Germany's ruling coalition and state governments have agreed to free up nearly 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) in additional funds for university research. The move is hoped to reinvigorate a stagnating university system.
Future leading lights?
Months of disputes between state and federal governments have long hindered educational reform in Germany.
But after fifteen months of negotiations, the extra funding finally received the backing of the country's powerful state premiers, who are in charge of education.
The government hailed the agreement reached Thursday as a major triumph and a step toward fostering top students and researchers.
"With this, we've achieved a real breakthrough," said Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. "We've paved the way for leading lights in science to rise in Germany and to shine internationally."
"The initiative supporting research excellence that we passed today is a milestone," agreed Education and Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn. "It will serve as a springboard for our universities to get to the top international level."
The funds -- just under 2 billion euros in the next 6 years --are earmarked for supporting the most promising projects by young researchers at ten of Germany's leading universities. In addition, the money will be used to establish new research centers and groups.
According to the plan, Germany will spend 1.9 billion euros over the next six years to improve the country's academic institutions.
The federal government will foot three-quarters of the bill and the states will fund the rest.
Under the program, ten"elite" universities will be singled out with each receiving an extra 13.5 million euros a year in a bid to create world-class institutions that will attract the best and the brightest and rival universities such as Harvard and Oxford.
A parallel program will reward individual departments with strong academic records and leading research teams.
The deal also commits federal and state governments to boost the budgets of the big research associations by at least three percent annually until 2010.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is expected to face a tough battle for re-election in September, spoke of "a good day for German science."
Stemming the brain drain
With several studies in recent years stating that the German educational system is trailing behind internationally, the opposition conservatives said the extra funding was needed to stop an ongoing brain drain from German universities.
"I'd just like to remind people that around 100 thousand top students are leaving the country," said the Christian Social Union leader Edmund Stoiber, "and two-thirds of them will never return. We cannot afford to allow this mass exodus to continue."