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Volkswagen Stiftung


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Title: Volkswagen Stiftung

Wilhelm Krull Taking the Initiative. Risks and
Opportunities in Research Funding
Perspectives of Research Identification and
Implementation of Research Topics by
Organizations Schloß Ringberg, May 3rd, 2006
Some Characteristic Features of Researchers,
Politicians and Foundation Staff
Search Processes and Their Surprising Results
  • Foundation people like to deal with risks and
    even with uncertainties, and if they dont know
    how to solve the problem, they still remain
    confident that they can find someone more
    knowledgeable to help them.
  • Researchers are sceptical to begin with, but they
    are usually convinced that a new approach
    (paradigm, method, technique) can be developed
    and subsequently contribute to finding a
  • Politicians usually are activists, or at least
    have to pretend that they do something useful. In
    any case, they cant afford to admit that they
    have not succeeded in solving the problem.
  • In a dark room searching for a black cat which
    isnt there they take the following approaches

  • Changes and Challenges
  • Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Pre-Conditions of Creative Cultures and What
    Funding Organizations Can Do
  • 1. Competence
  • 2. Courage
  • 3. Communication
  • 4. Innovativeness
  • 5. Persistency/Perseverance
  • 6. Diversity
  • 7. Serendipity
  • The Role of Foundations
  • More Research-Friendly Institutional Structures
    and Processes
  • Institutes for Advanced Study
  • VII. Conclusion

I. Changes and Challenges
Change is the only thing in the world which is
I. Changes and Challenges
Political Challenges
During the next 20 years, Europes economic
paradigm will change fundamentally. While the
manufacturing base will continuously shrink,
future growth and social welfare will rely
increasingly on knowledge-intensive products and
services. An ageing continent will have to
innovate intensely. Priority-setting will become
even more important in the future.
Since the late 1980s, Europe has been witnessing
dramatic changes in its political and economic
Major Changes and Challenges in Research and
Higher Education
I. Changes and Challenges
  • Electronic Impact on the creation, distribution,
    and absorption of new knowledge.
  • The increased emphasis on transdisciplinary
  • The move from bi-, or trilateral
    internationalisation towards network approaches
    and strategic alliances in higher education and
  • The changing public private interface and its
    consequences for the division of labour in our
    RTD systems.
  • The need to integrate evaluation, foresight and
    priority-setting, and to increase public
  • The growing public concern about recent
    scientific developments, particularly in the area
    of stem cell research and the use of the human

RD Expenditure as a Percentage of GDP in the EU,
China, Japan and the USA in 2003
I. Changes and Challenges
EU-Goal 3
in Bill.
II. Strengths and Weaknesses
Performance Indicators
Tertiary graduates 2001
Growth per year in 2001-03 ()
Researchers per 1000 labour force 2003
PhD graduates 2001
EU-25 2.956.000 4.2 85.000 5.5
USA 2.174.000 6.5 44.200 9.0
Japan 1.068.000 -0.6 13.600 9.7
China 1.948.000 32.1 12.900 1.0
In the 2005 Shanghai University ranking of the
best universities, only two of the top 20 were
European, while 17 were American. Among the Top
500 we find 40 German universities, 38 British,
and 168 American universities.
II. Strengths and Weaknesses
Publication of Scientific Papers. Proportion of
total papers published in
  • The EU represents the largest source of
    scientific publications

United States
Asia-Pacific region
European Research in Global Competition
III. Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Europe faces increased global competition
    particularly in the field of research and
    technological development
  • The rapid growth of scientific output in
    Asia-Pacific nation is in stark contrast to slow
    growth in Europe and stagnation in the US. Within
    six or seven years the Asia Pacific region will
    exceed the US.
  • In a number of relative indicators such as
    publications per inhabitant, per scientist or
    publications per million Euros spent in our
    universities the EU also leads the US and
  • In triad patents per million spent in business
    RD, some European countries Germany, Sweden,
    and the Netherlands clearly outperform Japan
    and the US.
  • Research is not supported sufficiently in Europe,
    particularly with respect to risky, open-ended
    frontier research.

