University of Excellence since 2006 – a success story

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) has evolved into a modern entrepreneurial university, bringing together the best and brightest minds from the most varied of disciplines and cultures to find answers to the major challenges of the future. As one of Europe’s top research universities, it regularly ranks among the leaders in international listings. TUM’s continued success in the Excellence Initiative has given it a powerful and lasting boost on this positive trajectory.

What makes TUM a “University of Excellence”?

TUM can call itself a “University of Excellence” due to its success in all three lines of funding under the Excellence Initiative organized by the German government and the federal states: Institutional Strategy , Clusters of Excellence and Graduate Schools. It emerged as one of Germany’s first “Universities of Excellence” when the program was launched in 2006, going on to “defend” its title – which it still holds to this day – in the second phase in 2012.

Institutional strategy: The Entrepreneurial University

TUM’s proactive entrepreneurial culture is a lasting tribute to its institutional strategy “TUM. The Entrepreneurial University” developed in 2006. For TUM, this strategy involved stepping up to its responsibilities as a university, setting its own course of action, following best international practice in science and research, and outperforming stiff international competition. It has completely transformed the university.

This comprehensive program was aimed at promoting top-level research, next-generation talent and diversity at our university. With the 2012 strategy and its central theme of “Talents in Diversity”, TUM developed this program further. Since then, the university has intensified its efforts to attract top international talent. The best minds are now working in a collaborative, cross-disciplinary environment to find solutions to current and future challenges in areas such as health and nutrition, energy and natural resources, environment and climate, information and communication, and mobility and infrastructure.

Key milestones since 2006

The TUM Institute for Advanced Study (TUM-IAS) has become the university’s intellectual hub and a forum for elite international academics. In 2006 – during the first phase of the Excellence Initiative – it formed the cornerstone of TUM’s institutional strategy.

  • Forum for elite international academics: The TUM-IAS provides a forum for researchers from Germany and abroad to engage with challenging and visionary research topics that do not promise instant success.
  • Fellowships: Around 200 outstanding scientists have been appointed as Fellows of the TUM-IAS since 2007. They include some of the brightest minds at TUM as well as top international talent from other research institutes and industry.
  • Headroom for new ideas: During their multi-year appointments, the Fellows are relieved of many typical everyday university commitments, leaving them free to concentrate on their research.
  • Emerging Field Policy: The Fellows explore forward-looking research fields in interdisciplinary focus groups.
  • Knowledge transfer: The elite forum encourages scientific exchange and engagement across disciplines and with society.
  • Integrative Research Center: With the institutional strategy of 2012, the university established the TUM-IAS as a new interdisciplinary research center.

The internationally acclaimed TUM Faculty Tenure Track careers program marked a paradigm shift in the recruitment and advancement system for German universities in 2012. Germany’s first true tenure track system based on the international model was the most important element of TUM’s institutional strategy in the second phase of the Excellence Initiative.

  • End-to-end careers system: Young scientists who demonstrate excellent performance can progress from a temporary assistant professorship (W2) to a tenured W3 professorship in just six years. In 2012, this model was unique in Germany
  • Leistung entscheidet: Entscheidend für den Aufstieg ist allein die exzellente fachliche Leistung. Wer die Leistungskriterien hingegen nicht erfüllt, muss die Universität wieder verlassen.
  • Transparency: TUM uses transparent and clearly defined criteria to assess research and teaching performance.
  • Early academic freedom: The assistant professors develop their own research profile at an early stage and enjoy the same rights as all other professors.
  • Family-friendly arrangements: Part-time professorships, sabbaticals for parental leave, the Dual Career Office and similar services make it easier to balance professional with family life.
  • Successful program: Up to June 2018, TUM had already made 93 Tenure Track appointments, some of which were joint appointments with the Max Planck Society. This means that the university will easily surpass its original target of 100 professors by 2020.

Crème de la crème scientists at TUM have been working together in cross-faculty Integrative Research Centers since the 2012 Excellence Initiative, enabling TUM to bundle its exceptionally broad range of subjects – unparalleled in Europe in fact – to drive forward-looking interdisciplinary research.

International cooperation and exchange are the lifeblood of science, which is why TUM seeks to attract talented scientists from around the world. The university has been looking to expand its international reach and appeal since the 2012 Excellence Initiative in particular.

