Corona-update: Why we are postponing deadlines

The pandemic has a huge impact on research: Projects are delayed or even fail completely to get off the ground. New fields of research are vaguely beginning to emerge. All this calls for agile and flexible action, and the Volkswagen Foundation is gearing up for it.

"No open call for proposals at present" – in the long list of funding offers, quite a few are currently subject to this restriction. For other programs, deadlines are being postponed. And in the case of some funding initiatives it is becoming apparent that they will be discontinued after many years of operation.

People who know the Volkswagen Foundation and particularly appreciate its broad funding portfolio are therefore asking themselves: What's going on? Is there cause for concern? Is the pandemic affecting the Foundation's capacity to act?

"Most definitely not", reassures Secretary General Dr. Georg Schütte, "all processes are still in place. All approved projects are fully financed from beginning to end. None of our grantees need to worry. The Foundation remains a flexible and reliable partner."

Secretary General Dr. Georg Schütte: "None of our grantees need to worry." (Photo: Philip Bartz for Volkswagen Foundation)

Just how flexible it can be was recently shown by the small grant call "Corona Crisis and Beyond - Perspectives for Science, Scholarship and Society". In an incredibly short space of time, the Foundation has created an offer that couldn’t be more topical. And it has obviously struck the right chord: No less than 1,109 applications had been received by the June 4 deadline, more than in any other funding program to date – and this despite the extremely short application period of about four weeks.

"The response has exceeded our wildest expectations", says Georg Schütte. "But in a way we have also become victims of our own success, because now we have to pool our efforts to organize a qualitative pre-selection for the review process. And we are examining whether we can reallocate funding in the medium-term planning. If we want to do justice to the special corona call and generate a substantial impact, we must succeed in getting the most promising, often risk laden project ideas off the ground."

The Volkswagen Foundation has also reacted flexibly to the challenges brought on by the corona crisis with an ad hoc call for proposals in its "Niedersächsisches Vorab" program. The call  "Digitalization plus - immediate measures taken by the universities in Lower Saxony in the field of digitalization" offers funding for the short-term expansion and further development of current and new university engagement in the area of digitalization. Here, too, members of the Foundation's funding department, together with their colleagues in the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Research, invested a great deal of creative work this springtime in order to roll out this offer as quickly as possible. In addition to this ad hoc support, there will be a further grant of several millions for developing a new overall digital strategy for Lower Saxony's universities.

Refocus human and financial resources

These are just two examples of challenges the Foundation has spontaneously taken up – and whose consequences are currently shaping everyday life here at the Volkswagen Foundation. The fact that no new calls for proposals in existing funding initiatives are being opened and deadlines are being postponed not only gives potential applicants a breather. It also gives the Foundation the necessary leeway to refocus its human and financial resources to where they are currently most urgently needed: For instance, offering consultation for funded projects caught up in the turmoil caused by the corona virus, as well as closely monitoring the pandemic and the pressure for change it is exerting on science and society. In short, at the moment everything revolves around what will happen in future: What conclusions does the Foundation draw from the corona crisis? How should its funding portfolio be geared in future to new, only vaguely emerging research questions? And what consequences is all this likely to have for our medium and long-term planning?

Secretary General Georg Schütte: "The Volkswagen Foundation has always claimed it is able to discover new fields of research even before their potential for bringing about future change becomes visible. The corona crisis is undoubtedly a systemic shock. But the proverbial opportunities also lie in this crisis. We are currently putting great effort into identifying these opportunities and integrating them into our funding and financing strategy."

To sum up, therefore, there is no reason for those seeking funding to worry if they increasingly read "No open call for proposals at present" when looking at the initiatives. After all, the tried and tested will be reliably continued, while something new is formed in the background. The future. And it will then also present itself in new funding offers.

For more information on how the Volkswagen Foundation is dealing with the corona crisis, please visit "Consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for the Foundation".

All this calls for agile and flexible action, and the Volkswagen Foundation is gearing up for it (Photo: Thomas Bach for Volkswagen Foundation).