DFG Position Paper On The Future Of The German Research System
Paper calls for better core support for universities, differentiation between research organizations and funding organizations, excellence funding in the DFG budget
The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), the central, self-governing research funding organization in Germany, presented a position paper on the future of the German research system at its annual press conference in Berlin on 4 July 2013. Drawn up by the DFG’s Executive Committee and Executive Board, the paper was the subject of intense discussion among representatives from all areas of science and the humanities and the federal and state government funding bodies at the DFG’s Annual Meeting, which took place from 1 to 3 July in Berlin.
In this paper, the DFG first underlines the special significance of the universities and calls for substantial improvements to the core financial support they receive. “The universities are at the heart of the research system and they will remain there in the future. With respect to research performance and capabilities, it is therefore essential that the universities receive sound financial support that is commensurate with both their tasks and their significance,” said DFG President Professor Peter Strohschneider on the presentation of the paper in Berlin. “However, we now find a risk-laden imbalance in Germany. While non-university research receives secure, regular and sufficient funding, the basic budgets of the universities, which are funded by the federal states, are stagnating or even declining. This is a systematic problem which must be amended urgently.”
The “erosion of the basic financing of the universities” has already had an impact on the role of the DFG and its funding activities. “The DFG is involuntarily becoming a basic financier of university-based research; its third-party funding is increasingly becoming a type of secondary currency in the research system. As a result, we are having to make decisions on increasing numbers of increasingly expensive funding proposals and despite a continually growing budget, we are only able to approve proportionally fewer proposals,” said Professor Strohschneider.
Just in the past year, he continued, referring to the DFG’s Annual Report for 2012, which was also presented at the press conference, the DFG funded more than 30,900 research projects across all programs with a budget of just over 2.52 billion euros. Of these, around 15,000 projects were in the individual grants program, for which funding totaling 922 million euros was approved. Under the coordinated programs, around 4,700 projects were carried out in 254 Collaborative Research Centres; the volume of funding in this area amounted to approximately 551 million euros. Furthermore, 233 Research Training Groups with over 2,900 projects (with funding of approximately 153 million euros), 111 Priority Programmes with over 3,400 projects (approximately 203 million euros) and 254 Research Units with over 2,500 projects (around 182 million euros) were funded. At the seven DFG Research Centres, funding for 2012 amounted to more than 41 million euros. A total of approximately 404 million euros was provided under the federal and state governments’ Excellence Initiative.
Broken down by scientific discipline, funding for the life sciences amounted to just under 39% of the total, with around 24% for the natural sciences, 22% going to the engineering sciences and approximately 16% to the humanities and social sciences.
The increase in proposal numbers is particularly evident in the individual grants program, which, having received more than a third of the approved funding, represents the foundation of the DFG’s research funding. Here, the number of proposals which have been decided since 2009 has risen from just over 10,000 to more than 12,200 in 2012. The amount of funding requested has also increased significantly: in 2008 new funding requests totaled 2.3 billion euros; in 2012 this figure rose to 3 billion euros. The funding rate on the other hand has fallen: in 2009, 47% of all new proposals were approved, in 2012 this figure was just over 32%. “We increasingly find ourselves in a situation where we are unable to finance scientifically outstanding projects,” explained Professor Strohschneider.
As well as wanting to see an improvement in the basic financing for universities, the DFG also considers a balanced relationship between the various forms of research and the research institutions and organizations essential. This applies to the relationship between university and non-university research, to that between individual and collaborative research and to the complementary nature of discovery-driven basic research and program-oriented research. The DFG regards the universities, the Max Planck Society and itself as the main supporters of discovery-driven basic research, while the support offered by the Helmholtz Association and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research concerns mainly program-oriented research. In addition, the systematic distinction between research and research funding and therefore the separation between research organizations and funding organizations should be maintained.
The DFG sees its own role and key function in the research system in the funding of discovery-driven basic scientific research at the universities â€“ “in all research areas, at every stage of the research process, in all sizes and structures, and in cooperation with all the other research institutions,” said Professor Strohschneider. “The DFG thus creates a strong integrative force in the German research system.” The DFG funds research and its development processes in a response mode â€“ both with direct funding of proposals and also with its own strategic initiatives to support certain areas of research, for instance by setting up Priority Programmes or Research Centres.
It is crucial that in both forms, the impetus in terms of the content comes from researchers themselves and that the funding decision is made purely on the criteria of scientific quality. We do not consider nor will we be considering research topics on the basis of their political or other assumed relevance nor on other quality criteria in the future,” the DFG President emphasized.
The DFG’s position paper also included proposals for continuing the funding lines of the Excellence Initiatives after the competition ends in 2017 and for the future financing of the research system. The Excellence Initiative’s funding for graduate schools and clusters of excellence should be transferred permanently to the DFG’s program portfolio and budget. This would allow the DFG funding program for Research Training Groups to be extended to become even more strongly research-oriented. With the clusters of excellence, which should continue to be located in the universities in the future, it should be possible to finance the centers which have been receiving new funding since 2012 beyond 2017 while maintaining scientific quality. To this end, the clusters of excellence should be merged with the DFG Research Centres in the DFG’s program portfolio. They could create an open funding format which would enable research of outstanding quality to be funded for longer than 12 years and at the same time support strategic initiatives to develop specific areas of research.
“This would allow the very positive but not yet final effects of the Excellence Initiative to be sustained,” emphasized DFG President Strohschneider at the annual press conference. “Furthermore, the DFG will also be able to help the universities even more effectively to create their profile and set priorities in structured research training and in bundling scientific expertise across disciplines and organizational forms.”
In terms of the future financing of science, the DFG called for the dynamic development triggered by the three major federal and state programs â€“ the Excellence Initiative, the Higher Education Pact and the Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation â€“ to be continued and enhanced, but in a new form. “Instead of three joint initiatives with different objectives and durations, we are proposing a “framework agreement on cooperative research funding” between the federal government and the states. It would allow funding streams and the different research functions to be better coordinated, in terms of both content and timing,” said Professor Strohschneider. As part of this, the program allowance for indirect project costs financed by the federal government (20%) should be transferred to the regular DFG funding budget, continued and, where possible, increased.
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