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Austrian institute wins €1-billion commitment

Posted on behalf of Alexandra Bell.

Austria is a small country with big ambitions for its research base. The Institute of Science and Technology (IST), founded with much fanfare (and some controversy) three years ago in the countryside north of Vienna, is its flagship project.

Intended to bypass the rules and bureaucracy that have in the past stifled publicly funded research institutes in Austria, the IST operates according to rules that allow, for example, both tenure-track and short-term hiring of scientists. It is also multidisciplinary, covering sciences ranging from neuroscience to physics.

On 22 February, the IST’s co-founders — the federal government of Austria and the provincial government of Lower Austria — signed an agreement for its long-term future that has caused Austrian scientist’s jaws to drop.

Right now, the IST receives €20 million (roughly US$27 million) per year. But each year between 2017 and 2026, the institute will receive €65.8 million, and an additional €16.6 million if it achieves agreed research-quality criteria. A further €16.6 million is available to match external grants won by the institute’s scientists. By 2027, the institute is expected to host up to 100 research groups and 1,000 scientists.

The Austrian Academy of Sciences, which receives just €85 million per year from the federal government to spread among its 65 research institutes, was none too pleased by this announcement, referring in a statement to “an unjustified privilege for the IST Austria which will adversely affect the overall strengthening of science and research in Austria”.

As the IST’s future gleams, one of its first tasks had been a coming-to-terms with the inglorious past of its own grounds, a nineteenth-century mental hospital whose inmates became subjects for Nazi experiments in the early 1940s. The institute has created a memorial to commemorate the hundreds who died during medical experiments, such as electroshock studies, and through maltreatment.

Image: IST

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