Why far-sightedness is particularly important for the future of the Excellence Strategy.
February 15, 2020, 5:01 p.m. Edited on February 15, 2020, 5:01 p.m. DIE ZEIT No. 8/2020
The best way to develop a strategy is when you don't need it because the situation is calm. Viewed in this way, this would be the right moment to think about the continuation of the Excellence Strategy. It won't be until 2025, but time is passing quickly - science and politics should therefore start planning early.
The formal rules of the future competition for excellence have been established. Cluster funding runs until 2025, when evaluations are due and new applications are possible. Existing projects can be extended once for another seven years, new ones can be added. 45 to 50 clusters were originally planned in 2016, now there are 57 that support the federal and state governments - with the same budget. Basically, it shouldn't get any further after 2025, so that top projects can really be adequately financed.
It's time to clean up the patchy field of clusters. On the one hand there are projects that have been continuously funded with thematic modifications since 2006 or 2007 - in 2025 they will exist for almost 20 years. You cannot compare these research projects with those that have been in the race since 2018, and certainly not with those new applications that will be submitted in 2025. Successful long-term clusters also carry out planning in addition to excellent research and have demonstrated that they can update thematically on a regular basis. This means that they have a different function than the new projects, which still have to prove this ability.
In view of this, it would be advisable to transfer the excellent long-term clusters into a new funding program. The federal government could, as the current coalition agreement allows, fund them permanently as institutes, whereby the degree of internal renewal capability should be a decisive evaluation indicator. It would then be necessary to evaluate the relevant long-term clusters in 2025 according to their own competition criteria and to examine their sustainability. This would be an opportunity to transfer large-scale innovative projects to permanent federal funding. There would also be room to finance new projects that could compete with existing clusters.
At the same time, evaluations of future concepts will be pending in five years. Up to four can be funded in 2025, even if all projects that are already running are successful. In case of doubt, the total funding will be increased so that new applications have a fair chance. Modifications in the competition would also be conceivable here. Joint proposals could form a separate funding line, bringing together universities in regional neighborhoods to form strategic alliances. A competition between networks with up to three partners each would liven up the German university landscape. It would be desirable if in 2025 not just a single joint application - as in 2018 with the Berlin alliance - started.
It was a mistake to exclude the graduate schools from the Excellence Initiative in 2016. For most universities it proves to be extremely difficult to maintain the high level of a new doctoral culture in the doctoral schools despite the reduced funds. The federal and state governments must therefore set up a permanent funding program for the basic services of the graduate schools. Baden-Württemberg already offers sustainable co-financing of existing doctoral structures. Such a procedure is exemplary and could become a role model for other federal states.
So that the available time is not overslept, planning for all of these areas must begin immediately. If the Excellence Strategy is to do justice to both components in its name, the course for the future would have to be set now.