Here you will find information on the eligibility to apply as well as the application process.
Pioneering Research – Exploring the Unknown Unknown
With the program "Pioneering Research – Exploring the Unknown Unknown", the Foundation supports groundbreaking and risky research ideas with high scientific relevance. We are looking for basic research projects that are not dedicated to the already 'known unknown', but that strive to explore the 'unknown unknown' thereby holding the potential for major scientific breakthroughs, but also for failure.
What is funded?
Pioneering research projects must meet the following criteria:
- Exploratory quality of the project: Your project is radically exploratory and breaks new scientific ground.
- Scientific relevance and potential for new insights: Your project addresses an unexplored scientific challenge and, if successful, it will provide fundamental new impetus to the community.
- Qualification and motivation: You devote yourself to new scientific challenges with passion and a willingness to take risks and are outstandingly qualified with regard to the feasibility and implementation of the project.
The funding program addresses outstanding researchers from all disciplines and is open to various funding formats.
Please note: Research projects that promise an incremental gain in knowledge in an already existing research field will not be funded. Doctoral projects cannot be supported.
How it works: From application to decision in five steps
Check here for answers to general questions about our funding
FAQ for Applicants
Can the Volkswagen Foundation fund my project?
Applications are only accepted within the framework of the current funding portfolio (also referred to as funding initiatives or funding programs).
What type of projects are totally excluded from support?
The Foundation will not process applications falling under the following categories:
- Supplements to travel costs or scholarships granted by third parties
- Printing costs not associated with projects supported by the Foundation
- Acquisition, completion, or maintenance of collections or exhibitions
- Construction and expansion of hospitals, retirement and nursing homes
- Devices that serve therapy
- Development and practical trials of research questions that have already been solved
- Patent evaluation
- Schools, preparatory courses and institutions of adult education, student residences
- Start-up aid for scientific institutions with political, ideological or denominational ties
- Across-the-board increases in base budgets or making up for budget shortfalls
- Reimbursement of pre-financing granted elsewhere
- For-profit purposes
- Charitable purposes
- Private individuals
Do I have to have a doctorate to apply?
Yes, all applicants must have completed their doctorate. In individual calls it may also be sufficient that they have already submitted their dissertation. The details of such an exception can be found in the information documents of the corresponding call.
Do I already have to be employed at a German university/research institution at the time of application?
Lead applicants must be affiliated with a German university or research institution or attach a statement with their application in which the management of the university or research group confirms that it will employ them and take over the administration of the third-party funds if they are approved.
I work in a foundation or private company – am I eligible to apply?
Grants can only be awarded to universities or scientific institutions in Germany. However, applicants from institutions that are not eligible for funding can be involved in a project as cooperation partners.
I work abroad, can I still submit an application?
In principle, scientific institutions from abroad can submit an application for funding. Their applications must refer to a specific funding initiative and also contain details about the previously agreed cooperation with researchers in Germany. In many funding initiatives, the German scientific institution is required to take the lead.
I am currently already receiving other funding (ERC grant, Freigeist Fellowship, etc.). Can I still apply for funding from the Volkswagen Foundation?
In principle, yes. However, the application submitted to the Volkswagen Foundation must be clearly differentiated thematically from the already funded project.
My project was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Can I apply for funding for the follow-up project?
The Volkswagen Foundation does not fund projects that constitute continuations of projects it has funded in the past. It also does not step in where other funders discontinue funding.
Can multiple applications be submitted from the same institution?
In principle, yes. In some funding offers, a limit of one application per institution may be set. Corresponding conditions can be found in the information documents of the respective call for proposals.
Can I submit multiple projects for the same deadline?
Can I apply to other funding institutions with the same project in parallel?
Can I get a preliminary assessment of my research proposal?
Receiving such advice in advance of submitting an application is only possible with regard to the fit with the funding initiative. An assessment in respect of the subject matter of the application cannot be given, as this is part of the review process.
Where can I find an overview of projects previously funded by the Foundation?
