Germany's top ten research universities are calling for preferential funding for elite research and for public funds to be linked to research performance.
They claim that not enough attention is being paid to the needs of top research in the discussion of a sweeping reform of higher education. The "watering can" principle of funding is no longer effective at a time of limited resources, they said.
In a joint declaration presented in Heidelberg, they said research at German universities differed in terms of quality and success, so "the wholesale equal treatment of them by higher education policy does not do them justice".
"The reform must establish the foundation for greater diversity in the university landscape. Equal expansion and equal allocation of funds without addressing differences in quality only serve to hamper the progress of innovative research in the most suitable institutions," it added.
The declaration, signed by the rectors and presidents of the universities of Heidelberg, Freiburg, Gottingen, Berlin, Karlsruhe, Munich and Stuttgart and the technical universities of Berlin, Munich and Aachen, calls for more competition in the university system.
As well as performance-related research funding, the top ten also want more autonomy for universities to choose their own academic staff and students because "the best will apply to universities where they know they will find the best research in their subjects". And they want administrative and bureaucratic barriers in the German university system to be broken down in order to "win back top students from the leading industrial nations".
This is implicit support for education minister Jurgen Ruttgers's plans for bilingual degree courses and a European-wide credit system which would make it easier for students to change universities within the EU.
But the ten universities are against quality control mechanisms for professors, claiming they will only be able to attract the best academic staff if they are free to do their work without being hindered by "bureaucratic and administrative restrictions".
Their strongly worded statement came just ahead of Dr Ruttgers's second higher education reform forum in Bonn, at which education ministers, university rectors and student representatives were invited to have their say about the government's plans for reform.
The German government wants to pass a higher education reform by the end of the current legislative period.