  • Locations worldwide: Complementing its locations in Singapore, Beijing, Mumbai and São Paulo, TUM has opened additional liaison offices in Brussels, Cairo and San Francisco since 2012.
  • Cooperation: TUM networks with top universities, companies and funding organizations around the world – whether as a new partner as in the case of the GlobalTech Alliance or as a founding member of the EuroTech Universities Alliance (2006).
  • Talent recruitment: TUM actively attracts top talent for its study programs or a career in research. Its program to attract postdocs to Munich – the best of whom are rewarded with a research grant – is unmatched anywhere else in the world.
  • Distinguished visiting scientists: TUM invites the brightest minds in the world to join its own researchers as top-flight guest scientists – for example as Fellows at the TUM Institute for Advanced Study.

Thinking and acting like an entrepreneurial university also means acknowledging, promoting and valorizing talent. Talent diversity is the only way to guarantee research excellence and the university’s overall ability to compete. Key measures adopted to date include:

  • Gender and diversity: TUM mobilizes scientific talent around the globe, providing targeted support for women at all stages of their career. A dedicated Vice President of Talent Management und Diversity promotes diversity at TUM, with operational support from the equal opportunities office.
  • Inter-generational contract: TUM believes in teams of mixed ages, and values the experience and knowledge of its alumni and emeriti. Highly committed retired professors with excellent track records support and shape TUM’ evolution as “Emeriti of Excellence”.
  • Alumni network: TUM’s international alumni network connects over 67,000 members with their alma mater.
  • Fundraising: Thanks to their financial support, the friends of TUM and numerous sponsors increase the university’s freedom and maneuverability – with over EUR 283 million raised since 1998.
  • University foundation: In 2010, alumni, friends and sponsors of TUM established a University Foundation with the primary aim of supporting promising students and researchers. The fund has already (valid 2018) raised around EUR 50 million and the income on these assets is invested in line with the Foundation’s mission.
  • Mentoring programs: Alumni, TUM researchers and former visiting scientists from around the world share their experience with the younger generations.
  • Children and young people: TUM uses its laboratories and school programs to get youngsters interested in science and technology – for example at the Deutsches Museum or the Berchtesgadener Land research center for schoolchildren.

As an entrepreneurial university, TUM provides plenty of support for its academic staff. Service teams are on hand to ensure that promising young talent to top-level internationally renowned scientists in particular can unleash their full academic potential. These services include:

  • Obtaining third-party funding: Advice and support on how to prepare and submit applications
  • Publications: Advice and financial support to have articles published in peer-reviewed journals
  • Bringing new technologies to market: With patents, licenses or a dedicated company
  • Launching start-ups: Support from the initial idea to the growth phase
  • Building relationships: With industry partners and research institutes around the world
  • Communication: Reporting research findings to a global audience
  • Balancing career with family life: Family support advice and services as well as day nursery and kindergarten facilities

Clusters of Excellence

Establishing new and cutting-edge fields of research, Munich’s Clusters of Excellence have rapidly evolved into hubs for top-level interdisciplinary research that enjoy international visibility and acclaim. TUM played a key role in the following research collaborations from 2006 to 2017, an engagement which has clearly sharpened TUM’s profile as one of Europe’s leading universities.

The CIPSM-Cluster took a holistic approach to studying the properties of proteins and their networks using methods drawn from genetics, (bio)chemistry and (bio)physics. By gaining a greater understanding of the properties and functions of proteins, scientists can learn more about their biological role and the causes of serious diseases, and find new forms of treatment and therapy.

The CIPSM cluster brought together TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and Helmholtz Zentrum München.

Funding period: 2006–2017

The CoTeSys Cluster of Excellence developed intelligent machines capable of acting as service robots – whether for household tasks or industrial manufacturing processes. The research explored how cognitive skills like perception, logical thinking, learning and planning can be integrated into technical systems. The aim was to develop machines and robots that can interact with humans autonomously and “intelligently”, i.e. with the ability to react flexibly to different situations. To this end, CoTeSys developed sophisticated experimental systems for kitchen and factory robots as well as intelligent solutions for human-machine communication.

This interdisciplinary cluster merged brain research with informatics, biophysics, psychology and mechanical engineering. It was an important forerunner of the Munich School of Robotics and Machine Intelligence (MRSM), TUM’s new Integrative Research Center founded in 2018.

In the CoTeSys cluster, TUM headed up around 100 researchers from a wide variety of disciplines drawn from three Munich universities (TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, Universität der Bundeswehr), the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen.

