Excellence Strategy

The Excellence Strategy is a funding programme of the Federal Government and the Länder to strengthen cutting-edge research at universities in two funding lines: Clusters of Excellence and Universities of Excellence.

The maps shows the sites of Clusters of Excellence and Universities of Excellence.
© BMBF

In 2016, the Federal Government and the Länder agreed to launch a new funding programme to provide permanent support for cutting-edge research at German universities. The main objective is to strengthen the international competitiveness and visibility of German science in the long term. The funding programme aims to enable scientific excellence in research, raise the profiles of the universities and encourage even closer networking and cooperation among stakeholders in the science system. In this way, the Excellence Strategy combines funding for cutting-edge research with long-term strategic investment in the higher education system.

The Excellence Strategy builds upon its predecessor programme – the Excellence Initiative of 2007 to 2017. The Excellence Initiative contributed to outstanding research, strengthened cooperation between universities and non-university partners and led to increased networking of German universities with universities all around the world. This development has attracted worldwide attention, and as a result, more and more foreign researchers are coming to Germany. Other countries have launched their own programmes modelled on the Excellence Initiative. The entire German higher education landscape benefits from this increased international visibility. The Excellence Strategy maintains and enhances the positive momentum of the last few years.

The Excellence Strategy consists of two elements or funding lines: the Clusters of Excellence and the Universities of Excellence.

Excellence Clusters

The “Clusters of Excellence” funding line provides project-based funding in internationally competitive fields of research at individual universities or university alliances. The Clusters of Excellence involve researchers from various disciplines and institutions working in a collaborative project. The funding provides them with the opportunity of focussing intensively on their research objective, training young scientists and recruiting highly qualified international researchers. Universities that host a Cluster of Excellence can also apply for a “University Allowance” that provides additional strategic funding to strengthen their organization and strategic orientation.

Clusters of Excellence receive funding for a period of seven years. A second funding period of another seven years is possible. The funding calls are announced regularly every seven years.

Universities of Excellence

The “Universities of Excellence” funding line sets out to strengthen universities or university alliances as institutions and to expand their leading international position in research on the basis of successful Clusters of Excellence. Universities must therefore already have at least two Clusters of Excellence – and in the case of university alliances at least three Clusters of Excellence – in order to be eligible to apply for the status of University of Excellence. Universities of Excellence receive permanent funding but have to submit to a review of the prerequisites for funding every seven years. This means that Universities of Excellence have to regularly participate in the competition for the funding of the necessary number of Clusters of Excellence by submitting new applications every seven years.

The selection of Clusters and Universities of Excellence is made on the basis of purely science-based selection procedures. These procedures are conducted by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) on behalf of the Federal Government and the Länder.

The first funding decisions under the Excellence Strategy were taken on 27 September 2018 when a commission comprising international experts and the science ministers of the Federal Government and the Länder selected 57 Clusters of Excellence for funding from 1 January 2019.

Universities that were successful in the first funding line with at least two Clusters of Excellence – or at least three Clusters of Excellence in the case of a university alliance – could apply for funding as Universities of Excellence in the second funding line. The funding decisions for the Universities of Excellence were taken on 19 July 2019. Ten Universities of Excellence and one Excellence Alliance will receive funding under the Excellence Strategy from November 2019.

Since 2018, the Federal Government and the Länder have been providing some 533 million euros for the Excellence Strategy each year. The Federal Government provides 75 percent of the funds, while the remaining 25 percent are funded by the Land that is home to the Cluster of Excellence or University of Excellence. About 385 million euros are earmarked for the Clusters of Excellence each year, while the Universities of Excellence receive an annual total of approx. 148 million euros.