A new kind of cross-border cooperation

An interview with Berthold Neizert, Head of the Department of Research Policy and International Relations

At the beginning of the year, a new Max Planck Center with the Syddansk Universitet, Odense, was inaugurated. What is so special about this kind of cross-border cooperation? How is a Max Planck Center different from a foreign research institute?

The Max Planck Centers equip the Max Planck institutes with a new tool for promoting international cooperation. In a broad range of such tools, the Centers are positioned somewhere between the “genuine” foreign institutes on the one hand, and the numerous international projects realised by the Max Planck institutes on the other hand. As scientific beacons of international cooperation, the Max Planck Centers are intended to attract even more visibility.

Primarily, they serve as “platforms” for the creation of added scientific value: Max Planck institutes and top research establishments abroad are thus able to pool their complementary knowledge, experience and expertise to the benefit of both parties and, for instance, grant each other access to special research facilities, material and equipment.

On a structural level, the Max Planck Centers will also host our successful elements for advancing junior scientists, i.e., the IMPRS, partner groups and research groups, and the exchange of junior scientists. In addition, they will stimulate scientific exchange through special workshops.

The Max Planck Centers will not have any legal capacity in their own right. Instead, cooperation agreements will establish the individual research programs and the available funds, staff and infrastructural resources. Both partners will bear the costs that they incur while realising joint projects in the Centers. Generally, projects will run for five years with a one-time option of extending the project for an additional five years.

Could you tell us about the preparatory phase for the creation of a Max Planck Center?

The initiative as such and the first preparatory measures are taken by scientists from the Max Planck institutes and their international partners. At least one Max Planck scientist and one foreign colleague must plan the research project together; they usually then form the “leading team” of a Center. Requests to create a Max Planck Center are submitted directly to the President of the Max Planck Society by the scientists. The President then tasks the responsible Vice President with the assessment. External experts are also usually involved, and there is always a discussion in the Perspective Commission of the respective Section. Based on the assessment and expert opinions, the President then decides whether to create a Max Planck Center. At the same time, Administrative Headquarters prepares the contractual framework for the partnership, where the overarching principle is that both partners must provide substantial and equal financial support for five years in order for the project to be successful.

Once a Max Planck Center is created, how is the work evaluated? Have any particular mechanisms been put in place to this end?

The details of the essential evaluation of the Centers are currently still under discussion. However, it has already been agreed that a Center must undergo an evaluation before any potential extension is granted. This is primarily a scientific evaluation; however, structural aspects will also be examined carefully. What is more, a continual monitoring process is intended to ensure that particularly these structural or structuring objectives of the Center, which go beyond scientific goals, are complied with.

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