This Wednesday, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, made an appearance at a business summit in Berlin where research was high on the agenda. There was mutual back-patting all round. After all, the big goal to spend 3 percent – and rising – of Germany’s gross national product on research every year has been achieved.
However, all is not quite as it seems: One core research project, the Excellence Initiative for German universities, has been put on hold and its future is far from clear.
This is despite the program, designed to promote competition between top universities to improve research, having a proven track record. It has seen an additional €5 billion, or $5.5 billion, of taxpayers’ money pumped into leading research institutions since 2005.
This created more academic activity than ever before. Tens of thousands of new research positions were created, the top-level education of young scientists was reorganized, and, most importantly, 11 universities were declared elite universities and were able to promote themselves internationally using the accolade.
For the first time, it also became possible to overcome the gulf isolating the research done by universities from that by other research organizations. The reward has been that the international research community is again showing interest in German universities – thanks to the Excellence Initiative.