“Save fire-fighting water for the future”

ORF.at: Mr. Faßmann, Mr. Gattringer, we are sitting here to talk about money. How is persistently high inflation affecting the research landscape?

Heinz Faßmann: The academy has an annual budget of around 145 million euros, which is financed by the public purse. Of the 145 million euros, around 100 million are reserved for personnel and material costs, and a further 25 million for rental, energy and location costs. The remaining 20 million euros are used to finance programs and scholarships. Inflation is breaking through in all spending positions.

The entire non-university research budget for the years 2024 to 2026 (FTI package, note) is currently being determined. If you don’t take inflation into account now, you can expect significant setbacks.

Christof Gattringer: A lot of money has been spent on research in recent years. Accordingly, more people were hired and the infrastructure expanded. But then suddenly there is high inflation and all the growth we urgently need is gone in one fell swoop.

ORF.at: The ten research and research funding institutions received a total of 3.8 billion euros from 2021 to 2023 (FTI package, note). What do you think the next budget should be?

Faßmann: Simply adjusting for inflation will not be enough. With less, we would even have to start mining. This would mean, among other things, that contracts would no longer be renewed, which would primarily affect young people.

Heinz Fassmann and Christof Gattringer

ORF.at/Lukas Krummholz

For Faßmann it is clear that there must be a significant increase in the research budget

Gattringer: I want to chime in briefly. The FWF has around 4,500 people who are paid through our grants. And of those 4,500 people, about 70 percent are 35 or younger. If the funding doesn’t grow properly, then I see our young scientists at extreme risk.

ORF.at: Do you also have a specific budget sum or increase in mind?

Gattringer: So it has to be much more than inflation compensation. Otherwise we will not be able to implement the announced goals of the RTI Strategy 2030 as originally intended.

academy

The OeAW is the largest basic-oriented, non-university research institution in Austria. It is largely financed by the public purse. Today the academy operates 25 institutes, for example in the fields of archaeology, demography and quantum physics.

Faßmann: I agree with my colleague Gattringer. Simply adjusting for cumulative inflation is certainly not enough. That means status quo, and in research status quo actually means going backwards.

ORF.at: Politicians usually don’t skimp on superlatives when it comes to budgets. When the RTI Pact 2021-2023 was decided, you were still a minister. From today’s perspective, is the 3.8 billion euros too low?

Faßmann: Back then we increased the budget, which still applies today, by 27 percent. At the time, however, we assumed inflation would average two percent. Nobody could have guessed that it is now almost nine percent, but it shows where we want to go.

ORF.at: As with university funding, the question is whether a three-year agreement is the right instrument in a time of multiple crises.

Faßmann: It creates a certain degree of planning security for the research institutions, there is a ban on cuts for three years. But I could imagine that an opening clause would be built into future performance agreements. This means that if, for example, inflation exceeds a certain value in the coming years, renegotiations will have to be made.

Heinz Fassmann and Christof Gattringer

ORF.at/Lukas Krummholz

FWF boss Gattringer is also in favor of an opening clause in the three-year contract

ORF.at: Mr. Gattringer, do you still support the three-year agreement?

Gattringer: Absolutely. At the FWF, we have also started large flagship projects as part of the Excellence Initiative, which need to be secured in the long term. But an opening clause would be welcome. Then you could inject more money in an emergency so that the big projects don’t suddenly come to a standstill.

ORF.at: You are not the only ones knocking on the door of the government because of inflation. Are you afraid that research will get lost because of all the financial support?

Faßmann: That is a legitimate concern. Politicians are currently putting out many fires and trying to maintain socio-political peace with appropriate financial resources. This is important. However, you should also save some extinguishing water for the future. Concentrating on the present is right, forgetting about the future is dangerous.

Science Fund FWF

The Austrian Science Fund FWF is the central institution in Austria for the promotion of basic research. In addition to individual research projects, the FWF also supports larger special research areas and highly qualified researchers.

Gattringer: In this concert of voices, all of which are now justifiably calling for funds, research and science must also be listened to. As universities, non-university research institutions and sponsors, we want to create awareness that Austria will probably not be able to score with raw materials, but with knowledge and a well-educated society. The necessary funding is required for this.

