Clusters of Excellence (COE)

Target group
World-class researchers at Austrian research institutions

The COE is led by a coordinator who also acts as the Director of Research and is thus responsible for the entire research programme of the COE. The Director of Research is an outstanding researcher who works at the lead research institution.

The coordination work of the Director of Research is supported by a Board of Directors (BOD), in which each of the collaborating research institutions is represented by at least one person; the lead research institution can appoint, in addition to the Director of Research, other members to the BOD.

The research work within the COE is conducted by key researchers whose work is coordinated by the Director of Research and the BOD.

Associate Researcher: Individual researchers (at Austrian research institutions that are not lead or collaborating research institutions) who contribute with a specific expertise, can be integrated as associate researchers into the cluster. No own contributions are recognized by this research institution.

Clusters of Excellence (COE) are the first of three pillars of the excellent=austria funding initiative to strengthen Austria’s position as a top location for research within the international scientific community. The dimension and scope of the research conducted in a cluster go far beyond what was previously possible within the FWF’s existing programme portfolio.

COEs enable groups of researchers at Austrian research institutions to achieve outstanding cooperative research results (including arts-based research) in one area or interdisciplinarily and to firmly establish this research area in Austria in the long term at a top international level. COEs thus play a central role in shaping and strengthening core research areas at the participating research institutions.

COEs provide young researchers with outstanding research training, career development, and research-based education to create optimal conditions for the next generation of researchers to be competitive on the international level. COEs are committed to equal opportunities and diversity in all its activities. COEs have an impact beyond the realm of science and actively pursue the exchange of knowledge and technology through cooperation with social and/or economic partners. Thus, to achieve the programme’s objectives, synergies should be developed between world-class research, research-based education, the promotion of young researchers, (inter-) national networks, and the transfer of knowledge.   

  • World-class research  
  • International competitiveness of Austrian research   
  • Sustainable funding
  • Creation of synergies by enabling achievements that could not be reached by individual research institutes
  • Brain gain from Austria and abroad
  • Equal opportunities and diversity
  • High-quality promotion of young researchers and research-based education
  • Promotion of science communication and knowledge transfer
  • Support in use of results from basic research in business and society

Board of Directors (between five and eight persons, including the Director of Research, at least one person per research institution)

Director of Research at the lead research institution:

  • proven experience with the competitive acquisition and coordination of internationally visible research projects, ideally as part of inter-institutional collaborations (e.g., SFB, research groups, or equivalent international programmes)
  • management and leadership experience in cooperative research

additional members of the Board of Directors

  • high-profile scientists at the lead or partner research institutions
  • The BOD may also include members with non-research-specific expertise upon the approval of the COE. The number of eight people must not be exceeded.

Additional requirements:

  • These individuals (coordinator, members of the Board of Directors) must be employed at least 66% of the time or hold a leadership position relevant to the CoE / BOD at the lead or, respectively, collaborating research institution.

Research Institutions

A COE consists of a lead research institution and a minimum of two and a maximum of seven partner research institutions.

  • All Austrian research institutions are generally eligible to act as lead research institutions and collaborating research institutions.
  • Lead research institutions must, however, have experience with carrying out competitively acquired cooperative research grants involving multiple collaborating research institutions (e.g., cooperative programmes of the FWF and internationally comparable programmes).
  • Besides the lead research institution, at least two but no more than seven other research institutions may participate as collaborating research institutions in the proposal.  
  • At least one of the research institutions must have the right to confer doctoral degrees according to the Austrian Universities Act 2002.
  • The number of proposals a research institution is eligible to submit in the role of lead research institution is limited and is based on the maximum amount of FWF funding acquired by that institution over the last few years (Appendix A (pdf, 90KB)).
  • However, the number of proposals in which a research institution can appear as a collaborating research institution is unlimited.

60 months (extendable by another 60 months after an interim evaluation)

Amount of funding

  • The annual budget of a COE must be between €2 and €7 million per year.
  • 60% of the total costs can be requested from the FWF.
  • The applying lead and collaborating research institutions must contribute 40% of the total costs on their own

The consortia invited to submit a pre-proposal can merge two or more LOIs (match-and-merge procedure) until 2 November 2021, 2 p.m. (elane).
The submission of the pre-proposals is possible between 3 November 2021 and 15 December 2021, 2 pm (elane).


All consortia whose LOIs meet the criteria will be invited to submit COE pre-proposals (publication of guidelines: 1 September 2021; deadline for submitting pre-proposals: 15 December 2021). The pre-proposals are subject to an international review according to the usual quality criteria of the FWF. The FWF Board will create a shortlist on the basis of the reviews if an exceptionally large number of proposals are received. At the end of June 2022, the selected projects will be invited to draft a full proposal, which must be submitted by October 2022. The final funding decision will be made at the end of March 2023 by the FWF Board on the basis of hearings before an international jury.



Electronic application portal

Webinars and advice on applying
Starting in June 2021, the FWF will offer webinars on the application process to interested researchers and representatives of research institutions. You can find dates and how to register here online.