"Berlin rocks as a team." Exuberant statements such as that of the Berlin Governing Mayor Michael Müller (SPD), images of happy champagne receptions and parties show: The decisions that fell on Friday in the Excellence Strategy for the German universities, at least at the eleven Successfully celebrated successful sites. And yet there is already a not so small downer. Since almost all universities had applied for the full excellence grant of 15 million euros for a single university and 28 million for a network – that is, for Berlin – these funds will be reduced by a lump sum.
Hamburg Senator of Science Katharina Fegebank (Greens) confirmed to the Tagesspiegel that the cut was set at about 17.5 percent in the decision in Bonn for all excellencies. The consequences for the University of Hamburg are not yet clear. "We were so excited that we have not talked about it yet," Fegebank admits. In the coming weeks she will sit down with the Unileitung and clarify "how this can be shouldered". The Berlin Association will now get only 24 million euros annually, said FU President and Verbund spokesman Günter M. Ziegler on request. But that was to be expected, the universities have already discussed what they do in the case of the cut: "Nothing of the Berlin project is seriously endangered by this."
Do the country's leaders want to ask the federal government to compensate for the missing millions? "You could wish that, but the faith is missing," says Fegebank. A readjustment had already failed after the federal government had increased the number of funded clusters. – In the following five theses to the excellency decision.
1. The scientists set the pace
When the Science Ministers met on Thursday evening with the experts from the research, everything had already been decided. The experts had reportedly filed eleven applications for "green", ie eligible, and the other eight for "red". There were no more doubts ("yellow") from the point of view of science – also a reaction to a scandal in the past year. At the time, when deciding on the Cluster of Excellence, at the insistence of Federal Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU), ten applications were pushed through that were in the balance.
At the end, the ministers agreed unanimously to the eleven green motions, with the concepts discussed in detail at the decisive meeting on Friday together with the expert panel. The agreement would have been easier for the ministers because the experts adhered to the planned number of eleven universities and did not limit these to a few. At the same time, North, South, East and West were represented as well as EU-led countries (Bavaria, NRW, Saxony), SPD-led (Berlin, Hamburg) and Greens-led (Baden-Württemberg).
The fact that even after the decision on the research clusters in September 2018 it was clear that there would be a large corridor without any excellence, the country bosses could not change anything in the Bonn final anyway.
2. Good science policy is rewarded
The role of science policy was expressly acknowledged by Peter Strohschneider, President of the German Research Foundation (DFG), at the press conference in Bonn. The international reviewers and the deciding committee members in the final had "astonished the close cooperation of science and politics in the promotion of cutting-edge research". This "trusting collaboration" is unique in the world – also against the background that the freedom of scholarship is currently increasingly under pressure worldwide in many countries.
Strohschneider's praise for research funding is due to the country's successful leaders. This applies in particular to the city states of Berlin and Hamburg, whose universities were long misjudged as ungovernable mass universities. In both cities, the upswing is due to enormous contributions of researchers, teachers and unileities, but also to the senators of science.
(The success of excellence is a golden day for Berlin – and also the merit of a very good senator for science: Michael Müller. Read our comment on the decision here.)
In Berlin, it was Jürgen Zöllner (SPD), which began in 2006 to withdraw rigid austerity measures and invest more in higher education. The consistent continuation of this policy under Michael Müller as Governing Mayor and Senator of Science and State Secretary Steffen Krach pay now for the city, says Zöllner, today Chairman of the Charité Foundation. The network of excellence universities, but also the Siemens campus, the massive support for the Natural History Museum and for the Berlin Institute for Health Research would also "generate an economic impetus through the science location," says Zöllner. "That's the indirect return on research funding that pays off for the city."
3. The winners: excellence is concentrated
It is noticeable: There is no tree-change game in excellence. Above all, the universities that already carried the title of excellence were honored, the only real newcomers are Bonn, Hamburg and the TU Berlin in the Berlin association. For Bernd Huber, President of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, the overall result came as no surprise, "even if you are of course always baffled". It has now formed a group of successful universities: "Their promotion must be continued consistently."
In particular, four metropolitan areas of excellence stand out on the Wissenschaftslandkarte: Berlin with its three major universities, Munich with two universities of excellence, the Aachen-Bonn axis and the Rhine-Neckar region with Heidelberg and Karlsruhe.
Lonely lighthouse in the far north is the University of Hamburg. There, University President Dieter Lenzen made the miracle – and for the second time, after he was successful in 2007 as President of the FU Berlin. "As of today, I'd never again like to hear that the University of Hamburg is mediocre at best," commented Lenzen.
4. The losers: Frustration in excellence-free zones
In contrast, many regions in the strategy of excellence emanate almost or completely empty: It is cemented more and more a two-class society. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and the Saarland have neither an excellence university nor a cluster of excellence.
Hardly better are Bremen, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia there. Although they could win one or two clusters, they still receive only a fraction of the millions of excellencies. Their share was already after the cluster decision in each case only two percent of the funds allocated, as shown by an analysis of the DFG. A comparison: Hessen receives a total of 6.4 million euros per year from the excellence strategy. By contrast, Berlin is projected to receive an aggregate of almost 70 million euros annually for Verbund and Clusters, while Baden-Württemberg is well above 100 million euros.
Martin Grund, the chairman of the SPD-related Science Forum Central Germany, calls for Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, the quality of interdisciplinary and inter-institutional cooperation, which is required in the excellence competition, must be "more stimulated" in the future. Dresden is already doing a very good job – and since 2012 this has been honored with the crown of excellence for the TU. Grund himself has recently moved to Leipzig as a doctoral student in brain research and notes "big differences". The network, which has been connecting the TU and non-university institutes with the Dresden Concept for years, is just beginning to be created in Leipzig.
Under Minister of Science Eva-Maria Stange (SPD) experience Saxony "a legislative period in which to build again," after years of budgeting and jobs at universities were cut together. Now it is important to promote cooperation locally and across regions – for example between Leipzig and Halle / Wittenberg. Such an association, just like an individual application from the University of Jena, which already has a cluster of excellence, could have opportunities in the next round of the excellence strategy, says Martin Grund. Until then, massive structural funding for science, research and development must be carried out in central Germany – also on the part of the federal government. So far, however, apparently lacking the crucial political pressure.
5. Unis groan under the pressure of competition
For 15 years there is the excellence initiative. Only the current third round stretched over three years. "This is a huge effort, where sometimes one wonders whether it is in a right relationship," says LMU boss Bernd Huber. In general, you can not repeat the competition as often as you like – if only because you can not always think up new applications, especially when it comes to structural management issues. It is therefore right that in seven years the excellent universities have to undergo only one evaluation and no new competition.
Overall, competitive pressure in science must be reconsidered, says Huber. He considers the element of competition to be important because it has contributed much to the positive development of the scientific system. "However, universities also need phases in which they can work without constantly facing up to competition."