science and research. This is an expression of political trust in research in general and particularly in the funding of the very best research, which the DFG is committed to. So it is all the more important that politicians and the research community now work together to press ahead with successful ventures, develop intelligent frameworks and address the undoubtedly urgent problems. Then and only then will science and research be able to achieve their full potential and continue to further develop new knowledge," said DFG President Professor Dr. Peter Strohschneider at the annual press conference of the DFG, the largest research funding organisation and central self-governing organisation of the research community in Germany, on Thursday 2 July 2015 in Berlin.

At the press conference, Strohschneider – who had been re-elected the day before by the DFG's General Assembly for a second term from 2016 to 2019 – and DFG Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek expressed their views on current issues in research policy and reported on the DFG's Annual Meeting, which was held at the University of Bochum between 29 June and 1 July.

The DFG President emphatically endorsed calls for the prompt, science-led approach to the new federal/state initiative, which is to follow the Excellence Initiative. Although the general decisions of the federal and state governments and most recently the parliamentary parties in the Bundestag defined the framework and basic cornerstones concerning duration and volume, "Key questions still remain unanswered, such as who can take part in a new competition, what criteria will be applied and what research functions will be promoted and how," said Strohschneider. He added that researchers who are currently funded through the Excellence Initiative and also those who intend to apply for funding need certainty in order to plan ahead. "At the moment, however, there is a definite lack of clarity, which is causing a lot of nervousness at the universities – to the detriment of research and its development."

The DFG itself is proposing "centres of excellence" as a continuation of the Excellence Initiative as a new funding instrument. The purpose of these centres would be to enable German universities to evolve into world-leading centres of top-level research in selected fields, with international reach and the ability to attract top researchers from other countries. They would allow universities to initiate and finance measures to increase their scientific focus, bring together relevant regional competencies and establish and expand cross-institutional partnerships.

The DFG believes that this funding model for top-level research could be combined with better financial and career support for younger researchers, who should be involved in centres of excellence at all qualification levels and guided towards plannable career paths. In this way the centre of excellence concept would tie in with the first and second funding lines of the Excellence Initiative – graduate schools and clusters of excellence – but bring these currently separate funding functions together. "This is possible, because supporting the best young researchers is an integral part of funding and carrying out outstanding research," said the DFG President in Berlin.

As Strohschneider then explained, the topic and format of a centre of excellence should be as open as possible and, in appropriate cases, eligible for longer funding than in the current Excellence Initiative, for example up to three funding periods of six years each with a more variable funding volume of up to €10 million per year. He went on to say that the new funding instrument would be open to both previously funded clusters of excellence and new research groups with a consistent competitive model.

"The success of the Excellence Initiative is undoubtedly due to its clear focus on top-level university-based research. So the new federal/state initiative, whatever form it takes, also needs a competitive funding instrument to encourage the best research at universities," the DFG President concluded.

In connection with the debate on the future form of the Excellence Initiative – which is part of the debate about the future organisation of the research system as a whole – in recent months the DFG has also developed deliberations on the future shape of its funding portfolio, which have been discussed in the organisation's statutory bodies. "We need to ask ourselves whether our funding instruments are open and flexible enough to optimally meet the needs of applicants," said President Strohschneider at the press conference. The funding portfolio has been expanded for decades, he added, which cannot continue without limitation. Overall, he noted, the objective is to "keep the DFG effective and make it even more effective" in a dynamically evolving research system.

As a starting point for discussion, Strohschneider proposed a system based on three levels: the DFG's funding functions, funding dimensions and funding applicants. Funding functions refer to the "direct funding of knowledge-driven research" and "the funding of research by supporting institutional core areas, profiling and structure formation". With respect to funding dimensions, a distinction is made between three categories: "person-based funding" which places the focus on the individual carrying out the research; "topic-based funding" which focuses on a scientific issue addressed in an individual project or a group of projects; and "measure-based funding" which is designed to improve research facilities. Applicants may be individuals or organisations, such as universities.

