With the first Clusters of Excellence, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), together with the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research and the participating universities and research institutions, is opening a new chapter in research funding. Thirty-five consortia submitted proposals for the first call of the nation-wide initiative excellent=austria, eleven teams were shortlisted for the final round, and five clusters were approved. Austria’s new research networks will be advancing basic research in key areas: energy storage, quantum technologies, global health, the future of knowledge, and Eurasian cultural heritage. This milestone will be followed in the spring of 2024 by funding decisions for the Emerging Fields pro-gram, which was established to help transformative research in key areas achieve breakthroughs.
In addition to excellent=austria, the FWF also expanded its funding portfolio in other areas in 2022. AI Mission Austria, a funding program focusing on the development of artificial intelligence as a key technology, was launched in cooperation with Austria Wirtschaftsservice (aws) and the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). Funding from the NextGenerationEU recovery and resilience plan allowed the FWF to fund 22 university research projects in the field of quantum research as part of the Quantum Austria initiative.
Statistics from the five FWF Scientific Board meetings in 2022 show, as in previous years, a continued high demand for funding for open-topic Principal Investigator Projects - approximately 45% of the FWF’s funding volume. Thanks to the ESPRIT program, the FWF successfully hit its target of 50% women in its career development programs. In international collaborations, the past funding year was characterized by a high demand for the new inter-national Weave grants and the successful launch of the European Partnerships. In addition, six new Special Research Areas and four new Research Groups were established, and 64 doctoral positions were funded through the doc.funds and doc.funds.connect programs in 2022.
It is also important to mention that the FWF provided €1.2 million in crisis support for Ukrainian researchers. The commitment of numerous project heads gave 30 Ukrainian researchers the opportunity to continue their research careers in Austria.
In spite of all these successes, the funding budget still gives cause for concern. In 2022, the FWF funded 743 new research projects: a considerable number, but the potential is there for many more. Once again, in spite of excellent reviews, too many researchers were prevented from implementing their projects at Austrian research institutions due to a lack of funding. High inflation is compounding the situation.
If we want to see true social change, we need to find answers to the crucial ecological, economic, and political questions of our time. Basic research generates the knowledge we need to help us find these answers. The transformation to a sustainable future is the key issue of our generation – Austria should be dedicating the financial resources needed to support talented researchers who are already discovering today what will matter tomorrow.
The Executive Board of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)