DFG Annual Report 2010: Setting a Course for Science
For the past 60 years, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has been providing researchers with the financial and organisational means to produce outstanding scientific and academic work by setting new trends in funding activities and supporting efficient structures at universities and higher education institutions. During 2010, Germany’s central research funding organisation once again fulfilled these self-imposed obligations in many ways – as its annual report, which the DFG presented at its annual press conference in Berlin on 7 July 2011, shows.
Comprising approximately 300 pages, this clearly written and richly illustrated volume showcases numerous highlights from research funding in the humanities and social sciences, life sciences and natural sciences, and in the engineering sciences. In particular, however, the new annual report highlights the strategic activities and new directions in the organisation’s funding portfolio: more freedom and flexibility, quality over quantity, knowledge transfer and internationality were the most significant courses the DFG set for the scientific system in Germany in 2010.
One important element in making the German scientific system even more internationally competitive in 2010 was the Excellence Initiative by the German federal government and states. Within the framework of the Initiative, 39 graduate schools, 37 clusters of excellence and 9 institutional strategies are being funded, in amounts totalling 1.9 billion euros. During the second call for proposals in March 2010, the DFG and the German Council of Science and Humanities invited German universities to submit draft proposals for new projects. By the 1 September 2010 deadline, a total of 227 applications for new projects had been received. The subsequent pre-selection process invited 59 projects at 32 universities to submit full proposals. These must be received by September 2011 in order to compete with the 85 facilities already receiving funding under the Excellence Initiative. In June 2012, the final decision will be made as to which projects will be funded until 2017.
In order to increase the quality of research and its funding outside the Excellence Initiative, the DFG also continued to develop its own programmes in 2010. Approving funds for staff rather than positions ensures greater transparency and attractiveness. This change allows more science-friendly and research-appropriate project planning and management and aligns with the BMBF’s “Freedom of Research Initiative” (Wissenschaftsfreiheitsinitiative).
Before research projects can be approved and funded, however, proposals must be submitted. To direct the focus away from numeric indicators and onto the contents of publications, the DFG revised its rules for publications lists at the beginning of 2010. Since then, the number of publications that may be listed has been strictly limited to the most important; as a rule, a maximum of five publications may be included. “The question is often not what someone has researched, but where and how much he or she has published,” says DFG President Matthias Kleiner, explaining the decision. This places an extraordinary amount of pressure on researchers to publish as much as possible, which can lead, for example, to an inaccurate account of the status of a publication. The DFG is setting a clear message of “quality over quantity” through its initiative, which has attracted a good deal of attention in both science and the media.
An efficient research system is obligated to use its knowledge to benefit society. Therefore, in 2010 the DFG launched an information campaign which makes it clear that funding for the transfer of knowledge from DFG-funded projects is to be expanded – and that this knowledge transfer is possible for all scientific areas. Accompanying this, a project group was founded at the DFG’s Head Office to focus these activities and fine-tune the criteria. The group’s experiences indicate that the scientific community is extremely interested in transfer projects.
In addition to knowledge transfer and the promotion of early career researchers, 2010 also focussed on internationalising funding activities. This takes into account the fact that cooperation with international partners is constantly increasing in significance. Every third project proposal the DFG receives now envisages cooperation with partners abroad, and an increasing number of reviews are being performed by experts from abroad. In 2010, this figure was about 16 percent. The implications of the globalisation of science and research are also evident outside Germany. The presidents and chairpersons of the major research and funding organisations of the G8 nations, the G8 HORCs, therefore want to institutionalise a new, joint funding instrument: the G8 Multilateral Research Funding Initiative. This initiative is designed to expand what is already a well-established functioning research structure within Europe beyond Europe’s borders. In February 2010, the G8 Initiative was launched under the aegis of the DFG, with a call for IT proposals on the topic of “Exascale Computing”.
The DFG’s 2010 Annual Report has been published in time for the 60-year anniversary of the DFG, which was re-established in August 1951. In his preface, therefore, DFG President Kleiner emphasised that Germany’s largest research funding organisation could function successfully as science’s central self-governing organisation only as a community within the wider scientific one: “In 2010, more than 900 (mostly volunteer) members of our committees – the General Assembly, Executive Committee, Senate and Joint Committee, as well as their committees and commissions – were occupied with scientific concerns, both major and minor, as well as in discussing initiatives and making decisions on proposals. The sessions of the Executive Committee, Senate and Joint Committee alone took more than 60 hours. Taking all the programmes together, more than 17,000 proposals were read and evaluated by 12,400 reviewers – around 2,700 of whom came from abroad. The total number of hours invested – also voluntarily! – by our reviewers cannot be reliably calculated. In around 70 sessions of our review boards, which were attended by almost 600 reviewers during their 2008-2011 term of office, the proposals and their evaluations were assessed. A positive decision was reached in around 10,200 cases.”
The 2010 annual report is more strongly divided than its predecessors. The first section is presented in a more journalistic style, while the second section contains facts and figures. The latter provides an overview of the DFG’s funding programmes and the new innovations which affect them. Statistics in tabular and graphic form give interested readers a rapid overview of the report’s facts and figures, while the graphics are primarily in the form of trend graphs, which provide information on developments.
The statistical reporting has also undergone a general revision compared to the previous years. Now more strongly focused on the measures currently in place for a specific year rather than on those approved that year, the 2010 Annual Report takes into account interest expressed in this type of information. The new statistical reporting also reacts to the reforms within the DFG funding portfolio and permits a better presentation of trends and developments.
Facts and Figures 2010
In 2010, the DFG’s budget was around 2.3 billion euros. Of this, 67.1 percent came from the German federal government, 32.7 percent from the states and 0.2 percent from foundations and private donations.
In total, more than 32,000 projects received funding during 2010. Of these, more than 15,000 were individual research projects, for which a total of 894 million euros in funding was approved. More than 4,600 projects in 256 current Collaborative Research Centres were carried out with the DFG’s support (total funding volume: 547 million euros). Among the Coordinated Programmes, 237 Research Training Groups were funded (138 million euros), as were 113 Priority Programmes with around 3,400 projects (193 million euros) and 252 Research Units with almost 2,500 projects (150 million euros). The six DFG Research Centres had a funding volume totalling more than 41 million euros in 2010. During the current first phase of the Excellence Initiative, a total of 433 million euros was approved during 2010.
The amounts approved were distributed as follows: 39 percent to the life sciences, 24 percent to the natural sciences, 22 percent to the engineering sciences and 15 percent to the humanities and social sciences.