Article 1, paragraphs 314-338, of Law 232/2016 (2017 Budget Law), established the "Fund for the financing of university departments of excellence" in order to identify and fund, every 5 years and across all 14 disciplinary areas (CUN areas), the 180 best departments of Italian universities that stand out for the excellence of research and the quality of their scientific projects, organization and teaching. The funds allocated amount to 271 million euro per year.

Every five years, the Italian National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research Institutes (ANVUR) determines the ranking of the 350 best departments of Italian State universities based on their ISPD score (the index measuring the department's performance), which is calculated from the most recent Evaluations of Research Quality (VQR).

These departments, by submitting a five-year development plan and a financial plan (for recruitment, infrastructure, education activities), can apply to the Ministry of University and Research (MUR) to obtain further funding as Departments of Excellence. The Ministry will award funding to 180 departments, no more than 15 within each university.

A dedicated Commission will examine the applications and select the 180 Departments of Excellence, that will receive funding based on certain parameters. The departments in CUN areas 1 to 9 will receive an extra 250,000 euro per year for research infrastructure.