Top universities share 1.9 billion euros in final round of 'excellence initiative'

The second and final round of Germany’s so-called ’Ivy League’ competition is over, with six new universities christened as elite and several chemistry related programmes bolstered with fresh funding and prestige.

Dieter Jahn, president of the German Chemical Society (GDCh), said he was satisfied with chemistry’s portion of the 1.9 billion euros to be funnelled into universities during the next five years through the programme, officially called the Excellence Initiative.

’Of course, it could always be a bit more,’ he told Chemistry World. ’But in all the elite universities chemistry is playing a major role.’

"Of course, it could always be a bit more. But in all the elite universities chemistry is playing a major role" - Dieter Jahn

The programme finances graduate schools and ’excellence clusters’ in various fields, with the goal of allowing German universities to compete with top US and UK universities, which currently dominate international league tables for research. The six universities named on 19 October as elite are Berlin’s Free University, RWTH Aachen University, and universities in Freiburg, G?ttingen, Heidelberg and Konstanz. They join three universities named last year in round one - the University of Munich, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Karlsruhe.

Of the 20 new excellence clusters receiving financing, Jahn said chemistry would play either a leading or significant role in at least four of them. Jahn, also senior vice president at BASF for science relations and innovation management, described a excellence cluster focusing on catalysis as particularly exciting. Although led by Technical University of Berlin, four other institutions will also be involved in the catalysis cluster: the Free University of Berlin, Max Planck’s Fritz Haber Institute, Humboldt University, and University of Potsdam.

The other three clusters with significant chemistry focus are a biomass fuel research programme led by the University of Aachen; advanced materials engineering at the University Erlangen-Nuremberg and ’analysis to synthesis’ research at the Centre for Biological Signalling Studies at the University of Freiburg. Of 21 new graduate schools financed in round two, Jahn said chemistry would play a significant role in at least four of them and a minor role in at least two others.

One of those is the ’chemical biology’ programme at the University of Konstanz. Andreas Marx, chairman of organic/cellular chemistry at the university, said that currently the school offers a master’s degree in chemical biology. But with the additional 1 million euros every year for the next five years, two ’junior professors’ will be added, one chemist and one biologist. The university will also start offering a PhD in chemical biology in April.

Marx said being named one of Germany’s elite universities had created a jubilant atmosphere on the campus. ’It is very exciting,’ he said, adding that he had already received several e-mails from some students who had been leaning toward going to other universities for PhD studies but now are taking a second look at Konstanz.

Jahn said he believes the excitement created by the programme is the main benefit, not the 1.9 billion euros being injected into universities. ’That is a lot of money, but not enough to give a major boost money-wise,’ he said. ’This is about enthusiasm and about attracting a lot of talent internationally.’

Ned Stafford