FWF President Tockner sees clearly marked path ahead: More competition, innovative research collaboration and attracting creative talent are key to promoting top-level research
Austria’s research policy should prioritise competition, more basic research and innovative research collaboration even more than at present in order to further improve the attractiveness of its research environment for excellent researchers – these are the key recommendations of the most recent OECD Review of the Austrian STI system. The report takes a largely positive view of Austria’s development, but also sets forth a number of clear-cut recommendations. Among other findings, the Review points out that Austria has achieved significant advances in R&D in recent decades, including increased research intensity (where Austria ranked second-highest among OECD countries in the period 1998-2016) and great strides in a number of research areas, in which the country has joined the ranks of world-class players. But more needs to be done in other areas, including an expansion of competitive basic research funding through FWF, according to the OECD Review.
With respect to doctoral education, the Review recommends that structured PhD training programmes be expanded and adequate funding be provided for these programmes by the universities. FWF provides significant support for these efforts through its programmes.
Another OECD recommendation concerns research excellence in general and the excellence initiative in particular. The Review states that excellence in science and research in Austria would benefit from raising the budget of FWF to step up its funding activities. It expressly states that “the comparatively low level of [...] funding through the FWF [...] is widely recognised as an impediment to excellent research”.
While less than 20% of all R&D spending in Austria goes to competitive funding of basic research, the corresponding share is nearly one third in countries such as Switzerland and the Netherlands. Strengthening competitive basic research, in particular FWF funding programmes, is therefore listed as a priority in the OECD Review. This would also promote interaction between businesses, universities and public research institutes, and would contribute to finding scientific answers to societal challenges. Finally, the OECD Review states that “the FWF should play a key role in the implementation of a research excellence initiative”.
Austria, a land of research
In his first reaction to the publication, FWF President Tockner underlined the importance of the internationally recognised and independent expertise that underlies the OECD Review. “The findings, conclusions and recommendations of the OECD Review are very clear,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to work with our partners in politics, science and society at large to further develop Austria’s research capabilities and innovative power. We need to strengthen top-flight research in Austria through more competition to be able to attract and retain the most creative talent worldwide.”
FWF is currently preparing its multi-annual programme for the 2019-2021 period. This will include a significant number of projects and initiatives that are well aligned with the OECD Review’s findings. The cornerstones of the framework programme will be increased FWF budgets and implementation of an excellence initiative, both to be funded under the provisions of research funding legislation which the federal government plans to introduce. On this basis, the FWF will be able to make a significant contribution to Austria’s further advancement as a successful research nation.
To download the OECD Review (Overall Assessment and Recommendations), go to: www.bmbwf.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/Pressemeldungen/OAR_2018_12_06.pdf
Head of Public Relations and Science Communication