The excellence strategy creates a skewed picture


The strategy of excellence for German universities is doubtful, according to our columnist. Other universities also achieve considerable results.

The Excellence Strategy will change the German university system, whether for the better is doubtful. The prerequisite for reaching the final round was at least two approved clusters. It has now been decided which eleven will be allowed to wear the coveted decoration. There were no surprises or doubts. Why is Tübingen better than Freiburg? What distinguishes Karlsruhe from Stuttgart? What are the differences between Bonn and Cologne, and what about Münster?

Already in the round of sorting out the draft proposals, there were a lot of surprises. The University of Frankfurt, which was successful in previous procedures with four clusters, was not admitted to the further procedure due to a lack of sufficiently substantiated sketches. Although this already made it clear how questionable the selection procedure is, doubts were raised about the procedure during the approval of the excellence clusters. Göttingen, Mainz, Leipzig, Würzburg, Erlangen and Saarbrücken, among others, fell by the wayside. Are they worse than Hanover, Brunswick or Bochum, who continued to participate?

No one will want to claim later that all disciplines are “top” at the eleven universities to be awarded the prize. Nevertheless, the public will definitely get the impression of a dividing line between the “elite universities” and the “rest”, especially since the decisions are valid for at least seven years and there is a good chance that they will be included for a further seven years, subject to evaluations that are permanent every seven years.

Any ranking would fly up against the authors’ ears.

The joy of the winners is understandable. However, it should not be overlooked how narrow the basis of the decision is for two clusters. Every ranking would fly up against the authors’ ears if they took so little account of the overall structure of a university. Nobody will deny that even at universities that do not bear the label “excellent”, there are some internationally recognized scientists who belong to the elite of their respective subject. This is being marginalised.

The skewed picture created by the Excellence Strategy becomes even more shaky when one considers that some federal states are “excellence-free zones”. There, too, considerable work is being done in certain areas. The Imboden Commission, set up specifically to evaluate the Excellence Initiative, was already right in its proposal not to continue the “Excellence Universities” funding line. Once again, policymakers have not adhered to what is always demanded: the recommendations of policy advice.

Anyone who would like to discuss with the author can send him an e-mail: [email protected]


About Author

Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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