On 14 August 2020, the Act on Structural Change in Coal Mining Areas (Strukturstärkungsgesetz Kohleregionen, StStG) entered into force as a structural assistance measure for the mining areas and communities affected by the phasing out of coal use. In order to create new economic prospects for the mining regions, section 17 no. 29 of the StStG provides for “the establishment of a new institutionally funded large-scale research centre according to Helmholtz or equivalent principles in the Saxon part of Lusatia and the Central German coalfield following a competitive procedure”.
The ideas competition “Wissen schafft Perspektiven für die Region!” (Science Creating Prospects for the Region) is a joint initiative of the BMBF and the Free State of Saxony to develop and choose the best proposals for the establishment of the two new large-scale research centres in a transparent and thematically open competitive procedure. The competition is aimed at outstanding scientists and is designed to determine the thematic orientation and the precise location of the new large-scale research centres. Depending on how successful the new research centres are in scientific terms, the long-term aim is to provide annual institutional funding of up to 170 million euros for each centre within the framework of the StStG.
The establishment of these new large-scale research centres is intended to strengthen German science and innovation and to contribute to the development of the Saxon part of Lusatia and the Central German coalfield regions into attractive regions for the future. In addition to scientific excellence and the supraregional significance of the research programme, the focus of the new research centres will therefore also include the transfer of research results into commercial and societal applications as well as the promotion of innovation in the mining regions. With the establishment of these two new large-scale research centres, we want to create innovative models for cooperation between science and industry.
The most important aspects in brief
Who can participate?
The ideas competition is aimed at outstanding scientists both in Germany and abroad who have an innovative idea for a new large-scale research centre and are prepared to develop this idea into a viable plan and to implement it on the ground. An existing connection between the applicants and the location where a centre is envisaged is not a condition for participating in the competition.
Interested scientists are invited to submit their ideas initially in the form of an outline proposal. The outline proposal should include the following:
- an ambitious research mission which spans the full spectrum of activities from basic scientific research right through to application
- an innovative approach to cooperation between science and industry (including a strategy for the transfer of research results into applications)
- a proposal for possible core resources (incl. human)
Outline proposals may be submitted up until 30 April 2021. The outline proposals should be no longer than 20 pages (drafted in Arial 11 with 1.5 line spacing).
How does the selection procedure work?
The selection procedure consists of three stages:
1) National and international call to participate in the ideas competition
A national and international call will invite outstanding scientists to submit innovative ideas for the establishment of the new large-scale research centres in the form of outline proposals.
2) Selection of the outline proposals; conceptual phase
Approximately three ideas per region will be selected for temporary funding of 500,000 euros (for a period of about 6 months) so that they can be developed into fully assessable proposals. The selection for this temporary funding will be undertaken on the basis of the recommendations issued by a “perspectives commission” consisting of high-ranking experts after a review of the submitted outline proposals.
3) Selection of the proposals for the establishment and development phase
Finally, the proposals for the establishment of the two new large-scale research centres will be selected by the funding providers. This will be undertaken on the basis of an external evaluation of the scientific excellence of the proposals in parallel to the expected contribution to structural economic transformation and the proposed structures for collaboration with industry.
What are the tasks of the Perspectives Commission?
The process will be supported by a “perspectives commission” comprising representatives from the fields of science, industry, innovation and civil society. The Perspectives Commission will be chaired by Wolfgang A. Herrmann, former President of the Technical University of Munich and head of the structural commission to set up the Technical University of Nuremberg. Further members of the commission will include the German Nobel laureate for chemistry, Stefan Hell, and the first German commander of the International Space Station (ISS), Alexander Gerst.
The Perspectives Commission has the tasks of actively approaching potential applicants, evaluating the outline proposals and making recommendations for the fine-tuning of proposals. The Perspectives Commission will make its recommendation on which of the outline proposals should go forward to the next stage and receive funding so that they can be developed into fully assessable proposals on the basis of the following criteria:
- wider significance beyond the immediate region and long-term relevance of the proposed research topic
- expected contribution to structural transformation in the region
- Innovative potential for German science and industry, including the potential for new modes of cooperation between science and industry
- Prospects of success and possibility of rapid establishment