The Rapidity of Change and the Slowness of
Institutional Response
III. Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Europe has been loosing ground in the field
    of basic breakthroughs.
  • Fifty years ago, European scientists dominated
    the Nobel Price lists. Today, Nobel prices and
    similarly prestigious awards are won
  • mainly by scientists working in the USA.
  • The gap in RD-investments between the EU and
    the US is steadily increasing.
  • Apart from a few research areas such as
    astrophysics, space research, nuclear physics,
    and molecular biology, Europe suffers from an
    almost total lack of transnational support of
    basic and strategic research.
  • More emphasis on excellence and transnational
    competition (ERC) may help to reverse the trend.

Pre-Conditions of Creative Cultures and what
Funding-Organisations Can Do
III. Pre-Conditions of Creative Cultures
  • Competence
  • Courage
  • Communication
  • Diversity
  • Persistency/Perseverance
  • Innovativeness
  • Serendipity

1. Competence
1. Competence
  • Differentiation in quality and excellence
  • Competence can best be developed in an
    intellectually stimulating
  • environment. It takes time, trust, and
    considerable investments.
  • Concentration of funding not just on researchers
    that are already excellent,
  • but also on those who have the potential to
    become excellent. Attracting
  • the next generation.
  • Talens scouts needed?

Attracting the next Generation of Researchers
1. Competence
  • Identify the most promising undergraduates early
  • Qualifications gained in national institutions
    must be valid throughout Europe.
  • Young researchers should pursue their own ideas
    much earlier and more independently. Because
    German researchers finish their doctoral training
    at the average age of 33, their need to gain
    scientific independence quickly is even greater
    and more difficult to achieve than for their
    counterparts in countries where the graduation
    age is much lower.
  • The flow of highly qualified researchers between
    countries and between private and public sectors
    requires more flexibility and permeability.
  • Universities and research institutions have to
    provide attractive career prospects, including
    tenure track options.

How Should Young Researchers be Trained in Their
1. Competence
  • A more structured graduate and doctoral education
    is necessary
  • New curricula also have to comprise
    non-disciplinary topics such as
  • - intellectual property,
  • - science ethics,
  • - history of the discipline,
  • - interpersonal communication,
  • - media skills
  • The aim should be to enable the researcher to
    explain and communicate
  • - what his research is about,
  • - how he is conducting it,
  • - and especially why he is doing it
  • He or she should become a steward of a

Steward of a Discipline
1. Competence
The Ph.D. holder should be capable of generating
new knowledge and defending knowledge claims
against challenges and criticism of conserving
the most important ideas and findings that are a
legacy of past and current work and of
transforming knowledge that has been generated
and conserved into powerful pedagogies of
engagement, understanding and application
The formulation of stewardship is
discipline-specific. We are committed to
locating this initiative in the context of each
discipline, recognizing that there will be
discipline-specific lessons as well as
cross-disciplinary insights to be gained.
George Walker, Senior Scholar Carnegie Foundation
for the Advancement of Teaching
2. Courage
2. Courage
  • Researchers and funders must both be courageous
    and adventurous.
  • Based on their autonomy, foundations can and
    should provide incentives
  • for research in promising areas and stimulate new
  • They should use their independence to
  • make offers to researchers in fields that are
    underdeveloped, or appear to be particularly
  • support high-risk projects which do not receive
    public support
  • foster research in and on regions and countries
    that are not on current political agendas.

Examples from The Funding-Portfolio of The
Volkswagen Foundation (I)
2. Courage
  • Dynamics and Adaptivity of Neuronal Systems
    Integrative Approaches to Analyzing Cognitive
  • Support of pilot-projects to develop a promising
    field, at a point in time where this field was
    not supported by public funders - (Funding an MEG
    at the University of Konstanz in 1995).
  • More than 80 of the projects funded were
    international co-operations.
  • Support of international co-operation all
    partners are funded based only on scientific
  • The expost-evaluation of success and failure
    (impact) of the initiative
  • by an international expert panel has just started.

Physics, chemistry, and biology with single
molecules (SM)
2. Courage
Examples from The Funding-Portfolio of The
Volkswagen Foundation (II)
12 March 1999
1996 1997 first hint on SM (G. Wegner, MPI Mainz), draft paper on physics chemistry with SM (C. von Borcyszkowski, TU Chemnitz, et al.), interdisciplinary peer review panel suggests to include biology with SM.
Nov. 1997 establishment of the funding initiative
1998 2003 grants 15.6 million Euro for 53 research projects (incl. project extensions), four status symposia, and two summer schools, Oct. 2002 16 project leaders got tenure.
Nov. 2002 closing of the funding initiative
The specific advantages of single-molecule
studies will prove crucial in many fields, in
applications as well as in fundamental
investigations. W.E. Moerner and M. Orrit
3. Communication
3. Communication
  • Thought-provoking discussions are essential to
    scientific progress.
  • It is an important task of researchers and
    funding-institutions to
  • foster interdisciplinary and intercultural
  • strenghten the interaction between international
    and German researchers by
  • configuring adequate research structures
  • establishing study groups
  • developing research networks and
  • foster the cooperation between research centres
    and universities in Germany
  • address their role in society.

Traditional vs. New Roles for Researchers
3. Communication
  • Traditional roles
  • Transfer of knowledge to selected target groups
  • Provide facts and results
  • One-way flow of communication transmitter-receive
    r asymmetries
  • Support scientific literacy of interested
  • Foster public understanding of science

New roles Actively shape broader public
perception and participation Offer compelling
stories and guidance in action Interactive,
dialogical communication achieving symmetric
dialogue Build trust and form research-friendly
attitudes Create public appreciation and
opportunities for public involvement in science
and technology
4. Innovativeness
4. Innovativeness
  • To foster innovativeness is to appreciate
    unconventional ways of thinking.
  • Radically new approaches and transformative
    research endeavours require different modes of
    communication, selection, and support (successive
    grants, long term commitments).
  • The challenge remains how to separate the wheat
    from the chaff without discouraging the most
    original thinkers and creative researchers.

4. Innovativeness
And here we simulate the forthcoming assessment
of our research proposal!
5. Persistency/Perseverance
5. Persistency
  • The involvement of funding-institutions should be
    based on trust and long-term commitment instead
    of brand making and short-term financing.

Quality assurance and evaluation
6. Diversity
6. Diversity A clear need for more
transdisciplinary approaches and new
opportunities for young researchers
  • Need for a realignment between scientific values
    and societys needs
  • Common wisdom new knowledge is usually formed at
    the boundaries of established fields. Interfaces
    must be activated.
  • Subject-oriented organisation of European
    universities and corresponding career patterns do
    not work in favour of problem-oriented research
  • Marked emphasis of universities on
    discipline-based specialisation prevents
    researchers from committing themselves to inter-
    and trans-disciplinary research.

Discipline-Based versus Problem-Oriented Research
6. Diversity
Discipline Problem
Rigor Relevance
Stability Change
Paradigm Complexity
University career Career in Research Institutions

Graduate schools may offer a way out ...
An Increase in Diversity and Size May Create a
Decrease in Integration and Flexibility and
Inhibit Progress in Research
6. Diversity
Degree of Communication
Degree of Scientific Diversity
Source J. Rogers Hollingsworth The Role of
Organizations and Institutions in the Innovation
Process, 2003
How to Encourage Transformative Research
6. Diversity
  • The aim of private funding of transformative
    research must be to
  • - overcome disciplinary boundaries and
  • - to put new research topics, fields, structures,
    and approaches on the research agenda.
  • Transformative research only scarcely originates
    on its own. The readiness to engage in
    ground-breaking research has to be encouraged and
  • The needs for transformative approaches and for
    new opportunities for young researchers have to
    be tackled as two sides of the same coin.
  • Examples Showcase (Wellcome Trust), and Off
    the Beaten Track (VolkswagenStiftung). Committee
    of the U.S. Science Board on transformative

Trust in Public Institutions Versus Institution
6. Diversity
Continuous Support of Public Institutions with an
Emphasis on Structural and Topical Renewal
Private Institution Building by Foundations
Privately operated institutions with the goal of
offering an alternative to the education provided
at German state universities.
7. Serendipidy - Giving Time and More
7. Serendipidy
  • Creativity needs room for the unexpected. The
    most important prerequisites for a successfully
    performing research institution are
    research-friendly, inspiring environments, as
    well as efficient governance and decision-making
  • Efficient and effective administrative structures
    support scientists in research and teaching and
    unburden them as far as possible from
    bureaucratic responsibilities. They provide the
    researchers with as much time and space as
    possible to interact with their colleagues and to
    focus on their respective research questions.
  • Nevertheless, inspiring thoughts can not be
    planned for.

Richard Feynman and The Wobbling Plate
7. Serendipidy
  • Legend has it that observing a wobbling plate
    snapped Feynman out of a period of burnout - the
    episode is described in "The Dignified
    Professor", in Surely Youre Joking Mr. Feynman,
    pg. 157-158.
  • It was effortless. It was easy to play with
    these things. It was like uncorking a bottle
    Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost
    tried to resist it! There was no importance to
    what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The
    diagrams and the whole business that I got the
    Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around
    with the wobbling plate.

7. Serendipidy
Success and Failure in the Labyrinth of Research

Cabinet Office RD Assessment. A Guide for
Customers and Managers of Research and
Development. London 1989,12.
Foundations in Europe
IV. The Role of Foundations
  • European foundations are a very heterogeneous
    pool of institutions whose defining
    characteristics often depend on local factors and
    the regulatory environment.
  • In comparison to the US, foundations in Europe
    have played a less prominent role until now.
  • In recent years the importance of foundations has
    significantly grown. According to the latest
    comparative statistics in Italy and Germany,
    around 50 percent of registered foundations have
    emerged since 1990, while other countries such as
    Belgium, Finland, France and Sweden report
    between 19 and 29 per cent increases in the
    number of foundations.

IV. The Role of Foundations
The Role of Foundations in Encouraging Change
? Unlike publicly financed agencies which have to
provide equal opportunities for all
institutions, private foundations - can act
much more freely, flexibly, and quickly - can
put objectives in front of rules and
regulations - do not have to wait for political
consensus ? They can act autonomously - in
supporting the first experiments in new areas,
- in taking risks - in being front runners in
institutional reform.
IV. The Role of Foundations
  • Due to the perpetuity of their funds, foundations
    have the capacity to be reliable partners,
    willing to foster risky projects, and to help
    researchers to break new grounds
  • They are independent from election periods, but
    also independent from shareholders views
  • They can strive to give insights, to develop
    ideas, and to find solutions where politicians,
    or industry cannot or do not want to embark upon
    such endeavours
  • Their independency contributes to the inspiring
    effect that private funding has on the
    development of research and higher education, but
    also to the willingness of citizens and
    enterprises to spend their money on these

Limits and Limitations of Foundations
IV. The Role of Foundations
  • Given the billions of Euros spent by public
    authorities and enterprises, the impact of
    comparatively small-scale foundations is limited.
  • Therefore, foundations heavily rely on
  • Nevertheless, foundations have the flexibility to
    quickly respond to the needs of the research
    community, to pilot projects, and trigger
    spending on research by bigger funders.
  • By fostering risky projects, encouraging change,
    and helping the most creative researchers to
    break new grounds foundations can create at least
    a few islands of success.

V. More Research-Friendly Institutional Structures
The Urgent Need for More Research-Friendly
Institutional Structures and Processes (I)
  • The most important prerequisites for a
    successfully performing research institution are
    inspiring environments as well as
    research-friendly and efficient governance and
    decision-making structures.
  • A move towards a more professionally organized
    and autonomous university is needed.
  • Therefore, research institutions have to
  • constantly tap their resources and realize their
  • ensure efficiency in their spending,
  • accelerate and simplify their processes,
  • intensify communication within the organization
    and beyond.

