Foundation Aims to Make Berlin a Research Mecca

BERLIN--Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, likes to joke that the city is "poor but sexy." He may now want to add "and smart." Despite chronic budget shortfalls, Berlin's city government has pledged €160 million ($250 million) over the next 4 years to attract top researchers to the city's four main universities as well as its research institutes.

The impetus for the "Berlin International Forum for Excellence" came from Jürgen Zöllner, the city's senator for science and education. He initially proposed a new "superuniversity," but the city's existing universities feared that the new institution would lure away their best talent. Instead, the city will set up a foundation that will identify existing "areas of excellence" and distribute funds to top up salaries of world-class researchers, set up graduate schools, and attract visiting scholars to the city.

Berlin's universities and scientific institutes will work together in governing the new foundation, Zöllner said in announcing the plan yesterday. It's a chance to make Berlin "one of the most important locations for research in the world," he crowed. That level of collaboration is unusual, says former federal undersecretary for research Wolf-Michael Catenhusen, whom Zöllner charged with negotiating an alternative to the superuniversity. "It is as if MIT, Harvard, and Boston University were all to cooperate on a project." Catenhusen says the foundation's planners hope to attract additional private donations to boost the pot of funds.