Good prospects for Austrian basic research: Austrian Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann and FWF President Christof Gattringer sign the FWF financing agreement with a three-year funding volume of €806 million © FWF/Daniel Novotny

Austrian Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann and FWF President Christof Gattringer signed the new three-year financing agreement on 22 September 2021. The Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research has made a total of €806 million in funding between 2021 and 2023 available for groundbreaking basic research to researchers who are able to succeed in the FWF’s quality-based competition for funds. This is an increase of 27% compared to the previous three years. In addition to the FWF’s proven funding opportunities such as the Stand-Alone Projects or Career Development programmes, researchers can in future also establish large-scale world-class research clusters thanks to the new “excellent=austria” excellence initiative.

There can be no scientific breakthroughs without basic research: as a major driving force of innovation, it helps make the country future-proof. The Austrian Federal Government already emphasised the importance of basic research in its RTI strategy, and the new financing agreement between FWF and BMBWF has now established the key priorities and financial details. The agreement provides FWF and the researchers supported by it with more certainty for their long-term planning and a larger funding volume on the part of BMBWF, increasing the total of BMBWF funds to €806 million. This is an increase of 27% compared to the previous three years. More excellent-rated projects than before can be launched over the next three years—all research work that will play a crucial role in making Austria future-proof. 

“Cutting-edge research is an expedition into the future. Thanks to the additional funds, FWF can send even more researchers on a journey to gain entirely new insights for the world of tomorrow. The knowledge produced by basic research will in future be crucial in further enhancing Austria’s innovative power and resilience”, explains Austrian Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann at the signing of the FWF financing agreement.

“What is at stake in the financing agreement is nothing less than the future proofing of our country. More researchers than before will be able to receive funding from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and thus rise to become leading researchers in their fields. From archaeology to artificial intelligence, mathematics to medicine, and ecology to economics—outstanding basic research in its entire breadth helps prepare us for the challenges of tomorrow”, says FWF President Christof Gattringer, welcoming the increased endowment of the FWF funding budget by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.

From left to right: Georg Kaser, Scientific Vice President; Christof Gattringer, President; Ellen Zechner, Scientific Vice President; Ursula Jakubek, Executive Vice President; Austrian Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann.

© FWF/Daniel Novotny

Key aspects of the financing agreement

The key elements of the financing agreement are based on the objectives of the RTI pact adopted by the Austrian Federal Government in December 2020. These include continued support for stand-alone projects in all fields of basic and arts-based research, FWF participation in EU cooperation arrangements, the establishment of the “excellent=austria” excellence initiative, the expansion of RTI collaborations, career development for women, promotion of young researchers, and the development of innovative foundation models.

Promoting outstanding basic research across the board

The financing agreement stipulates that over the next three years, half of all FWF funds from BMBWF go towards traditional project funding (i.e., to programmes such as Stand-Alone Projects, Clinical Research, Programme for Arts-based Research). A total of €388.44 million is intended for these programmes. €185.81 million is reserved for expanding international cooperation. A third priority with €152.30 million in funding focuses on the career development of outstanding researchers, thus enabling them to reach their full creative and innovative potential at Austrian universities and other research institutions. Through Austria’s “excellent=Austria” excellence initiative, FWF is working together with universities to help researchers enter into a new dimension of research funding. In the first stage of the initiative, the “Clusters of Excellence”, open-topic basic research projects of an unprecedented scale are to be implemented at several locations. The financing agreement provides €84 million in funding for the first grants as part of the excellent=austria initiative. Public outreach and knowledge transfer remain integral parts of the FWF’s funding portfolio, with activities in this area receiving €13.64 million in funding over the next three years.

Quality and international peer review procedure

The high reputation of FWF-funded research projects is largely due to the quality of the selection and review process. It is crucial in future to continue to develop the international peer review procedure and the decision-making process in order to best be able to recognise scholarly excellence, creative talent, and particularly innovative approaches. The financing agreement foresees the continuation of the FWF’s internal quality assurance, including the further digitalisation of the administration of funding. Equal opportunity and gender mainstreaming measures are also implemented. Based on independent evaluations and transparent impact monitoring, FWF will also continue in future to offer information about the quality of its funding activities.

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