How Funding creates Futures: Austrian Science Fund (FWF) Press Conference
Once again the research billion was on everyone's lips. Austrian Science Fund president Klement Tockner himself guided the not-too-numerous audience through this well-organized morning. Accompanied by executive vice-president Mrs. Artemis Vakianis, he reviewed 2016 with charts and numbers regarding grant applications, approved projects, publication support, personnel, requested and received expert opinions. The FWF has an interface function between the Austrian federal government and scientists working in basic research and raising third party funds in competitive peer review processes. Tockner put emphasis on the streamlined administration of the FWF, the comparative perspective between Europe and the research nation Austria. Although No. 2 regarding R&D rate (SWE 1., CH: 3., NL: 11.), Austria's investment into basic research is less than one-fifth of R&D resources compared to top research nations (one-third). Innovation leaders' funding budgets are also better endowed. Compared to similar funding organizations in other European countries, FWF receives 24 € per resident per annum (GER 37 €, NL 51 €, FIN 76 €, CH 97 €). Whereas Switzerland increased the budget of its National Fund (SNF) in the forthcoming year to 110 € per resident per annum, FWFs budget has been stagnating since 2011. Though in a midterm review of BMWFW (2016) various initiatives were triggered to appear among the innovation followers, it comes unanimously with RFTE's annual report to the conclusion that overriding goal of the government won't be achieved. The European Research and Innovation Observatory (RIO) states in the country report (May 12, 2017; p.4):
"Funding for basic research in Austria is low compared to both EU and international innovation leaders. The relatively low amounts of competitive funding for basic research channelled through the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) limit the potential for the emergence of a critical mass in specific scientific fields. Since excellence in basic research strongly correlates with universities' commercialisation capabilities, this may also hold back knowledge transfer and innovation. Public funding for universities will be increased by over €1b in the period 2016-2018, but its impact cannot be assessed yet."
Even if FWF is sworn to equal treatment of all disciplines, the approval of funding differs: Humanities & Social Sciences 20,0%, Biology & Medicine 37,9%, Science & Technology 42,0%. According to Artemis Vakianis the 20% can be explained by a lower application volume in this field. It should also be noted that this problem cannot be seen only locally (Nussbaum, Martha: Not For Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton University Press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-691-14064-3). How far the percentage per se will discourage future scientists in humanities and their applying for grants, should be discussed under aspect of the big questions. Bringing together the low output rate und input, Tockner stresses again the necessity of realization of research billion by government. The step-by-step increase of FWF budget from 184 million € up to 290 million € in 2021 would put the plan back on track towards innovation leadership. It is unacceptable that excellent research and applications had to be rejected due to lack of financial resources. Especially, young and early stage researchers' future would be obstructed. It takes time up to the average age of 42 years, according to Tockner, until local researchers can hope for a long-term professional perspective. Awarding the most prestigious Wittgenstein-Award in Austria, which honored the work of experimental physicist Hanns-Christoph Nägerl (Innsbruck) this year, can be seen just as point-by-point intervention. However, these prizes have effects on the future of a scientist. Nägerl honestly admits, he would definitely have left Austria, if not being awarded with the START-prize by former BMBWK in 2003. Furthermore, Hannes Fellner (linguistics), Vera Fischer (mathematical logic), Claudine Kraft (molecular biology), Wolfgang Lechner (physics), Andrea Pauli (molecular pathology), Miriam Unterlass (material chemistry) received the START-prize 2017. Certainly, intermediaries like FWF seeing itself as trustees, make a decisive contribution to the creation of future in open access issues, innovative funding formats, strengthening research culture, quality control and strategic planning. But there is also critique from academic and scientific community far away from Austria in the northern parts of Europe. Self-organized fund allocation (SOFA) focuses on the inefficiency of peer-review system and could be attuned in practice within small research communities. SOFA is not to be confused with FWF's Matching-Fund-Modell, which is built upon old traditional election campaign system. It remains to be hoped that basic research funding in Austria won't be as frightened and shy as the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)