01 April 2016

Enno Aufderheide on the Excellence Initiative

In response to a recent evaluation of the Excellence Initiative of Germany’s federal and Land governments for German universities, Enno Aufderheide, Secretary General of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, wrote a guest commentary regarding this initiative in the CHANCEN-Brief newsletter of the weekly “Die Zeit”

You can read the text of the commentary here:


More internationality for excellence (and the Excellence Initiative)

“The academic elite at German universities”, the Imboden Commission wrote in its evaluation of the Excellence Initiative, “continues to be primarily German”.

With this statement, the Commission directed attention to the fact that too little has been made of the most effective instrument for promoting cutting-edge research - in other words: internationalisation. Internationalisation poses an enormous opportunity: in an above-average number of cases, particularly highly regarded publications are the product of international collaboration. And only those individuals with an international profile can gather the best in their field in one place. It is here, at the top, where the problem is to be found.

Dr. Enno Aufderheide

Enno Aufderheide

Photo: Humboldt Foundation/Michael Jordan

Although the share of students, doctoral candidates and researchers from abroad is growing - a development the Imboden team commends - this does not change the fact that the elite at Germany’s universities continues to be German.

The reason for this is that internationalisation has often been pursued more from a tactical than a strategic standpoint for some time now. When excellence is to be achieved through internationalisation, the focus must be on quality rather than quantity. In this respect, the Commission should not have simply pointed to figures on internationalisation since they say little about the level of quality. Instead it should have given thought to how the Excellence Initiative could attract elites from other countries in future. However, its recommendations for the future make no mention of the subject of internationalisation.

The means for recruiting excellent researchers from abroad for work in Germany already exist. It is hoped that the relevant players take the initiative and develop and expand these means in such a way that at the end of the “Excellence Initiative II” it can be said that the academic elite at Germany’s universities is also international.

Dr Enno Aufderheide is the Secretary General of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.


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