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First evaluation shows Germany’s excellence initiative is on track

Two years ago, Germany started a programme to propel its research universities into the global premier league. The so-called consists of three broad funding lines: strategic development concepts for the future of an entire university; graduate schools; and excellence clusters. At the end of the start-up phase, in which 39 graduate schools, 37 excellence clusters and nine ‘future concepts’ were funded with an overall envelope of EUR 1.9 billion, a first evaluation comes to the conclusion that the set of measures has started as a success. The profile of beneficiary universities has been sharpened, young researchers have been benefiting, and cooperation with non-university actors has been strengthened. However, the assessment also points to the remaining challenges.

The evaluation, carried out by the Bonn-based Intitut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätssicherung, looked exclusively at the graduate schools and excellence clusters. The authors point out that an evaluation after only two years can, by necessity, not yet assess impact, but only identify first trends. The overall verdict is that the excellence initiative is on the right track. The authors stress that it has unleashed considerable activity – even beyond the beneficiary institutions – and that it set free an unusually high willingness to experiment. Until April 2008, some 1 500 new researchers – most of them doctoral students – could be employed or have received a scholarship. New and flexible ways of recruitment have been found. Despite of this and probably due to only partially attractive salary and other conditions, there was a lack of top-class candidates. The same tension characterizes the new structures that the initiative introduces: the graduate schools and clusters are a positive provocation to a hitherto compartmentalised approach of research organisation, but the innovation also clashes with vested interests and is therefore not welcomed by everybody.

The measures appear to be successful in their aim to introduce more interdisciplinarity into German universities, which is just what they were supposed to do. The exact ways chosen to introduce interdisciplinary research vary widely. Cooperation with extra-university research centres, industry, and with universities outside of the country, is growing. Partly against the original intention, gender issues play no major role in the projects.

Intitut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätssicherung