“Our size gives us the potential
to act dynamically.”
UNIVERSITY OF COLOGNE
Despite their differences, the same questions are being asked
of both efforts: Were they fair? Do they go far enough? Will they
strengthen the university system as a whole? And, above all, will
The German initiative is set to expire in 2017. But the current
German government, led by Angela Merkel, remains firmly behind
it until then. In France, the new Socialist government of François
Hollande is reviewing the entire program. And although the general
thrust of the reforms seems safe, the government is under consider-
able pressure to modify them.
Graduate education in Germany is well-respected around the world.
But its traditional structure, based on a tight one-to-one relationship
between the student and a professor, excludes the taught components
and multiple academic inputs now commonplace internationally.
CREDI TS ( TOP TO BO T TOM): ALEKSANDER PERCOVIC (2); IS TOCKPHO TO
In designing the Excellence Initiative, German officials were
struck by the autonomy enjoyed by U.S. researchers once they won
their own grants, recalls Reinhard Grunwald, then–secretary-general
of the DFG, Germany’s main research agency. “We paid special atten-
tion to American universities, because many of our scien-
tists spent their formative years there,” he says.
However, the aim of the initiative was not to “get
even” with other countries in the rankings, Grunwald
recalls. Rather, it was intended to help universities fos-
ter greater innovation in Germany and across Europe.
Reaching that goal required the intervention of the fed-
eral government, Grunwald adds. “We knew the uni-
versities were having a hard time because the Länder
couldn’t come up with enough of a financial contribu-
tion,” he says.
The Excellence Initiative comprises three compo-
nents: graduate schools, clusters of excellence, and
future concepts. The first two were continuations of older
DFG programs. The funding has been implemented in
two rounds: The first injected €1.9 billion into the uni-
versities between 2006 and 2012, and an additional €2.7 billion will
be spent between 2012 and 2017.
This is the third in a series of articles on global
research universities. The first article (7 September,
p. 1162) examined the importance of mobility by
exploring the reasons for the increased flow of talent to Hong Kong and Singapore. The second article
(28 September, p. 1600) looked at cross-national collaborations created through satellite laboratories, a
relatively new phenomenon. This article focuses on
Europe, where two of the continent’s scientific powerhouses have launched separate initiatives with the
same goal: to strengthen research at a handful of elite
universities without eroding the quality of the country’s other academic institutions.