With its current performance figures the Austrian Science Fund FWF illustrates that top-level domestic research is a forceful stimulus for business and society. In 2019, the FWF invested EUR 237 million in over 700 new research projects from all disciplines. In total, the FWF provides funding to 2,400 ongoing projects involving more than 4,000 researchers at Austria's universities and research institutions who are generating new knowledge and providing momentum for the economy. Due to the corona crisis, the number of research grant applications is expected to hit an all-time high in 2020.
Difficult times reveal to us the things that are really important, and top-level research is one of them. A vibrant research landscape generates knowledge and tools that improve the lives of many people and stimulate the economy. The investment volume of the Austrian Science Fund FWF – EUR 237 million in 2019 – makes basic research one of the pillars of Austria's innovative strength. Last year, over 700 new projects were approved by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. A total of 4,200 researchers are currently working on 2,400 FWF projects, including nearly 2,000 doctoral students and 1,400 postdocs.
Basic research makes provision for future challenges
“Plannability, trust in the research venue and a high level of quality enable researchers to produce world-class knowledge and prepare for future social challenges,” says FWF President Klement Tockner, who emphasizes the value of basic research, especially in times of crisis. “Researchers did not have to start from scratch in the Corona pandemic since basic research had already blazed a trail. The speed of current COVID-19 research would have been unthinkable just 20 years ago,” says Tockner, who adds: “Investments in science are investments in a better future.
Federal Minister Heinz Faßmann: You can always count on basic research
This assessment is also endorsed by Science Minister Heinz Faßmann, who underscores the importance of basic research in general and the quality-oriented funding provided by the Austrian Science Fund FWF in particular: “The crisis shows how important it is for people to be able to rely on basic research. With their findings, researchers are helping to identify ways out of the crisis and stave off future threats. With its approach, open in terms of subject matter and exclusively seeking out quality, the FWF is the key to forward-looking, cutting-edge research that also stimulates the economy. Austria will continue its vigorous investments in its researchers into the future.”
EUR 237.4 million invested in outstanding basic research
Last year, the total amount applied for by researchers was EUR 908 million. Of this sum, excellent research projects amounting to EUR 237 million were approved following the international peer review process. Researchers from the natural and technical sciences account for the largest share of these projects (EUR 95.5 million), followed by biology and medicine (EUR 86.6 million) and the humanities and social sciences (EUR 55.4 million).
Investment in the future: two thirds of all researchers younger than 35
A look at the age distribution across all ongoing FWF-funded projects reveals the great future potential of top-notch domestic research: two thirds, or nearly 3,000 researchers, who successfully prevailed in the quality-based competition are younger than 35. “This up-and-coming generation shows Austria's potential. All of them are scientific talents of substantial future promise. They are sought after all over the world and we take particular care to support them,” says Klement Tockner.
Nationwide ranking of third-party funds: University of Vienna at the top
Conducted throughout Austria, FWF-funded top-level research is underway at venues that range from large university and non-university locations to smaller research institutions. With EUR 53 million in FWF funding, the front-runner is the University of Vienna, followed by the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Innsbruck at EUR 24 million each, the Medical University of Vienna (EUR 22 million), the Vienna University of Technology (21) and the University of Graz (16). Smaller institutions such as St. Anna Children's Hospital or Ars Electronica go to prove that scientists and scholars can successfully outshine the competition wherever excellent top-level research is being conducted.
International cooperation: Israel and South Tyrol brought on board
When it comes to top-level research, international collaboration is of prime importance: around three-quarters of all projects funded in 2019 involve international partners. In addition, the FWF invested EUR 30 million in the area of international cooperation programmes − with the positive effect of raising additional investment from the cooperating countries amounting to EUR 30 million. The countries most frequently involved in cooperation projects in 2019 were Germany, the USA and the United Kingdom. With Israel and South Tyrol, the FWF was able to welcome two more cooperation partners in 2019.
International quality standards also determine the awarding of grants; the only decision criterion for funding by the FWF is scientific excellence. In 2019, the FWF sought 4,500 international reviews from 64 countries to evaluate this excellence; most of the assessments were provided by researchers from the USA, Germany and the United Kingdom.
IHS head Martin Kocher: Rely on science and research for economic stimulus measures
The corona pandemic has once again shown that basic research without restriction in terms of subject matter will make provision for meeting future challenges, no matter how, when or where they arise. In addition, science and research innovations strengthen the economy.
“It is important that the upcoming measures designed to strengthen the economy should pursue the goal of higher growth through more innovation. In this context, science and research, and especially basic research, must not be forgotten. They will be of enormous importance for Austria as a business location in the coming years,” explains Martin Kocher, Scientific Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS), on the occasion of the presentation of FWF funding statistics.
“The investments foreseen in the government programme, such as the Excellence Initiative, the Research Funding Act including a growth path and a solid endowment of the FWF funding budget would strengthen Austria’s economic development,” notes Klement Tockner. At present, Austria is only partially exploiting its scientific potential; in 2019, excellent research projects worth EUR 60 million had to be declined solely because of budget restraints. Owing to the Corona crisis, the FWF expects a record number of research applications in 2020. “The international competition for ideas, talents and cooperation will be even more intense after the crisis,” Klement Tockner says with conviction.
New focal points in research funding 2019/2020
- About 400 researchers from Austrian research institutions submitted applications for the first call of the 1000 Ideas Programme. With this programme, the FWF supports particularly audacious and innovative research ideas. The first projects will start in June 2020.
- With the second new programme, #ConnectingMinds, the FWF encourages researchers to involve non-academic contributors. Funding is offered to teams that specifically combine scientific and societal input. The first projects will start in autumn 2020.
- The FWF was the first funding agency in Europe to establish a non-profit foundation at federal level as a bridge to private partners. Its goal is to support cultural change towards more philanthropy in cutting-edge research: www.alphaplusstiftung.at
- A new funding initiative for cooperation projects in Central Europe was set up in 2019: within the context of “CEUS - Central European Science Partnership”, researchers from Austria, Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic can apply for support for bilateral and, for the first time, trilateral research project.
- As a response to the corona pandemic, the FWF initiated a SARS-CoV-2 urgent funding programme – a fast-track procedure for the approval of research applications that focus on the prevention, early detection, containment and investigation of SARS-CoV-2 and which are particularly geared to international cooperation. The programme addresses projects that focus their research interest on technical, ecological, economic, political, legal, medical, cultural, psychological or ethical implications of SARS-CoV-2. First projects are starting in May 2020.
All FWF performance figures now online
An annual overview and all performance figures can be found in the current FWF Annual Report(pdf, 5.7MB). The new Annual Report also features ten masterly illustrations. Each of these unique pictures conveys an artist’s creative perspective on research projects successfully completed in 2019 – available for download as wallpapers.
The Austrian Science Fund FWF
The FWF is Austria’s central funding organisation for basic research as well as arts-based research. Applying international quality benchmarks, the FWF provides funding for outstanding research projects and excellent researchers who work to generate, broaden and deepen scientific knowledge.