For several months, Austrian funding organisations, including the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), have been calling attention to the negative consequences resulting from a loss of the National Foundation funding. Despite a parliamentary petition and negotiations on continued funding by the Austrian federal government, the FWF has been forced to take the first appropriate steps. Three funding programmes—the Young Independent Researcher Groups, doc.funds, and #ConnectingMinds—must be suspended to the detriment of outstanding researchers. Two additional programmes— the Special Research Programmes and the Research Groups—must be reduced.
The budgetary situation in competition-based research funding remains tight, approval rates are stagnating at low levels, and too many excellent research proposals must continue to be rejected due to a lack of funds. The loss of the National Foundation funding further intensifies the pressure on researchers to find other sources of third-party funding. Although the Research Funding Act provides the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and all other funding organisations with more planning and funding security, the further development of the National Foundation—a key component of Austrian RTI funding—into “Fonds Zukunft Österreich” and its future endowment are still up in the air. The positive signal of the RTI Strategy 2030, which includes more funding for researchers in basic research, is overshadowed by this loss of funding. This has now resulted in cutbacks in the FWF’s funding portfolio.
Young Independent Researcher Groups, doc.funds, and #ConnectingMinds cannot be continued
Calls cannot be issued for the Young Independent Researcher Groups, doc.funds, and #ConnectingMinds programmes in 2021. Without further funding, they will also be suspended in 2022. This loss of funding especially affects doctoral candidates and thus a group which is particularly important for the competitiveness of the Austrian research sector. What’s more, universities lose access to the additional funding they need to ensure excellent, quality-assured doctoral training. Suspending the #ConnectingMinds programme also means forfeiting the opportunity to expand transdisciplinary research and thus the integrative exchange between science and society in Austria. The calls for the Researcher Groups and Special Research Programmes programmes, which were also funded by the National Foundation in the past, can be issued once again this year, but at a reduced volume.
More guidance for applicants
While applicants of the Young Independent Researcher Groups can submit applications to the related Research Groups programme, the doctoral candidates of doc.funds and the transdisciplinary researchers of #ConnectingMinds lose an important source of third-party funding. The FWF is working hard to be able to provide appropriate alternative sources of funding as part of the future development of its portfolio. Researchers can contact the FWF and get advice on possible alternative sources of funding.
Endowment and focus of the “Fonds Zukunft Österreich” still unclear
Between 2018 and 2020 the National Foundation provided the FWF with a total of approx. €25 million per year in funding, or about 10% of its funding budget. In order to be able to offer the programmes funded through the National Foundation in future, the FWF together with other institutions of the research community are supporting a petition in the Austrian National Council that calls for a successor to the National Foundation. It is also crucial that the announced “Fonds Zukunft Österreich” is established in such a way that the FWF can also receive funding for its open-topic funding. The petition can be signed here (German only).