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Germany: excellence all over the place

On 15 June, the results of the second and most likely last round of Germany’s Excellence Initiative (Exzellenzinitiative) were announced. Some of the results came as a surprise.

The Excellence Initiative was started in 2006 and aims to “promote top-level research and to improve the quality of German universities and research institutions”, and to enhance the international competitiveness of German higher education. Initially scheduled to end this year, the project was in 2009 extended until 2017. In the last phase (2012 to 2017), the Excellence Initiative will provide a record amount of EUR 2.4 billion, 75% of which come from the federal government and 25% from the state in which the beneficiary is located. The present selection round covered all three constituent components of the initiative, i.e. “graduate schools”, “clusters of excellence” and “institutional strategies”. The “institutional strategies” component, which is also colloquially referred to as “elite universities”, is the most prestigious part of the funding package. The round was open to both former beneficiaries and new applicants.

Berlin’s Humboldt University as well as the Technical University of Dresden and the universities in Cologne, Tübingen, and Bremen are first-time “elite universities”. Munich’s two universities, as well as the RWTH Aachen, the Free University of Berlin and the universities in Konstanz and Heidelberg kept their “elite” status. Surprisingly, the universities of Göttingen, Freiburg and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) were relegated. The KIT had only recently been formed out of a merger of Karlsruhe University and a research institute, in order to enhance research capacity.

Excellence appears to be all over the place in German higher education. Across all three components, 70% of all proposals were selected. And even many of the rejected applications were said to have been of very high quality.
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (in German)