You can find a searchable list in our grants database.
Does the Foundation support me in my search for potential cooperation partners?
How do I submit an application?
The documents 'Information for Applicants' explain in detail the framework conditions and the formal requirements for submitting an application for each funding initiative and provide practical tips on submitting your application. If you have any further questions, the contact persons listed there will be happy to help. Applications are submitted online via the Foundation's application system.
What is eligible for funding?
The "information for applicants" of the respective call for proposals specifies what is eligible for funding. Universities and universities for applied sciences can apply for 10 % overheads in most of the calls.
The Volkswagen Foundation only allocates funds for clearly determined purposes. Funds must not be used to relieve the base budget of an institution and thereby the actual funding body of the institution in question, such as the state. The funds may not be used to cover budget shortfalls or cause other funders to reduce their grants accordingly. Nor does the Foundation make funds available to other research-funding institutions for their general funding activities.
What remuneration rates can I use when submitting an application?
The following average rates can be used as guidelines when submitting applications:
Personnel funds for non-academic staff
Personnel funds for academic staff
The above sources already include non-wage costs, such as employer's contributions to social security. Additional overhead costs are not covered. If the staffing for the requested position is known and the position is to receive higher remuneration owing to collective bargaining agreements, please indicate the correspondingly higher rates and make this clear in your justification of the cost projection.
Do I need to submit a data management plan?
If your project generates large amounts of data, the Foundation requires you to provide a data management plan (RTF) as an attachment to your application. This may also be included as a topic of the review.
FAQ about the selection process
On what basis will my application be decided?
As a matter of principle, the Volkswagen Foundation involves expert reviewers in its decisions. They review submitted applications according to the criteria specified in the information documents for the respective program (e.g., contribution to scientific knowledge, suitability of the candidates, feasibility of the project, etc.) and make a funding recommendation to the Board of Trustees of the Volkswagen Foundation. The Foundation maintains strict confidentiality with regard to the review process.
Who makes the final decision of approval?
The Foundation's Board of Trustees usually decides on applications at meetings held three times a year. With a binding "Code of Conduct" for the employees of the administrative office and the members of the Board of Trustees, the Foundation ensures that no person is involved in decision-making relating to any institution to which they belong or in whose committees they participate. The Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation is authorized to decide on projects with lower application volumes and submits reports on such decisions to the Board of Trustees.
Why do I get such little feedback on my rejected application?
When designing application and review procedures, the Volkswagen Foundation must ensure that these procedures are as time- and cost-efficient as possible, both for applicants and for reviewers. Therefore, unlike other funding organizations, the Foundation rarely solicits individual reviews of applications. In most cases, applications are discussed at meetings of a review panel at which a funding recommendation is made. The main points of criticism are recorded in minutes; but these minutes cannot be shared with applicants, partly because of direct comparisons made with other applications evaluated in parallel. However, the Volkswagen Foundation does try to ensure that the scope of the feedback is commensurate with the effort required of the applicants. In the case of rejected outline proposals, therefore, no feedback can generally be expected, while at the end of whole selection procedures, some of which involve several stages, it may be possible to obtain more detailed feedback by telephone.
Can I resubmit a rejected application in a revised form?
No. However, the same lead applicant is welcome to submit a proposal on a new topic. If this is to be submitted in the same program, consultation with the appropriate program director is recommended to ensure that the topic is sufficiently distinguished from previously submitted proposals.
FAQ for grantees
Here you will find information about funding guidelines, calling for funds, progress reports, use of the foundations' logo and more.
What funding guidelines must I abide by as a grantee of the Foundation?
The Volkswagen Foundation is a non-profit science funding organization under private law and, as such, must ensure that the granted funds are used economically and properly. By accepting the funding, you acknowledge the Funding Principles. As a so-called grant recipient, you are responsible for ensuring that these principles, as well as any additional special conditions communicated, are brought to the attention of all those involved in the funded project and its implementation (e.g., project personnel, contractors, publishers, authors, editors, executing agencies) and that they are adhered to.