Funding period: 2006–2012

New coherent light sources and laser-driven particle sources with unique properties formed the basis of research at the MAP Cluster of Excellence. Ultra-short pulses, high intensities and high energy characterize these new light sources. They open up possibilities for new applications in physics, chemistry, biology and medicine. For example, they will help researchers investigate the structure of biomolecules and observe the tiniest alterations in tissue. The overarching aim of the cluster was to enable early tumor detection and thus the development of new and more targeted therapies.

The main cooperation partners in the MAP cluster alongside TUM and Ludwig Maximilian University were the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and Helmholtz Zentrum München.

Funding period: 2006–2017

The NIM Cluster of Excellence developed into one of the world’s leading nanoscience research centers. The goal of this cluster was to design, fabricate and control multi-functional nanosystems for applications in information technology, energy conversion and medical technologies. The integration of such nanosystems into real environments was a key focus of the research. NIM brought together researchers from the Munich area specialized in physics, biophysics, physical chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacy, biology, electrical engineering and medicine.

The Cluster of Excellence was a joint project of TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, the University of Augsburg, the Walther Meißner Institute (Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities), the Max Planck Institutes of Biochemistry and Quantum Optics, Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Deutsches Museum.

Funding period: 2006–2017

From its home in Munich, the SyNergy cluster established a new research field, namely systems neurology. It seeks to explain the mechanisms behind the development of neurological disorders. The cluster blurred the traditional boundaries between research on neurodegenerative, inflammatory and vascular diseases. Funding for the work of the SyNergy cluster is set to be continued from 2019 as part of the new Excellence Strategy.

SyNergy is a joint project of TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, the Max Planck Institutes of Biochemistry, Neurobiology and Psychiatry, Helmholtz Zentrum München and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Funding period: 2012–2017

Successful in the 2019 Excellence Strategy

The Universe Cluster of Excellence has evolved into one of the world’s largest and most active research hubs spanning a unique combination of disciplines in physics, astrophysics and cosmology. The participating scientists investigated questions like the origin and structure of the universe (matter, energy, space, time) and the nature of fundamental forces. They arrived at some important findings, including a better understanding of how supernova explosions occur and how chemical elements are formed in space. The current application “ORIGINS: From the origins of the universe to the first building blocks of life” builds on the major successes of recent years.

The Universe cluster saw close collaboration between physicists from TUM and Ludwig Maximilian University along with their counterparts from the Max Planck Institutes of Physics, Astrophysics, Extraterrestrial Physics and Plasma Physics, the Leibniz Supercomputing Center, the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) – the only such combination of disciplines in the world.

Funding period: 2006–2017

The ORIGINS cluster succeeds “Universe” in the 2019 Excellence Strategy

Graduate schools

Doctoral students at TUM not only contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge, but also acquire valuable interdisciplinary expertise. This is one of the lasting outcomes of the Excellence Initiative for the qualification of young scientists at the university.

The TUM Graduate School develops and supports all its doctoral candidates, guaranteeing the high academic standards typical of a University of Excellence. The structured program prepares PhD candidates in the best possible way for subsequent careers in scientific research or industry. The TUM Graduate School evolved from the International Graduate School of Science and Engineering (IGSSE), which has achieved repeat success in the Excellence Initiative.

In 2009, the university began to reorganize its various graduate centers specialized in different faculties and subjects under the umbrella of the TUM Graduate School. This structured approach to graduate training for doctoral candidates reflects best international practice.

A doctorate at TUM combines:

  • Individual research at a Chair or institute
  • Subject- related courses and qualification
  • Transferrable skills training
  • International research phase
  • Career support

The International Graduate School of Science and Engineering (IGSSE) combines top-level interdisciplinary research with modern training of doctoral candidates. It proved a winning model in both phases of the Excellence Initiative (2006 and 2012).

  • Interdisciplinary teams: Science and engineering researchers collaborate closely in interdisciplinary project groups during their PhDs.
  • Future megatrends: Scientists and engineers pursue innovative solutions in cross-cutting research fields like water, bionics or clean technologies.
  • International network: Top-level scientists at TUM and many other universities around the world provide support and advice for the young research teams at the IGSSE.
  • Subject-related qualifications plus soft skills: A special training program leaves the PhD students ideally prepared for their careers in scientific research or industry.