The German Excellence Initiative was launched in 2006 and was organized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the German Research Foundation. They provided 1.9 billion euro to finance the most promising 46 projects at 28 universities along three main streams: 21 Graduate Schools to promote young scientists’ education; 20 Clusters of Excellence to promote top-level research; 6 Institutional strategies (i.e. Excellence Universities) to develop project-based, top-level university research. The aim of the Initiative is to increase international visibility of German universities and support high-class research by introducing a competitive environment for additional funds.
Sceptical voices accompanied the Excellence Initiative and our study aims to investigate its supposed effectiveness. To do so, we compared Germany with Italy in order to evaluate such Initiative in a comparative perspective. In terms of efficiency, Italy is more efficient than Germany but German Excellence universities display higher efficiency than the rest due to their intrinsic characteristics. Referring to research quantity, Germany has a higher research productivity than Italy and after the implementation of the Excellence Initiative, the research productivity raises for whole Germany compared to Italy. Such effect is even more stronger by considering the Excellence Universities. Finally, concerning research quality, Germany has a higher research impact than Italy but after the Initiative the country loses its advance. Excellence Universities experience an even greater decline than their Italian counterparts.