In recent decades, third-party research funding has become a vital excellence indicator within the German system. An ever-larger share of research funding is awarded competitively. Since German universities generally do not charge tuition fees, third-party research funding—and the overhead funds contained therein—is a source of income and reputation for universities. Specific funding sources have an exceptionally strong reputation (e.g., the German National Science Foundation, the European Research Council, and the Excellence Strategy). Related collaborative research cluster (s-called Verbundforschung) are also increasingly seen as organizational indicators contributing to universities’ reputation and status. In this context, as competitive organizational actors, German universities aim to stimulate particular highly prestigious collaborative research clusters. Accordingly, German universities are developing various research support services, trying to foster research clusters, and expanding their research support service units. At the same time, however, collaborative research activities are based mainly on scholars’ interests in selecting themes, forms, scope, and partners in collaboration. They are a self-organized activity of individual scholars. Moreover, universities are still loosely coupled expert organizations whose research (and teaching) is carried out by professionals and, therefore, can be influenced only to a very limited extent by the organization itself.
Given this background, the paper presented at NIW (co-authored by Anna Kosmützky and Sarah-Rebecca Kienast), investigates the forms of influence and potential tensions that arise when universities try to foster and influence their members’ collaborative research activities.