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Excellence Initiative for Cutting-Edge Research at Institutions of Higher Education

Funding decisions for the third and final round of the Excellence Initiative have been made. In June 2012, the Grants Committee selected a total of 39 universities from 13 Länder: 45 graduate schools and 43 clusters of excellence made it through the science-based selection process, while the institutional strategies of the FU Berlin, HU Berlin, Bremen, Dresden, Köln, LMU München, TU München, Konstanz, Heidelberg, RWTH Aachen, and Tübingen won over the Committee in the third funding line.

Assessing the applicants was no easy task with such a high quality of submitted proposals. Based on the expert assessments of more than 550 scientists and researchers with international experience, the Joint Commission of the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and the German Council of Science and Humanities convened to recommend a list of projects worthy of funding, which were then discussed in an objective and constructive atmosphere by the Grants Committee.

Fierce competition between many outstanding projects meant that not all projects with strong evaluations succeeded. Funding for the selected projects began in November 2012 and will continue over the course of five years.
This map depicts the Excellence Initiative winners in the three funding lines.© Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
















Third and Final Round of the Excellence Initiative

On 4 June 2009, the Federal Chancellor and the Minister-Presidents of the Länder had already signed an agreement on a continuation of the Excellence Initiative. In order to give new applications and follow-up applications from the first two rounds an equal chance, the funding volume was increased to approximately 2.7 billion euros until 2017. With the continuation of the Excellence Initiative, the Federal and State Governments want to lastingly strengthen Germany as a science and research location, improve Germany’s international competitiveness, and make cutting edge research at German institutions of higher education visible. With this continuation, innovative concepts for research-oriented instruction will be considered for the first time as part of the assessment of institutional strategies.

With the call for proposals released on 12 March 2010, the DFG and German Council of Science and Humanities initiated the Excellence Initiative’s two-part selection process. Until 1 September 2010, German institutions of higher education could submit outlines of initial proposals. The DFG accepted a total of 227 project outlines from 65 institutions of higher education from across the country.

On 2 March 2011, 25 of the 98 submitted graduate school outlines were selected by the Joint Commission to submit full proposals. For the clusters of excellence, 27 of 107 submitted outlines were chosen. This means that in the first two funding lines, around one in every four proposals made it to the next round. 7 of the 22 submitted draft proposals for institutional strategies were successful – about every third outline.

Together with the outlines for initial proposals, the projects already funded in the first two rounds had until 1 September 2011 to submit follow-up proposals. A total of 143 full proposals were submitted to the DFG before the deadline, 84 of which were continuations of projects from the first two rounds, while 59 were new proposals. These projects are split between the three funding areas, with 63 proposals for graduate schools, 64 for clusters of excellence, and 16 for institutional strategies. Only one of the funded graduate schools did not apply for further funding because it is to be integrated into a cluster of excellence, as previously announced.

Selection and Assessment Process

Under the leadership of the DFG, 37 panels made up of around 480 scientists and researchers assessed proposals for graduate schools and clusters of excellence until the end of February 2012. Institutional strategies were evaluated on site by assessment teams under the guidance of the German Council for Science and Humanities. Around 200 experts were recruited for this. Approximately 80 per cent of all evaluators are from abroad and are well acquainted with the German system of higher education from an international perspective. These experts submitted all decision proposals and assessment reports to the members of the Grants Committee under strict confidence.

After separate deliberations in both the DFG’s Expert Commission and the Strategy Commission of the German Council for Science and Humanities (12-13 June 2012), as well as in the Joint Commission (14 June 2012), which is comprised of members from both organizations, the final decisions were reached on 15 June 2012 by the Grants Committee for the Excellence Initiative.

The selection and assessment followed a similar scheme to first two rounds in 2006 and 2007. The Expert Commission consists of 14 scientists and researchers who are responsible for preparing the decisions regarding graduate schools and clusters of excellence from a scientific and technical perspective. The Strategy Commission, which is responsible for selecting proposals within the funding line of institutional strategies, has six members from the Scientific Commission of the German Council for Science and Humanities and six members from outside the Council. The latter were appointed by the Chair of the German Council for Science and Humanities in agreement with the other members of the Strategy Commission. Together, the members of the Expert Commission and the Strategy Commission make up the Joint Commission.

The Federal and State Ministers responsible for science and humanities first come into the process in the Grants Committee. This committee is composed of the 26 scientific members of the Joint Commission, as well as Ministers of Science and Humanities at the Federal (16 votes) and State (1 vote per Land, 16 votes total) level. The members of the Joint Commission, each with 1.5 votes, have a 39 to 32 majority in the Grants Committee.


The evaluation of the Excellence Initiative was already agreed upon by the Federal and State Governments within the administrative agreement.  The DFG and the German Council of Science and Humanities will submit a data-based report on the progress of the Excellence Initiative to the Joint Science Conference (Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz or GWK) by 30 June 2015. In addition, the GWK has called for the establishment of an external commission of international experts to evaluate the programme and its impact on the German higher education system. This is to include a presentation of the impact on both funded and non-funded institutions. The results of this evaluation are to be submitted to the GWK in January 2016.

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© 08/29/2015 00:06 Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung