In search of excellence: a case study of the first excellence initiative of Germany

Abstract

As higher education policies are often associated with intense public spending, the evaluation and performance measurement of respective initiatives becomes increasingly crucial. An extensive and fruitful strand of literature has dealt with the assessment of university performance, yet mainly focused on point-in-time rather than period-of-time examinations. This study investigates the effects of Germany’s first Excellence Initiative, a political measure aimed at building up world-class universities to be able to compete in the globalizing research world. Relying on both qualitative and quantitative measures, taking into account a 15-year period from 1998 to 2012, we analyze the selection process and how and whether the Excellence Initiative fulfilled its ambitious goals. Our results suggest that not the political initiative per se, i.e. the treatment, but the announcement of the treatment triggered diverging performance paths within the German higher education system, thus positively contributed to augmented research performance of the promoted universities. Based on these findings, we provide policy recommendations and avenues for future research.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We are grateful to an anonymous referee highlighting this aspect. In general, the public universities are under the authority of the federal state governments, and a direct intervention from the federal government is prohibited by law; the credo being ‘education is the responsibility of the states’.

  2. 2.

    Assuming costs of 80,000€ for a full time research fellow, the multiplication of the 1262 full-time equivalents for the post-treatment period reflects the additional budget received by the Excellence Initiative.

  3. 3.

    The number of citations has declined in the post-treatment period for both groups, while the number of publications has been increased. This effect may be caused by an increased supply by publications worldwide while the number of citations within a paper still remains the same.

  4. 4.

    The point that ‘younger’ publications had less time to be cited than ‘older’ publications is fact, yet applies to all universities in the same manner.

  5. 5.

    From 2004 to 2009, world university rankings were published annually as Times Higher Education–QS World University Rankings. Since 2010, QS and Times Higher Education publish rankings separately, known as the QS World University Rankings (see Fig. 5) and the THE World University Rankings (see Fig. 6) respectively.

  6. 6.

    Both the QS World University Rankings and the THE World University Rankings do not take public funding into account. University rankings can thus not be directly influenced by increased government spending, i.e. public funding is no performance indicator.

  7. 7.

    Due to data availability, we were not able to consider the entire application process: both the German Research Foundation (DFG, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) as well as the Council of Science and Humanities (WR, Wissenschaftsrat) do not provide any information about non-successful applications for the Excellence Initiative to avoid a damage in reputation for the non-promoted universities.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the editors of this journal and two anonymous referees for their valuable and helpful suggestions and comments. All remaining errors are, of course, ours.

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Correspondence to Erik E. Lehmann.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Table 6 Fixed effects estimations of pre-treatment and post-treatment effects of 1st round of excellence initiative (robustness test) (comparison of first with third tier universities)
Table 7 Fixed effects estimations of pre-treatment and post-treatment effects of 1st round of excellence initiative (robustness test) (comparison of second with third tier universities)
Table 8 Fixed effects estimations of pre-treatment and post-treatment effects of 1st round of excellence initiative (robustness test) (comparison of first with second tier universities)
Table 9 Fixed effects estimations of pre-treatment and post-treatment effects of 1st round of excellence initiative (robustness test) [comparison of Excellence Universities (of the first round of competition) with to-be Excellence Universities (of the second round of competition)]

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Menter, M., Lehmann, E.E. & Klarl, T. In search of excellence: a case study of the first excellence initiative of Germany. J Bus Econ 88, 1105–1132 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11573-018-0909-5

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Keywords

  • Excellence initiative
  • Universities
  • Treatment effect
  • Announcement effect

JEL Classification

  • H52
  • I23
  • O38