Im Rahmen einer Pressekonferenz blickten FWF-Präsident Christof Gattringer, FWF-Vizepräsident Gregor Weihs, uniko-Präsidentin Sabine Seidler und Wissenschaftsminister Heinz Faßmann auf das Forschungsjahr 2020 zurück und stellten mit excellent=austria die neue Exzellenzinitiative für die Grundlagenforschung vor. © FWF/Daniel Novotny

During its press conference, the Austrian Science Fund FWF presented its performance figures for 2020. Last year, the FWF invested a total of €243.6 million in over 700 research projects. Thanks to FWF funding, 4,343 researchers in Austria are currently generating new knowledge in every field of basic research. Particular emphasis was placed on getting corona-related research projects up and running quickly. So far, 24 teams have received funding in this fast-track procedure.

Research year 2020 turned out to be bigger, more international, and more venturesome for the Austrian Science Fund FWF than ever before. For the first time, the amount of funding requested by researchers in Austria exceeded the billion-euro mark. Of this impressive sum, €243.6 million could be awarded to researchers and their projects which were considered excellent based on a strict international peer-review procedure. This represents an increase of 2.6% compared to the previous year. As a result of the BMBWF raising the FWF’s budget, a total of approx. €269 million is expected to be awarded in 2021.

“Researchers provide entirely new insights, which, in the long term, benefit both the economy and society. Especially in times of crisis, we can rely on science. The vaccines are a perfect example of the positive results of years of basic research. With each euro that Austria invests in high-quality research, we ensure a better future”, said Christof Gattringer, President of the Austrian Science Fund FWF.

This view is also endorsed by Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann, who underscored the importance of basic research in general and the quality-oriented funding provided by the Austrian Science Fund FWF in particular: “Researchers are working tirelessly on making the impossible possible. Through its practice of awarding funding to open-topic projects in line with international standards, the FWF is the key to pioneering cutting-edge research in Austria. This innovative capacity yields benefits for both the economy and society”.

The grant situation remains tight

The grant situation continues to be tight due to the increased number of applications and the outstanding quality of proposals. In 2020, projects totalling €61 million had to be rejected as “approved but not funded” due to insufficient funds. If the shortfall created by the loss of the special endowment of the National Foundation for Research, Technology and Development is not resolved, the situation could deteriorate further for many researchers, and especially for junior researchers.

Researchers from all disciplines equally successful

A look at the approval rates in the three main branches of research shows that researchers from all disciplines were equally successful in gaining funding. Researchers from the natural and technical sciences accounted for the largest relative share, followed by their colleagues from biology and the humanities and social sciences.

Mehr Anträge denn je: Österreichs Forschende reichten Forschungsprojekte im Umfang von über einer Milliarde Euro ein, davon konnte der FWF Vorhaben im Umfang von 243,6 Millionen ins Rollen bringen (in Mio. Euro, 2020).

More funding for international cooperation than ever before

The Austrian Science Fund FWF also focused specifically on promoting internationalism: nearly three-fourths of all ongoing projects in 2020 were carried out together with international partners. The corona crisis has clearly shown that having a strong international network is a crucial success factor. In terms of the international programmes, the FWF awarded €38 million in funding in 2020, the highest amount in this area in FWF history.

International peer-review with the world’s leading researchers

International quality standards also determine the FWF’s allocation of funding, with decisions being made solely based on the excellence of the proposed research. In 2020, the FWF sought approx. 4,900 international reviews from 73 countries to evaluate nearly 3,000 applications, with most of the reviews coming from researchers in the USA, Germany, and the UK.

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 Austrian cutting-edge research: more than two-thirds of the 3,000 researchers who prevailed in the quality-based competition were younger than 35.

Die FWF-Grants eröffnen der nächsten Generation neue Wege: Zwei Drittel aller FWF-geförderten Spitzenforscher/innen sind jünger als 35 Jahre.

Focus on corona research: 24 projects approved in fast-track procedure

The Austrian Science Fund FWF responded to the corona pandemic with a fast-track funding procedure for corona research. Projects and studies were submitted by a total of 286 researchers from all over Austria, of which 24 were granted funding to the tune of €8 million. These include, among others, clinical studies, biomedical research projects, and sociological analyses to provide an overall understanding of the effects of the crisis.

Province ranking: Vienna, Tyrol, and Styria in the lead

Nearly two-thirds of the FWF’s funding budget went to researchers working in Vienna. This is primarily due to the large number of universities and research institutions in Vienna. Tyrol was the runner-up with 14%, and Styria was third, receiving 12.9% of the funding. Other excellent research projects were launched in Upper Austria (4.3%), Lower Austria (3%), Salzburg (2%), Carinthia (1.2%), and Vorarlberg (0.4%). In total, 86% of the funds went to universities and around 14% to non-university research institutions.

Wien, Tirol und die Steiermark konnten die meisten Mittel für exzellente Grundlagenforschung einwerben.

New initiatives in research funding

In the 1,000 Ideas programme, which is being implemented for the first time, 24 high-risk projects could be launched at an early stage of development. In the new Young Independent Researcher Groups, four projects focused on promoting junior researchers received approx. €9 million in funding. As part of the draft proposal stage of the new transdisciplinary #ConnectingMinds programme, 56 teams from across Austria submitted proposals, and the first projects will start in 2021.

Improved presentation of performance figures in the new FWF Dashboard

You can find a review of 2020 and all the performance figures in this year’s FWF annual report. In addition, the new FWF Dashboard offers you access to all the key figures and statistics on the FWF’s funding programmes.

FWF Annual Report 2020 (pdf, 4.49MB) (accessible PDF, in German)
FWF-Dashboard (FWF website)

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