The Austrian Alliance of Science Organisations urges efforts to prevent the loss of unique potential of scientific talent
In a joint press conference Monday morning, Thomas Henzinger from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, Antonio Loprieno from the Austrian Science Board, Sabine Seidler from Universities Austria and Klement Tockner from the Austrian Science Fund FWF presented five research policy recommendations to the incoming federal government. The recommendations are aimed at securing the long-term future of science and industry by shoring up its innovative strength and prosperity, as well as ensuring that the unique potential of scientific talent does not go to waste.
“We researchers have joined our voices to call on the incoming Austrian federal government to take steps that have been long overdue in order to advance Austria as a research country,” said FWF President Klement Tockner in his capacity as spokesperson for the Austrian Alliance of Science Organisations. The blueprints are on the table, Mr Tockner said referring to the OECD report, the EU Council recommendations and the report from the Austrian Council for Research and Technology Development. “What we need now is the political courage to implement these as quickly as possible,” Mr Tockner urged.
“There is no question that scientists promote progress and innovation,” said TU Wien Rector Sabine Seidler representing Universities Austria. “However, world-class research is more complex and competitive today than ever before. Researchers, universities and research institutions are dependent on a forward-looking framework in order to conduct outstanding basic research in Austria,” Ms Seidler continued. In this context, the Alliance also emphasised that important steps in the right direction had already been taken in recent years.
The five recommendations in detail
1) Enhancing the role of competition in promoting research
When fair and transparent, competition achieves the greatest possible impact, boosting scientific quality and promoting cooperation. The OECD report states very clearly that if Austria wants to build on its strength as a research and innovation location in the long term, it must increase its share of competitive funding to a much larger degree. The need to catch up is greatest in the area of curiosity-driven basic research. The higher the share of competitive funding, the better positioned researchers are to succeed at the European and global levels.
2) Improving the legal framework
The independence of publicly funded research must be clearly set forth in a new Research Funding Act. This includes continuing to maintain the thematic independence of universities and research institutions as well as upholding their independent in setting their own policy guidelines. Conducing basic research is only possible within a long term outlook. An annual growth rate of at least seven percent for the funding budgets of all institutions covered by the Research Funding Act would provide the necessary predictability, increase investment efficiency and significantly boost confidence in Austria as a research location both domestically and abroad. In addition, the contractual relationship between the federal government and the individual institutions concerned should be structured in the form of contracts under public law, analogous to universities. The contractual status laid out in the new Research Funding Act must under no circumstance jeopardise the public-law character of contract performance or the independence of publicly-funded research.
3) Implementing the Excellence Initiative
Developed in line with international standards, the Excellence Initiative is aimed at further boosting cutting-edge research and cooperation between disciplines and institutions. Upon implementation, it will provide the Austrian science and innovation landscape with the sustainable energy boost necessary to significantly close the gap between Austria and the nations leading the world in science and innovation. The Excellence Initiative is intended to stimulate the culture of competition, promote cooperation and lay the groundwork for a dynamic research environment in all disciplines, including artistic and artistic-scientific research, that can attract outstanding researchers and offer young scholars long-term career prospects.
4) Introducing overheads throughout Austria
Uniform and binding overhead funding as a component of research funding, as has long been customary in the European Research Framework Programme, is urgently needed for all funding organisations and research institutions. The introduction of 25% overheads for all FWF programmes would significantly strengthen research institutions, generate an increase in project submissions and as a consequence, additionally encourage the competition the OECD Review calls for in Austria’s RTI system.
5) Sustainably endowing the National Foundation
The National Foundation for Research, Technology and Development (NFTE) finances essen-tial components of eligible organisations' funding portfolios. In recent years, new formats have been established across all funding organisations, thereby significantly enhancing re-search activities. Be it “aws first” by the Austria Wirtschaftsservice (aws), the “Bridge” pro-gramme by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG), the “Research Center for Open Innovation in Science” by the Ludwig Boltzmann Society (LBG), the “GO!DIGITAL” initiative by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) or the FWF’s focus on strengthening doctoral training with its “doc.funds”, all of these activities, financed with funds from NFTE, have been met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from researchers and have generated ef-fective incentives for promoting Austria as a country of research and innovation. Conse-quently, the National Foundation requires a long-term endowment that goes beyond its cur-rent statutory funding, which is only guaranteed until 2020.
Austrian Alliance of Science Organisations
The Austrian Alliance of Science Organisations is a platform for regular dialogue on science policy issues. Members of the Alliance are Oliver Vitouch (Universities Austria), Thomas Henzinger (Institute of Science and Technology Austria), Antonio Loprieno (Austrian Science Board), Helga Nowotny (ad personam), Klement Tockner (FWF Austrian Science Fund; Alliance spokesperson) and Anton Zeilinger (Austrian Academy of Sciences).