Comment By The DFG's President On The Evaluation Report
The President of the DFG, Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, commented on the recommendations made by an international commission set up to evaluate the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Max Planck Society (MPG); the recommendations were published on 25 May 1999:
The commission presents a thorough analysis of the work and operation of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft within our science system.
In many regards its recommendations strongly confirm the significance and quality of the DFG's work. They encourage us to continue the numerous initiatives that we have taken recently with a view to enhancing our performance. They give us hope that the working conditions of the DFG can be improved perhaps even in the near future.
The commission recognises the central role the DFG is playing in the German research system. In its view the statutory obligation of the DFG to serve "all fields" of science is an important prerequisite for its effectiveness. The same applies to the thematic openness and accessibility of the very core of its funding and promoting activities, the so-called individual grants programme, which gives every scientist free and equal access to project funds and whose expansion the commission strongly advocates.
The commission acknowledges the importance of the DFG in the competition for funds as well as for increasing the performance of universities and non-university research institutes alike. It suggests that in the future the DFG should take an even more pro-active approach to funding and promoting efficient structures in universities, e.g. in supporting the early independence of young scientists. This can only be achieved in co-operation with the higher education sector.
The commission recommends that the Federal and Länder governments should ensure the DFG's ability to act by increasing the funds allocated to the organisation, while at the same time granting it more flexibility in using these funds. This would include, for instance, a more flexible public service law as well as a block budget. The DFG hopes that these recommendations will soon be implemented.
The commission recommends numerous individual measures for the DFG's funding activities. To a considerable extent these schemes are already reflected in on-going efforts which, for example, include the attempt to encourage more young scientists to act as honorary reviewers and to increase the percentage of female scientists. These concerns were already taken into account in the 1999 elections of reviewers. Researchers applying for DFG funds should be informed as clearly and comprehensively as possible about the arguments presented by reviewers and especially their reservations and objections. In spring the DFG introduced a rule to this effect which will apply to all its programmes.
Finally, the commission recommends that the DFG should seek new ways and structures to identify working areas that are to receive preferential funding in order to provide pro-active programme updating and development for part of its funds. However, in its effort to continue developing into a strategically acting research funding institution the DFG is under the obligation, on the one hand, to ensure that its advisory and decision-making bodies select working areas for preferential funding exclusively on the basis of scientific criteria. The DFG cannot, must not and should not compete with the Federal and Länder governments which are extensively involved in research funding guided by general political criteria.
On the other hand, the organisation feels encouraged by the commission's suggestion that it should take advantage of the scientific competence of its various bodies and its central office to identify a greater number of themes meriting funding that are even more in keeping with the interdisciplinary character of modern science.
By establishing programme groups at its central office the DFG has already made a start in this direction. At the end of the day, however, the success of such a rather strategic funding policy will depend on whether and to what extent the DFG will be able to protect and preserve its absolutely essential scientific autonomy that the commission explicitly advocates.