Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Study Shines Light on Success of Germany's Excellence Initiative

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Study Shines Light on Success of Germany's Excellence Initiative

Article excerpt

'Clusters of excellence' create highly cited papers, but funding is fairly modest. David Matthews writes

Ten years ago, Germany started to shake up its traditionally egalitarian research system with the launch of the Excellence Initiative, which controversially began to concentrate funding into certain universities and research areas.

Worried about German universities' weak showing in international rankings, and keen to create international "peaks" of top-notch research, policymakers hoped that the multibillion-euro project would deliver "excellence".

The first analysis of papers specifically funded by the scheme suggests that they will be pleased with the results, according to Torger Möller, a researcher at the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies in Berlin.

The findings come as governments across the world grapple with the dilemma of whether to pour funds into a few select "elite" institutions to attract the world's leading scientists, or create a broader base of research that allows new specialisms to emerge.

Dr Möller and two co-authors looked at around 6,000 papers funded by the Excellence Initiative's "clusters of excellence" stream, which accounts for 60 per cent of the scheme's total funding.

These clusters bring together research centres and universities to tackle challenges such as creating robots that make our daily lives more convenient, or the future of cultural relations between Europe and Asia. They are normally led by just one or two universities, but also bring in collaborators from Germany's traditionally very strong non-university research centres, such as the Max Planck institutes.

Dr Möller's analysis found that more than a quarter of papers that emerged from these clusters were highly cited - that is, they were in the top 10 per cent of cited publications globally. This performance exceeded even that of research coming out of Max Planck institutes themselves, seen as the strongest centres of research in Germany.

"In this respect, the CoEs [clusters of excellence] actually do produce internationally visible research to a high degree," says the study, "Assessing the effects of the German Excellence Initiative with bibliometric methods", published recently in Scientometrics.

But, it cautions, it is not clear whether this is the result of the funding injection creating genuinely new good research - as far as this can be measured by citations - or existing excellent work having been "bundled" together.

The paper also shows that cluster of excellence publications have helped keep Germany in contention with other countries when it comes to producing highly cited research (see graph). …

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