Austria should invest in brains, not in bricks, banks or airlines


Because of uncertainty about this year's science budget, as expressed in your News in Brief story 'Austrian scientists rattled by threat to funding' (Nature 457 648; 2009), the Austrian science fund FWF has postponed its first two board meetings of 2009. It has frozen all decisions on already-reviewed grant applications until May 2009. As the FWF is by far the most significant public agency supporting basic research in Austria, any reduction of its moderate budget would be a devastating blow.

This uncertainty puts the Austrian government's recent efforts to advance science, and to attract internationally renowned scientists, into serious jeopardy. Because the basic subsidy for universities is low, scientists have been relying heavily on competitive funding from the FWF.

We find it obscene that the government is pursuing its plan to establish an 'elite university' near Vienna — the Institute of Science and Technology Austria — while competitive funding is at risk. Do the institute's newly appointed president and his senior academic staff know that one crucial pillar of their budget is cracking? Do our gifted young students preparing for an academic career recognize that, without funding by the FWF, the academic world is at risk? Do their parents know that their children are heading down a blind alley?

We hope that our officials consider what is best for the future of the country: invest in brains — not bricks, banks or airlines. Knowing what technology means for a country, the US National Institutes of Health has just received additional funding of $10.4 billion. Perhaps Austrian students and scientists will again have to go west to the United States to survive the current global economic crisis.

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Freissmuth, M., Huck, S. Austria should invest in brains, not in bricks, banks or airlines. Nature 458, 571 (2009).

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