V. More Research-Friendly Institutional Structures
The Urgent Need for More Research-Friendly
Institutional Structures and Processes (II)
  • Foundations can encourage and support
    institutions and their leaders to engage in
    change processes towards achieving research-, and
    innovation-friendly structures
  • Two basic concepts are institutional conditions
    sine qua non for ground breaking research
  • - an organisational structure which
    facilitates crossdisciplinary interaction,
  • - strong leadership connected with very high
    quality standards
  • Research institutions have reacted to the
    increasing complexity of knowledge creation and
    research with an increase in size and diversity.
    This often creates an increase in bureaucracy and
    hierarchic structures.

Institutes for Advanced Study - Islands of
VI. Institutes for Advanced Study
  • The goal of an Institute for Advanced Study, of
    which the first was founded in 1930 in Princeton,
    is to offer outstanding researchers the
    opportunity to concentrate on their chosen
    research projects, and to absorb ideas and
    inspirations from other disciplines and differing
    national traditions of science and scholarship.
  • An intellectually heterogeneous atmosphere often
    produces a productive friction that modifies a
    Fellow's own approach, and thus leads to lasting
    innovations. This special form of critical
    self-examination is possible only in a framework
    of freedom and intellectual richness resulting
    from the simultaneous presence of a variety of
    schools of thought.

Institutes for Advanced Study - Islands of
VI. Institutes for Advanced Study
  • Instead of becoming new ivory towers in an
    otherwise still suffering research environment,
    Institutes for Advanced Study can be also be the
    starting point for social and political
    engagement of their fellows.
  • The pause for thought provided by Institutes for
    Advanced Study is often being used by their
    fellows to rethink and reconfigure their own
    priorities and ultimately engage in new fields of
  • Many universities are currently considering to
    establish a kind of institute for advanced study,
    including elements of graduate education. They
    are designed to serve as breeding grounds for new
    ideas and thus as incubators for subsequently to
    be conducted transformative research.

Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies
VI. Institutes for Advanced Study
  • The selfexplained goal of FIAS is to link up
    strong scientific capacities in the Frankfurt
    area with the stimulation of theoretical research
    in those disciplines which run the risk of
    falling behind in the attempt to understand the
    rapidly accumulating experimental data and facts.
  • The Institute has primarily the purpose to serve
    as a superstructure for basic research, bringing
    together theorists from the disciplines of
    physics, chemistry and biology in a common
    organisational and intellectual framework.

Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies
VI. Institutes for Advanced Study
  • It is planned to implement
  • Up to 12 positions for Senior Fellows and Fellows
    (some of them tenured) and one Philosopher in
    Residence (non-tenured) at the level of Full
    Professors or Associate Professors.
  • Up to 15 Junior Fellows (at the level of "Junior
    Professors" recently established in Germany,
    basically corresponding to Assistant Professors)
    with non-tenured positions.
  • About 24 scholarships for graduate students, the
    latter being recruited from the attached
    Frankfurt International Graduate School for
    Science (FIGSS).

VI. Institutes for Advanced Study
Conclusion Mutual Risk-Taking Instead of
Individual Risk Avoidance.
VII. Conclusion
  • Allow for more creative spaces within large
    grants, e.g. collaborative research units,
    centres, and clusters.
  • New modes of funding required, e.g. medium-, to
    long-term fellowships up to ten years
    (Lichtenberg Dilthey Schumpeter Royal Society
    Wellcome Trust).
  • Time and space for some thorough rethinking of
    common wisdom needed, e.g. research
    professorships and extra grants for senior
    researchers (Institut universitaire de France
    membership for five years opus magnus for two
  • Reconfigure the review process, and actively
    encourage risk-taking by applicants, reviewers,
    and decision-makers, e.g. based on a two stage
    process including presentations and interviews.

VII. Conclusion
  • More competition for prestigious grants and
    awards will hopefully lead to an enhanced
    competitiveness of European research.
  • Many challenges can only be met, if we take a
    long view. We must be prepared to exercise
    judgement, and to make long term commitments
    whilst maintaining the flexibility to respond to
    new challenges.

Its not enough that we do our best sometimes
we have to do whats required. Sir Winston