Faßmann: We understand that the low earners in particular now need help to make ends meet. We understand that the companies are financially supported. However, science and research must not be forgotten.

ORF.at: Has this area been forgotten in recent years? You said yourself that investments have increased.

Gattringer: That’s right. We are concerned with the long-term nature of the financing. A budgetary zigzag course is counterproductive.

Faßmann: An example perhaps: If you want to be at the top in the field of quantum physics, you have to align your professional life accordingly. Doing research for a while and then not doing it again is not possible.

ORF.at: So don’t think and act in a sustainable enough way?

Faßmann: It’s no secret that politics is also day-to-day business and has to react to developments. But politicians also know that long-term planning is necessary. The budget framework, for example, is something that sets framework conditions for the future. In the Research Financing Act, the legislator deliberately spoke of long-term, growth-oriented financing.

Heinz Fassman

ORF.at/Lukas Krummholz

As a member of the government, Faßmann played a key role in today’s Research Funding Act

ORF.at: Before and after the Research Funding Act was passed two years ago, critics complained that it was not specific enough. A statutory budget increase would therefore have been better.

Faßmann: The clear majority in Parliament spoke out in favor of long-term, growth-oriented planning and financing security. We want to remind you that this declaration of intent is not forgotten.

ORF.at: Mr. Gattringer, are basic research projects secure in the long term given the high energy costs?

Gattringer: Of course there are laboratories that have a very high energy requirement and are directly affected by the energy crisis. But I think what’s hitting the sector even more is the inflation that comes with higher energy prices. We are also following the salary negotiations with interest because we have to raise salaries accordingly.

ORF.at: Does the FWF have to save in the coming year, when the RTI Pact from 2021 to 2023, i.e. the old budget, will still apply?

Gattringer: Rising wages will weigh on our budget by eight to nine percent more next year. This money is then missing in other places, for example in subsidies. And so the answer to your question is clearly yes.

FTI pact

The RTI Pact regulates the financing of non-university research in Austria. The pact is decided on for three years. The current agreement runs from 2021 to 2023, the next from 2024 to 2026. The budget is put together by the ministries of science, technology and economy.

ORF.at: Basic research projects that the FWF has already funded would then come to a standstill?

Gattringer: Current projects are subject to a legally valid contract. I don’t see it as endangered. But we will be able to approve fewer applications in the coming year. As a rule, this means fewer research funds for the younger group of researchers.

ORF.at: We talked about budgetary approval from politicians. How important is social acceptance to you?

Faßmann: You’re addressing scientific skepticism. We are all doing a lot at the moment to gain even more understanding for our research in the future. The support of the population is important to us, it is also necessary. But I believe, despite some skeptics, that science also has this backing.

Gattringer: Science is always a process of organized criticism. Science is not final. We learn from results every day. We probably have to communicate this more strongly in order to reduce the skepticism.

ORF.at: Isn’t it a problem that research and science are often said to live in an ivory tower?

Faßmann: Every researcher is interested in their own research. You shouldn’t blame the people who work in the system for that either. You want to do research. But of course the institution must ensure that the research results are disseminated. We can certainly do more there, no question about it.

Gattringer: We have doubled the budget for science communication. But there is always room for improvement.

Heinz Fassmann and Christof Gattringer

ORF.at/Lukas Krummholz

Faßmann and Gattringer agree that there is room for improvement when it comes to external communication

Faßmann: There is always room for improvement, but we are already doing a lot. We are involved in the children’s university. The academy goes into the classroom with researchers. This goes down very well with the children. We also have to go there in order to reduce the sometimes existing scientific skepticism.

ORF.at: I’ll come back briefly to the budget situation. Mr. Gattringer, is it an advantage if you can fall back on a former government politician as a contact person who has experienced the mechanisms of politics?

Gattringer: It probably doesn’t hurt. What is more important, however, is that my colleague Faßmann and I share a common approach: we are talking about a system in which all players have to work well together. This common understanding helps us to set up the research area well.

ORF.at: Mr. Faßmann, you are now back in research or science. Do you long to get back into politics?

Faßmann: I liked being in politics, and now I like being President of the Academy. As a politician, you have to hope that key nodes in the system, such as the FWF, implement things the way you envisioned them. Now I’m a hub myself and can implement things in a way that suits the system.

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