What applies to doctoral projects within the scope of my funded project?
The promotion of early career researchers is a high priority for the Volkswagen Foundation. In the document Notes on doctoral projects within the framework of funded projects (in German) we have compiled accordant expectations and recommendations.
How important should ethical issues be in my research project?
The Foundation expects grantees to pay special attention to questions of scientific and research ethics in all subject areas. This already applies to the project conception as well as in particular to the actual implementation of the project. If ethically relevant aspects become manifest in the course of the research process, the grantees are requested to report these to the relevant ethics committee and to the Foundation. If possible and reasonable, the Foundation supports its grantees in organizing events that provide space to discuss ethically relevant aspects and questions with experts and colleagues in the field as well as with relevant social groups.
How do I receive the approved funds?
Together with the letter of approval, you will receive the calling for funds plan (RTF) to be completed and a corresponding appendix (RTF), which you must use to confirm in writing that you accept the Foundation’s funding principles. The approved funds will be transferred in due time to the account of the funded scientific institution in accordance with the needs-based call for funds initiated by you.
Do I have to submit progress reports?
How do I have to prove how the funds are utilized?
At the end of the funding period – and possibly earlier in the case of long-running projects – the Foundation expects accounts detailing the utilization of the funds. Our FAQs "Proof of Utilisation" explain, among other things, when and in what form proof of utilization must be provided, as well as how to proceed with remaining funds in the project, and whether receipts must be sent in. Please use the template "statement of account", which we provide for download via the FAQs "Proof of Utilisation" or via the download section on our page "FAQ/Service".
What does the Foundation expect from me in terms of public relations for my project?
It is important to the Foundation that grantees make their results accessible, preferably in established scientific journals or monographs, in which they also refer to the support provided by the Volkswagen Foundation. In this context, please refer to our Open Science Policy. In addition, we expect you to use suitable media to inform various sectors of the public about the funded projects. To this end, we ask you to cooperate constructively with the Communications Office of the Volkswagen Foundation.
Can I use the Volkswagen Foundation logo for posters or flyers, for example?
The Volkswagen Foundation logo may only be used in connection with the Foundation's funding activities, not for advertising purposes. All information and files can be found at Foundation Logos and Corporate Design.
What other offers can I benefit from as a Volkswagen Foundation grantee?
You can find additional offers under "Additional benefits and training".
Where can I find important documents to download?
You can find important documents to download under "FAQ/Service".
FAQ on statement of account and proof of utilisation
At the end of the funding period – and possibly earlier in the case of long-running projects – the Foundation expects accounts detailing the utilization of the funds.
How do I prove the proper use of funds and why is this required?
The statement of account is the accounting evidence that the funding has been spent by the grantees or the approved institutions in accordance with the grant.
The Proof of Utilization of awarded funding is required by the Statutes of the Volkswagen Foundation § 3 and § 9.
What has to be included in my statement of account?
When do I have to submit my statement of account?
Immediately upon termination of each funded project, the Foundation expects the grantees or the approved institutions to submit a final statement of account without being requested to do so.
Interim statements of account are only requested if necessary and do not have to be submitted annually.
In what form should the statement of account be submitted?
Please use the form "statement of account" and our Excel template for the overview of all individual expenditures and revenues (requested on page 3 of the form), which are to be arranged according to the approved cost items. You can download both templates here: Templates for statement of account and Excel list (ZIP folder). The form must be signed (analogue or digital) by:
- the grantee and
- a representative of the bursar’s office/third-party funding office.
How do I have to submit the statement of account?
The statement of account is to be submitted by e-mail. Additional submission by post is not required!
Do I need to submit receipts?
Receipts must only be submitted on request. Original invoices and payment receipts must be kept for all individual expenses.
How do I deal with remaining funds?
Allocated funds that are/were not used in the project must be repaid to the Foundation without delay.
Repayment shall be made to the following account of the Volkswagen Foundation, quoting the file number:
Credit Institution: Norddeutsche Landesbank