The Excellence Initiative strove to advance top-level research and to improve the quality of higher education and research in Germany across the board, both with the goal of building up Germany’s reputation as a leader in science and research for many years to come. The German Research Foundation (DFG) carried out the initiative together with the German Council of Science and Humanities.
The Excellence Initiative had three funding lines: Graduate Schools to support early-career researchers, Clusters of Excellence, and institutional strategies.
Berlin’s universities demonstrated their merit early on with multiple successes during the first round of competition for funding in 2007. Nationwide, 37 Clusters of Excellence were granted funding to carry out large-scale research projects with experts from different fields working together on a topic with bearing on the future. Four of those clusters were in Berlin: Languages of Emotion (Freie Universität Berlin), NeuroCure (Charité as the joint medical faculty of Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) and UniCat (Technische Universität Berlin). The fourth cluster Topoi resulted from a joint proposal submitted by Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, but in fact all of the other clusters involved partnerships between institutions.
In addition, Freie Universität Berlin won recognition for its “International Network University” institutional strategy in 2007.
In June 2009, the German government decided to extend the Excellence Initiative beyond the initial five-year period for another five years to 2012. Berlin demonstrated once again during this second phase (2012 to 2017) that it is home to great researchers and great universities. In 2012, three of the Berlin Clusters of Excellence were approved to continue during the second funding period starting. Meanwhile, at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin a new cluster was approved: Image Knowledge Gestaltung.
Once again, Freie Universität Berlin’s institutional strategy was successful. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin also joined the ranks of the German “Universities of Excellence” (eleven in all) thanks to its strategy “Bildung durch Wissenschaft. Educating Inquiring Minds.”
Graduate Schools to support early-career researchers constitute another important feature of the cooperative spirit between Berlin universities, as they are often operated by several partner institutions together. The Excellence Initiative paved the way for a total of nine Graduate Schools in Berlin.