mation and Quality Assurance in Berlin. “Even those universities
who weren’t successful had a ‘plan B’ of how to act without govern-
Particular emphasis was placed on forging stronger links with
industry and with the Max Planck institutes and Helmholtz cen-
ters. “We wanted the universities to be more alert to their roles, not
just in research and teaching, but as agenda-setters for innovation,”
The process of selecting universities for future concepts funding
was bound to be contentious, and the final approach struck a less elit-
ist tone than did the original version. Nine institutions were funded
in the first round, as opposed to the three initially suggested by the
Schröder administration. In addition, after international peer review
narrowed the field, the winners were selected not by the DFG but by
Germany’s science council, the Wissenschaftsrat, whose membership
includes representatives of the federal government and the Länder, as
well as leading scientists.
Christiane Gaehtgens, a former secretary-general of the German
Rectors’ Conference, believes that the process has greatly strength-
ened university leadership. But she worries about the middle-ranked
institutions that failed to win awards: “We’re seeing stratification.
We’re losing out in the middle, which is where many of our strengths
used to lie.”
Others think the reforms don’t go far enough, either in concen-
trating resources or in updating the patchwork of governance laws
When the initiative draws to a close in 2017, universities can
expect no extra help from the Länder, which will shortly face severe
new borrowing limits. But many predict that a constitutional amend-
ment will pass after next year’s elections, allowing the federal gov-
ernment to continue some form of block-grant support for the elite.
The obstacles facing French university leaders are yet more daunting.
After the governance laws were passed, Sarkozy introduced a set of
measures as part of an economic stimulus package known as the Big
Loan. A program called LABEX supports centers of excellence in spe-
cific disciplines, while a second piece, EQUIPEX, pays for equipment.
The largest component, Initiatives d’Excellence (IDEX), aims to
build an elite club of research universities. So far, eight groups of insti-
tutions have won IDEX awards. Most of the winners plan to merge
fully, but others will form confederations and seek to be classed as sin-
gle entities in the institutional rankings.
Financing is generous but not guaranteed: Selected proposals have
been initially funded for 4 years, to the tune of about €30 million each
annually. Projects deemed successful could then receive permanent
endowments of about €1 billion from the government.
The headquarters of Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL)—one of the
first three IDEX projects selected in July 2011—is inauspiciously
located in a side street in the Latin Quarter. But its leader, Monique
“We’re developing an
institution with all of the char-
acteristics of a research uni-
versity,” Canto-Sperber says.
The 16 institutions participat-
ing in PSL will not be merged,
but they plan to submit a sin-
gle set of data to the rank-
ings systems. “We believe in
the benefits of having scien-
tific inputs from autonomous
components,” she says.
The PSL project isn’t the
first attempt to build stronger
ties among several outstand-
ing academic institutions in
the Latin Quarter. But it is, by far, the most comprehensive effort.
The goal is a confederacy of 2500 researchers, with a private endow-
ment worth €1.24 billion.
Antoine Triller, the director of the prestigious biology institute at
École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, says he’s long immunized
himself against the frustrations of working inside a system in which
researchers from agencies such as CNRS and INSERM operate cheek-
by-jowl with colleagues at universities and other institutes. “It’s not so
easy, but we get used to it,” he says. “It’s like if you speak Chinese, you
don’t go on complaining about how hard it is to speak Chinese.”
As dean of research at PSL, Triller is hoping to streamline the
existing potpourri of institutes. “We all have our own histories,”
Triller wryly observes. “The idea is to respect each other and
develop a community. I am Dean of Research here. I didn’t want to
be ‘research director’—I’m not going to direct anybody!”
Scientists acknowledge that it will be a major feat to get 16 institu-
tions, many of them with their own illustrious histories, to sing from
CREDI TS (LEF T TO RIGH T): INS TI TUT DE BIOLOGIE DE L’ENS; ADRIEN COQUARD
Common purpose. Biologist Antoine Triller (
) is trying to “develop a community” of scientists in Paris; Ernst Winnacker
) cautions that “a world-class standard” has yet to be attained at German universities.
decreed by the Länder. “The Excellence Initiative did put money
into the system—but it didn’t achieve true excellence,” says Ernst
Winnacker, who stepped down as president of the DFG in 2006
and now runs the Human Frontier Science Program in Strasbourg,
France. “The extra money really did a lot of good, but a world-class
standard has not been reached.”
Winnacker had pushed for the government to select a single
national winner in the future concepts competition. He would now
like the Max Planck institutes to create a single, distributed gradu-
ate university. Such an institution, he says, would “illustrate the high
quality of the German research system.”
Tim Stuchtey, an economist and director of the Brandenburg
Institute for Society and Security in Potsdam, Germany, thinks that
permanent change would require governance reform. North Rhine-
Westphalia, of which Cologne is part, introduced reforms includ-
ing greater autonomy and performance-related pay, but other Länder
have not followed suit.
2 NOVEMBER 2012 VOL 338
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