The current situation regarding research policy in Germany and in particular the new federal-state initiative for the funding of top-level research at universities (the "Excellence Strategy") was the main theme at the annual meeting of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), which concluded on Wednesday at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.
At the end of the three-day meeting, representatives of the DFG's member organisations in the General Assembly voted unanimously in favour of participation in the Excellence Strategy. Resolutions to this effect had already been reached in the two days prior to the vote by the Executive Committee, the Senate and the Joint Committee of Germany's largest research funding organisation and the central self-governing organisation of the research community in Germany.
This means that the DFG can take on the role of implementing the clusters of excellence funding line in the Excellence Strategy, as envisaged in the agreement finalised by the heads of the federal and state governments on 16 June. The second funding line, universities of excellence, will be implemented by the German Council of Science and Humanities, which discussed the issue of its participation at its summer session in Kiel held in parallel to the DFG's annual meeting. The DFG and the Council will work together closely to implement the overall programme.
"The fact that the federal and state governments have entrusted the DFG and the German Council of Science and Humanities with the implementation of the Excellence Strategy is an expression of a high level of political confidence, which is particularly gratifying. But for the DFG as a member-driven organisation, whose capabilities and reputation depend to a large extent on its independence, the consent of its members and other statutory bodies is essential as far as the question of participation is concerned," said DFG President Professor Dr. Peter Strohschneider following the decision by the General Assembly.
As Strohschneider announced, following their respective meetings this week the DFG and the German Council of Science and Humanities will now submit nominations for 39 members for the Committee of Experts to the Joint Science Conference (GWK). As part of the Excellence Strategy, this panel will formulate funding recommendations on the basis of scientific quality criteria and then, together with research ministers at federal and state level, make the actual funding decisions in the so-called Excellence Commission. The nominations for the committee were prepared jointly by the DFG and the German Council of Science and Humanities. Following the approval of the Senate, the most important academic body of the DFG, in Mainz and the anticipated consent of the Scientific Commission of the German Council of Science and Humanities in Kiel, the members will probably be appointed by the GWK before the end of July.
"It can already be said that we have recruited some outstanding individuals to the Committee of Experts. Many world-renowned experts have agreed to participate within a very short time. This too testifies to the recognition and visibility of the German research system, the Excellence Initiative to date and the DFG," said Strohschneider.
According to the further timetable, the DFG will also publish a programme announcement for the funding line of the clusters of excellence before the end of July. In late summer the Committee of Experts will hold its inaugural meeting to discuss the funding criteria and review procedures. The actual call is then due to be issued at the end of September. All potential applicants are requested to submit non-binding notices of intent by 1 December of this year. Draft proposals for new clusters of excellence must then be submitted by 3 April 2017. In a two-stage process, a decision will be reached on these drafts in late summer 2017, when successful applicants will submit full proposals. The final decision on these, and therefore the funding of future clusters of excellence, will be made in late summer 2018. Funding will begin on 1 January 2019. Unlike the Excellence Initiative so far, decisions will no longer be made jointly for the individual funding lines, but at different times. The decision on future universities of excellence is due to be made in late summer 2019.
"The DFG is at the ready for the Excellence Strategy," concluded DFG President Strohschneider. He added that all participants can build on the experience gained through the Excellence Initiative to date. The new programme will also mean that "enormous effort" is once again required of everyone, not only the applicant universities and the researchers who work there but also the DFG's Head Office, which "must manage the Excellence Strategy in addition to the DFG's normal funding activities".
2015 annual report presented
The DFG continues to receive a very high number of funding proposals and has once again approved an increased amount in funding applications as a result of the insufficient basic funding of universities and the resulting higher importance of third-party funding, as Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek reported at the General Assembly. In 2015, as in previous years, universities received more than 30% of their total third-party funding from the DFG, making the DFG still the most important provider of third-party funding ahead of the federal government, the EU and private foundations.
As shown in its annual report for 2015, which was also presented at the General Assembly, last year the DFG funded a total of 30,471 research projects with a combined volume of €2.84 billion. Of these projects, around 7,920 were newly approved projects which received a total of €1.93 billion in funding. Compared with 2014, the number of funded projects has therefore increased by another 700 in total and the total funding amount by approximately €110 million. The number of newly approved projects rose by a good 1,000, attracting almost €40 million more than newly funded projects in 2014.
Almost half of all funded projects - around 14,800 - received individual grants; a total of approximately €886 million was approved for this type of award. In Research Training Groups, Collaborative Research Centres and other Coordinated Programmes, funding was awarded to 817 groups with a total of around 13,300 projects and a total approved sum of approximately €1.18 billion. The 99 institutions funded through the Excellence Initiative received around €546 million.
In terms of the major research categories, in 2015 life sciences again received the most funding with €796 million (38.5% of the total sum awarded), followed by natural sciences with €483 million (23.3%), engineering sciences with €444 million (21.5%) and humanities and social sciences with €345 million (16.7%).
As Secretary General Dzwonnek underlined, individual grants are still the "heart of the DFG's range of funding instruments". The continued high demand for third-party funding from applicants and universities is especially noticeable here, especially in the amounts applied for. While €2.6 billion in funding was applied for in 2009, in 2015 this rose to €3.7 billion - an increase of more than 40% in just six years. As Dzwonnek explained, the DFG was however still able to increase the funding volume after a slight decline, so that in 2015 it was again higher than in 2009. The overall trend in the funding rate is also positive. In 2015 it was 30%, which Dzwonnek described as "a good balance between selectivity and opportunity". Overall, the Secretary General noted that in 2015, in spite of the various problems, "funding opportunities have not only remained stable but even increased again slightly".
Marco Finetti, Head of DFG Press and Public Relations, Tel. +49 228 885-2230, Marco.Finetti@dfg.de
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The "Annual Report 2015" is available at http://www.
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