Online Database Could Crash Without Cash

ELFI, the only online database in Germany that provides nationwide information on opportunities for research and training funding, is threatened with shutdown by the end of this year unless the universities and the government can agree on how ELFI's expenses can be fairly distributed between the universities and the government.

ELFI was initiated in 1995 by a small group of funding officers as a cooperative effort between Ruhr-University Bochum and the GMD, Germany's national research center for information technology. "We were tired of doing double work and wanted to make funding information more easily accessible to funding officers," says Wolfgang Adamczak, funding officer at the University of Kassel and member of ELFI's advisory board. "We knew that in the long run the universities would need a consistent and stable system that would provide funding officers with authentic and up-to-date funding information," he says. By all accounts, ELFI appears to be a success and is now used widely by scientists as well.

To show what the loss of the ELFI site would mean to scientists, last week its team decided to take it out of service for one week, placing a tombstone image at the frequently visited home page. "It is a highly useful tool," says Thomas Grischek, a chemist at Dresden University and one of the numerous ELFI users, who is shocked by the Web site's impending death. "We all would welcome the continuation of this site very much," he says.

But therein lies one of the problems. "Everybody says 'We need ELFI,' but nobody wants to pay for it," says Eberhard Döben, the DFG representative on the ELFI Advisory Board.

In previous years ELFI was funded by Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMB+F) and the Association for the Promotion of a German Research Network (DFN-Verein). This year, ELFI's costs have been covered by the Research Ministry of Nordrhein-Westfalen and the Stifterverbandes für die Deutsche Wissenschaft. According to a inquiry of the Rectors Conference of the German universities, HRK, there were only very few institutions willing to pay the estimated 5000 DM (US$2600). That amount "is peanuts when you compare it to the amount of time a university would have to spend searching for the information on their own, when instead they could be spending their time advising their scientists on where and how to apply for funding for their research projects," says Adamczak.

But money may not be the only issue. In the past, science administrators in the university have been the only people with access to funding information. Now with the dawn of ELFI and the Internet, they worry that they may no longer be as important as they once were. "Some science administrators surly fear that voting for ELFI means losing their monopoly on funding information," adds Adamczak.

Discussions between the DFG, GMD, and other yet-to-be-named parties about ELFI's fate are set for 15 November 1999.

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