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Jahrespk 2019 01
From left to right: Coordinator of the FWF Young Independent Researcher Groups Programme Muammer Ücal, Federal Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann, FWF President Klement Tockner, FWF Schrödinger Scholar Alice Vadrot

Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann and Austrian Science Fund FWF President Klement Tockner strongly advocate competition in basic research

Austria is a small country in terms of geographic size. But more and more researchers from the country’s universities and other research institutions are competing successfully in the worldwide race for new and ground-breaking basic research results. Evidence of this can be found in current statistics, which were presented by Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann and FWF President Klement Tockner in a joint press conference at the APA press centre on 14 May 2019.

Minister Heinz Faßmann began his remarks by referring to the OECD Review of the Austrian RTI ecosystem published last December, which takes a largely positive view of Austria’s development. “Austria spent about € 12.3 billion on research and development in 2018. This translates into an R&D rate of 3.19 per cent, which is second place in the EU, after Sweden with a rate of 3.25 per cent, and puts Austria clearly above the EU average of slightly over two per cent in 2015,” explained Minister Faßmann. The Review also sets forth a number of clear-cut recommendations – concerning, among other things, competitive funding of basic research – which Minister Faßmann sees as part of his remit for the future. He underlined his belief in the effectiveness of government policies, saying that “we have a comprehensive and ambitious government policy programme before us, and I am convinced that this programme will be fully implemented in the field of research and science.”

FWF President Klement Tockner pointed to the massive leverage effect of competitive funding, which he said is the only funding policy that ensures excellent quality and will put Austria among the most attractive countries worldwide for business and science. “Independent studies have impressively shown that competitively funded research projects create more output,” said President Tockner. In terms of quality, FWF-funded projects are on a level with innovation leaders such as Sweden and Israel (see chart(jpg, 444KB)). Current numbers reflect the outstanding input-output effect of FWF funding: “Two per cent of all R&D spending give rise to 50 per cent of Austria’s top publications. You cannot use a euro more effectively,” concluded President Tockner (see_chart(jpg, 542KB)).

President Tockner, himself an internationally active researcher in aquatic ecology, also spoke about international competition for the best scientific talent. Likewise, Minister Faßmann underlined the importance of supporting young researchers in Austria. “We must successfully recruit, promote and fund top-flight international researchers and the most promising young talent. We have to provide a viable perspective for this up-and-coming young generation, or they will move elsewhere,” Minister Faßmann and FWF President Tockner agreed.

At the event, outstanding researchers Alice Vadrot (FWF Schrödinger scholar, ERC Starting Grant 2018) and Muammer Ücal (coordinator of the FWF Young Independent Researcher Groups programme) talked about their career in high-level research. With the support of FWF, they both have been able to successfully compete at the international level.

“Austria has incredible research potential, which we need to exploit fully,” said President Tockner, expressing his “absolute confidence that the federal government will implement its plans under the Advancement Drive for Research, Technology and Innovation, writing research history in the process.”

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