FWF fosters top-level scientific achievements
Science and research may well be compared to a marathon: long-distance runners need excellent training, and so do scientists. Both require robust stamina, fine equipment and optimum support in order to deliver peak performances consistently. When all of these conditions are met, both athletes and scientists have every chance of being among the front-runners or even at the very top of the world’s elite.
“For 50 years, the Austrian Science Fund has been nurturing top-notch scientific achievements. Countless careers both within and outside of science, in Austria and abroad, started with a research grant from the FWF”, FWF President Klement Tockner noted. Since the Fund’s inception in 1968, the FWF Board has approved projects worth almost four billion Euros.
“For 50 years, the FWF has been our most significant funding agency in the field of basic research. It plays such a vital role for Austria’s basic-research system because funds are awarded competitively among the institutions, giving rise to the much-needed battle for excellence”, said the Austrian Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann, thus highlighting the importance of the FWF.
A year of great promise
2017 was a successful year: funding applications again rose steeply to reach a total of EUR 879.4 million (+ EUR 89.4 million), and new funding approvals amounted to EUR 217.3 million (+ EUR 33.5 million). These competitively awarded third-party funds generate enormous leverage and massive windfall gains for the Austrian science world. A case in point: six of the seven 2017 ERC Advanced Grant recipients have a successful FWF track record, as have 82 percent of all grantees since 2008.
Encouraging young research talents constitutes another core element in the FWF’s activities to support top-grade research at the highest international standards. In addition to the decades-long practice of awarding Schrödinger Fellowships to do research abroad, the FWF has recently developed two new formats - doc.funds and Young Independent Researcher Groups - designed to harness the great scientific potential Austria offers in this field. “The fact that both programmes receive many times the number of applications they can accept underlines the vital importance of these initiatives and also sets international standards in the research institutions”, emphasised FWF President Tockner, adding: “Heartening and successful in terms of approvals, the year 2017 demonstrated that the science community is ready to engage in a fair, transparent and challenging competition”. Such competition has been shown to enhance the quality of the science system.
“In our current budget we made a clear commitment to increasing the funding of the FWF”, adds the Science Minister, who secured an increase in the FWF’s budget of EUR 110 million for the period 2018 to 2022. The FWF thus has at its disposal a budget of EUR 846 million up until 2022. “This constitutes an important step”, notes Faßmann.
Approved but not funded
For more than ten years, the gap between funding applications received and the FWF’s budget for approvals has been widening constantly. Every year we thus lose the benefits of many of our best scientific minds – mainly young researchers. In 2017 alone, EUR 83.7 million would have been needed for projects that were reviewed as being excellent or very good but could not be funded (“approved but not funded”). Last year alone, dropping these projects also meant depriving some 580 scientists of employment opportunities as team members. “We are threatened by a massive brain drain which has negative implications for Austria’s prosperity and innovative power at a time when global competition for the best minds is at its fiercest”, warned FWF President Tockner. “With an average project duration of three to four years, this affects up to 2,000 academics”, he added.
In this context, Faßmann also made reference to the training of young researchers: “Every year, FWF projects ensure funding for around 2,000 doctoral students and 1,400 postdocs. This is a way to provide incentives to keep young research talents in the country.”
FWF fosters outstanding scientific achievements
Funding from the FWF is a recognised seal of approval for the highest scientific quality. Projects “made in Austria, funded by FWF” are among the very best at the international level. When it comes to scientific impact (2000–2018; Normalized Citation Impact per Funding Agencies), the FWF is ranked fourth, behind the ERC, the Dutch NWO and the Swiss SNF, but ahead of Israel, Sweden or Germany. “The leverage effect of FWF funding is huge”, emphasised FWF President Klement Tockner, who went on to say: “It has had demonstrable benefits for numerous successful careers, for the quality of publications, for scientific output and impact and for participation in international calls such as the ERC Grants.”
Opportunities need to be grasped
The ambitious government programme acknowledges the need to make research– particularly top-notch research and fair, transparent and quality-driven competition - a priority matter. “This forward-looking programme has raised high expectations among the science community”, Tockner observed. The FWF President, who spent many years as a researcher in Switzerland and Germany, is calling for a rapid implementation of the promised reforms and initiatives. “We have to embark on this journey together. The additional EUR 110 million granted by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) for the year 2018 to 2021 constitute a first, vital signal. In order to retain a place at the forefront of the European league, however, we need far greater efforts and bold decisions. In close cooperation with the BMBWF, we are going to do our utmost to ensure that Austria becomes and stays one of the most attractive countries for research and innovation in Europe”, Tockner said in conclusion.
FWF - the Austrian Science Fund
The FWF is Austria’s central funding organisation for basic research. Applying international quality benchmarks, the FWF provides funding for outstanding research projects and excellent researchers who are dedicated to the generation, broadening and deepening of scientific knowledge.
FWF - the Austrian Science Fund
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