Taken together, these different levels result in five so-called "funding spaces" for DFG funding. Individuals can apply for person-based, topic-based and measure-based funding. Universities and other organisations can apply for topic-based and measure-based funding, both of which have an institutional structure-forming function.

This system was discussed in depth by DFG members at the Annual Meeting as the starting point for further deliberations and was generally positively received. As the next step, the DFG's current funding instruments will be assigned to the five funding spaces. This in turn could lay the foundation for further modularisation and therefore greater flexibility in funding activities.

Regarding the current trends in research funding the DFG continues to see very high demand for funding and a slight recovery in the noticeable fall, in recent years, of funding quotas, as Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek reported in Berlin. Both developments are particularly evident when it comes to awarding Individual Grants, which, as Dzwonnek put it, "remain the backbone of DFG funding". In 2014 alone, decisions were once again reached on more than 11,000 new proposals for Individual Grants. The requested financial resources increased again compared with previous years. In spite of this the DFG has managed to slightly improve funding quotas and therefore the chances of success for researchers. Between 2009 and 2012, funding quotas for Individual Grants fell steadily from almost 47% to 32% before levelling off at around 31% in 2013. Last year they rose again to around 34%, due partly to the occasional redeployment of funds from the Coordinated Programmes to the Individual Grants Programme.

"It is certainly good news, for the DFG and especially for applicants, that the sometimes rapid drop in funding quotas has halted. But this has not changed the basic problem," said Dzwonnek. "In structural terms the universities are still significantly underfunded, and researchers are still almost forced to seek third-party funding, especially from the DFG, but these resources are not intended to provide basic funding for research like this." The future funding activities of the DFG, as the largest provider of third-party research funding, and future research capabilities will therefore depend on a substantial increase in basic university funding, the DFG Secretary General emphasised.

According to the Annual Report 2014, which was presented at the press conference, last year the DFG funded almost 30,000 research projects with a total volume of around €2.73 billion. Of these projects, around 6,900 were newly approved and received a total of €1.54 billion. Almost half of all funded projects – around 14,000 – received Individual Grants; a total of approximately €835 million was approved for this type of award. In Collaborative Research Centres, Research Training Groups and other Coordinated Programmes, funding was awarded to 822 groups with a total of nearly 13,400 projects and a total approved sum of approximately €1.15 billion. The 113 groups funded through the Excellence Initiative received €516 million.

In terms of the major scientific disciplines, in 2014 life sciences again received the most funding with €763 million (38.5% of the total sum awarded), followed by natural sciences with €462 million (23.3%), engineering sciences with €431 million (21.7%) and humanities and social sciences with €326 million (16.5%).

The Secretary General announced that the DFG is preparing the publication of detailed analyses of third-party funded research in Germany in its new Funding Atlas. This statistical reference, published every three years since 1997, presents research funded by the DFG and other organisations and state funding bodies at national and European level, making it the most comprehensive evaluation of publicly financed research and the resulting research profiles of individual institutions and regions. The seventh edition will include a special focus on data and analyses relating to the Excellence Initiative. The Funding Atlas is due to be presented at a press conference in autumn.

The DFG President and the Secretary General also looked ahead to the online elections for the DFG review boards, also scheduled this autumn. Now that the DFG Senate has approved the list of candidates at the Annual Meeting, there are 1,712 candidates for the 613 places on the DFG's 48 review boards. Between the end of October and the end of November 2015, approximately 150,000 researchers from all over Germany with a voting entitlement will be able to vote for their preferred candidates. The members of the review boards, who serve on a voluntary basis, are responsible for the scientific or academic evaluation of proposals submitted to the DFG, on which basis they formulate a final recommendation for the statutory bodies. They also participate in the DFG's strategy process. President Strohschneider said: "The review board elections are an expression of the integrative power which the DFG as a self-governing organisation can exert for the entire research community in Germany."

Further information

Media contact:

The press release on the annual press conference and all press releases concerning the DFG Annual Meeting are available in an electronic press folder at:

The "Annual Report 2014" is available at

The section of the report "Programmes and Projects" with an overview of approved projects can also be accessed there.

A printed copy of the annual report can be ordered by contacting: