excellent=austria is the funding programme of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research to enhance Austria’s reputation as a top location for research among the international scientific community. The e=a funding tracks are managed by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and offer researchers new opportunities to conduct top-level research. Universities and other research institutions can consolidate their strengths in a sustainable way. The aim is to boost Austria’s innovative capacity and to find answers to the challenges of tomorrow.
Cutting-edge research is an expedition into the future. Through excellent=austria, Austria plans in the coming years to send promising research teams on a journey to gain innovative insights into all fields of knowledge. Researchers receive more opportunities to take their research beyond the boundaries of their research institutions and their field, with maximum financial independence—and that in close cooperation with the best in the world. Innovative forms of national and international collaboration are specifically encouraged, and a key role is given to the promotion of young researchers and the speedy transfer of knowledge. The goal is to further enhance Austria’s reputation as an attractive place to conduct research and advance one’s career. The resulting solutions and expertise are of benefit not only to the innovation system, but to society as a whole.
“excellent=austria takes Austria a big step closer to fulfilling the goals of the RTI Strategy 2030. The idea of an excellence initiative for basic research had been talked about for years, the current federal government included it in its government programme, and now it’s getting started. We provide researchers with attractive opportunities to conduct research here in Austria on par with the best in the world. A key aspect of this is the transfer of knowledge to industry and society”, said Austrian Federal Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann with reference to the presentation of excellent=austria.
“More freedom, more cooperation, more opportunities: we designed excellent=austria with the leading research countries in mind. Projects of unprecedented scope can be carried out in future together with and at Austrian research institutions”, said FWF President Christof Gattringer, emphasising the successful working relationship between the FWF and universities and non-university research institutions. “The opportunity to expand cooperation within science is very promising for a small research country like Austria. excellent=austria allows us to offer attractive conditions to encourage close collaboration and to gain forward-looking insights”, continued the FWF President.
“We find ourselves in the exciting situation today that we are promoting an excellence programme on the one hand, while at the same time calling on top government officials to allocate funding to the Fonds Zukunft Österreich. I mention this because the success of excellent=austria also depends on creating a supportive environment”, explained uniko President and Rector of Vienna University of Technology Sabine Seidler.
Sustainably consolidating the strengths of universities and other research institutions
The Austrian federal government has provided the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) with €150 million in funding over the next three years as part of the excellent=austria programme to help universities and other research institution to further develop their research strengths. Thanks to joint funding with the research institutions (60% FWF, 40% research institutes), a total of €250 million in funding is available to researchers for the first three years of the excellent=austria programme. Research institutions can thus enhance their reputations as internationally successful research stakeholders, and this in turn increases Austria’s chances of attracting the best researchers from around the world.
A new dimension of research funding
The amount and flexibility of research funding are critical for competing with the best researchers in the world. In the first e=a funding track, the Clusters of Excellence, a total of up to €70 million (over ten years) is available to research teams to conduct forward-looking large-scale projects in basic research—the volume exceeds all previous FWF funding programmes. To make the scale clear: A Cluster of Excellence involves large teams, with outstanding research infrastructure, working together for several years. At the same time, excellent=austria also allows for the dynamic use of funds to account for the progress of the research. Thus, as the project develops, researchers can change course to pursue especially promising directions. An additional goal is to expand long-term collaborations between leading researchers across regional and thematic boundaries.
Goals and opportunities of excellent=austria
- Support outstanding basic research—open topic, in line with the highest international standards, and with plenty of freedom for unconventional approaches
- Promote gender equality and diversity to a greater extent, and create attractive career opportunities for excellent junior researchers
- Expand long-term collaborations (national and international) to leverage synergies
- Strengthen Austrian universities, universities of applied sciences, and non-university research institutions in the world competition
- Enhance the international reputation of Austrian research institutions
- Boost the transfer of research results to business and society
excellent=austria offers three funding tracks
excellent=austria will be implemented in three stages to ensure that it is integrated as best as possible into the Austrian research landscape. The programme kicks off with the Clusters of Excellence for the purpose of developing large national and international projects. Submissions for this track will open in summer 2021. This will be followed by the Emerging Fields, a funding track designed to step up basic research in fields with particularly high future potential. The third option, the Austria Chairs of Excellence, will provide universities and other research institutions with more means to recruit and retain leading international researchers in Austria.
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Submissions open in summer 2021: Clusters of Excellence
A Cluster of Excellence is characterised by the successful combination of top-level research, research-oriented training and promotion of young researchers, and the national and international exchange of knowledge. The funding programme provides groups of researchers at Austrian research institutions with the opportunity to achieve outstanding cooperative research results in one field or interdisciplinarily. The goal is to establish this research field in Austria in the long term at a top international level. The promotion of young researchers and research-oriented training are integral parts of the programme, and particular emphasis is also placed on equal opportunities and diversity. In addition, special importance is given to the transfer of knowledge and technology in the form of collaborations with business and society. A Cluster of Excellence is expected to take a leading role internationally in the development and expansion of its chosen research field.
The first step in the application process is the sending of a letter of intent, which can be submitted to the FWF between 1 June and 16 August 2021. All the relevant information and programme guidelines will be published on the FWF website and in an FWF newsletter at the end of May. The letter of intent is planned to be followed by a two-stage review process.
Starting in June, the FWF will offer webinars on the application process for all interested researchers. The dates will be announced in an FWF newsletter and on the FWF calendar.