After the Excellence Initiative (2005-2017), with which the Federal Government and the states initiated a dynamic strengthening of the universities, what has been achieved will be continued and further developed with the Excellence Strategy adopted by the Federal Government and the states in 2016. The aim is to promote scientific excellence, develop profiles and strengthen cooperation in the science system.
At its meeting on 29-30 November 2021, the Committee of Experts agreed on a timetable of the two funding lines, Clusters of Excellence and Universities of Excellence, for the second competition round.
The second competition phase has started with the call for Clusters of Excellence (EXC) outlines issued by the DFG on 15 December 2022. The DFG asks that all new initiatives submit a letter of intent by 1 February 2023 (16:00 CET). For existing clusters planning an application to have their funding renewed, it will not be necessary to submit letters of intent at such an early stage. The deadline for the submission of outline proposals for new proposals is 31 May 2023 (16:00 CET). The review of the outline proposals will take place approximately between the end of August and mid-November 2023 and the decision on the proposal submission will be made on 1 February 2024. Proposals for continuation do not go through the outline phase.
In the run-up to the proposal phase, the DFG requests an update of the letters of intent in order to integrate any changes that may have occurred in the meantime into the review planning. The deadline in this regard is 15 April 2024 (16:00 CET) for new proposals. For renewal proposals a letter of intent has to be submitted by 29 January 2024 (16:00 CET). The submission deadline for all EXC proposals is 22 August 2024 (16:00 CET). The review of proposals is planned for the period between the beginning of October 2024 to mid-February 2025. The funding decision on the future Clusters of Excellence will be made on 22 May 2025. More information can be found on the DFG website.
The new call for proposals in the Universities of Excellence funding line is expected to start at the end of March 2024. Universities applying for a Cluster of Excellence jointly with more than three applicant universities are required to inform the head office of the German Science and Humanities Council in the course of the application for Clusters of Excellence to the DFG (August 2024) which three universities of such a joint cluster proposal are to be granted eligibility to apply for the Universities of Excellence funding line. Based on the decisions on the EXC in May 2025, the new proposals are expected to be submitted by mid-November of the same year. The on-site visits will take place from April to June 2026 after which the Excellence Commission will decide on the inclusion of up to four new Universities or University Consortia of Excellence within the funding line at the end of September 2026.
The evaluation of the ten funded Universities of Excellence and the University Consortium of Excellence is expected to begin in August 2025 with the submission of self-assessment reports. The on-site visits will take place from October to December of the same year; in March 2026, the Committee of Experts will assess the results of the individual evaluations.
The Excellence Strategy programme is based on the Administrative Agreement (Verwaltungsvereinbarung) adopted on 19 October 2016 by the Federal Chancellor and the Prime Ministers of the States pursuant to Article 91b, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), "On the Funding of Top-Level Research at Universities – Excellence Strategy", as amended on 4 November 2022.
The Excellence Strategy programme is carried out by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) in collaboration with the German Science and Humanities Council (Wissenschaftsrat, WR). It consists of two funding lines:
1 - Clusters of Excellence provides project-based funding for internationally competitive areas of research at universities and university consortia. The latest funding decisions in the Clusters of Excellence funding line were taken in September 2018. Further information is available on the DFG website.
2 - Universities of Excellence is aimed at institutionally strengthening universities and university consortia and further developing their international leading role in research on the basis of successful Clusters of Excellence. The latest decisions in the Universities of Excellence funding line were taken in July 2019. The WR is responsible for the development and implementation of the Universities of Excellence funding line procedure as well as for their review, which takes place septennially.
A Committee of Experts was set up to design the funding programme. It is made up of 39 members in total. All of them have a proven track record in research in various research fields as well as many years of international experience from the areas of university management, teaching or private industry. The members were jointly proposed by the DFG Senate and the Scientific Commission of the WR and appointed by the Joint Science Conference (GWK). A list of current members is available at the GWK website.
The Excellence Commission is responsible for the decision-making regarding proposals in both funding lines. It is made up of the members of the Committee of Experts as well as the federal and state science and research ministers.
An overview with English language information on the funding line "Excellence Universities" within the Excellence Initiative (2005–2017) can be found here.