The graduate schools and clusters of excellence are required to have bylaws that specify their status within the university, their organisational structure and their operations. The DFG provided model bylaws that the universities could adapt to the specific requirements and circumstances of their graduate schools and clusters of excellence. Usually, the graduate schools and clusters of excellence have at least a general assembly, an executive board led by a co-ordinator, a managing director who is in charge of the office and day-to-day operations, and a scientific advisory committee. Members of the university management often sit on the executive board but hardly ever take a direct or active role in day-to-day management. As the initiative to set up a graduate school or cluster of excellence usually comes from the leading researchers in the respective research areas, there is little need to recruit the top leadership. In most cases one of the initiating senior professors acts as co-ordinator.
The organisational structures of the graduate schools and clusters of excellence can be understood as a second layer of management that reaches across traditional boundaries between departments and the overall university administration without replacing them. In many cases the management structures of the schools and clusters help facilitate decision making in the competent university bodies and support internal reorientation and reorganisation.
In some universities the graduate schools and clusters of excellence are distinct university units, either central departments or interdepartmental establishments. In others they act as large cross-departmental projects. Even though the graduate schools and clusters of excellence have a physical presence in terms of infrastructure, facilities, research programmes, training activities and identity, they may also be somewhat virtual organisational bodies. Their leading representatives still work as professors in a department. The graduate schools and clusters of excellence also allow their members to pursue their research interests and implement their research management ideas within the university’s traditional departmental structure.
University management often includes co-ordinators and representatives of graduate schools and clusters of excellence in strategic consultation and decision making at university level. The universities usually want the schools and clusters to contribute to the strategic steering of the university. In many cases this happens informally, as the high standing of the Excellence Initiative virtually ensures that co-ordinators have privileged access to the president and other members of the university management. In general, there is regular communication between the management of the graduate schools and clusters of excellence and the university management. Some universities have set up an Excellence Council to support university management in strategy design and implementation. Co-ordinators of the university’s excellence establishments are among its members. Some institutional strategies also established councils with external experts, who were entrusted with co-ordinating internal competitions for research funds and/or giving advice on the allocation of internal research funds.