The Excellence Initiative is an important instrument for strengthening German higher education and with it Germany’s traditionally strong basic research. Since 2005 the Excellence Initiative has been using substantial government funds to support the cultivation of a competitive profile, on the one hand, and a general increase in the quality of higher education on the other. Its goal is to make Germany a strong research location with improved international competitiveness. In 2009, before the end of the first phase, the Federal Government and the Länder decided to continue the Excellence Initiative for another five years.
Three lines of funding
1. Graduate schools
Excellence Initiative graduate schools are supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and create ideal conditions for training doctoral students, which include not only a stimulating research environment, but also a structured study programme. In the course of their doctoral studies the young people get to know the world of advanced research, also beyond the confines of their own subject, and they often establish long-term contacts abroad. Intensive support shortens the time required to gain a doctorate to roughly three years and provides ideal preparation for a career in research or industry.
List of Graduate Schools
2. Clusters of Excellence
Clusters of Excellence bring together expertise in various disciplines and network together the researchers of one location working on a specific area of research or a specific research question. These clusters are considered “beacons” of outstanding research and are also supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG). These large centres enable universities to define key areas of research and raise their national and international profile. Young up-and-coming researchers also benefit from their excellent research.
List of Clusters of Excellence
3. Institutional strategies for the project-based expansion of top university research
Institutional strategies must aim to strengthen universities as complete entities so that they can assert themselves against their international academic competitors. In their institutional strategies, universities are expected to outline their very individual approach to developing and improving advanced research as well as to promoting young talent. The Excellence Initiative especially supports measures that make universities internationally successful and carry the promise of leading positions in international rankings. The German Council of Science and Humanities is responsible for evaluating the strategies. Nine German universities – in Aachen, Berlin, Freiburg, Göttingen, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Konstanz and Munich – were honoured in this category during the first two funding rounds of 2005/2006 and 2006/2007. Since these institutions also had at least one graduate school and one cluster of excellence, they also became entitled to bear the title of Excellence University.
Projects for all funding lines are selected by competition in a multistage process. As is usual for DFG competitions, international research experts assess the applications, which are then compared and discussed in several committees. Eventually, funds are allocated in a committee that includes political representation.