"Globalization of Science and Technology - Challenges and Chances in Austria"

Austrian Science Talk 2010 in Vancouver, Canada  

bridges vol. 27, October 2010 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad

By Stefan Eichberger

Peter Storer (Attaché for cultural affairs at the Austrian Embassy in Canada)
Peter Nagele (ASciNA)
Gertraud Oberzaucher (BMVIT)
Philipp Marxgut (Austrian attaché for science & technology in North America)
Friedrich Faulhammer (BMWF)

A hotel in Canada Place in Vancouver, located right next to the glass-covered sculpture that held the Olympic flame in February, was the September 2010 venue of the seventh Austrian Science Talk. Approximately 100 Austrians, most of them academic scholars and scientists working in North America, participated in the conference, which centered this year on the topic of "Globalization of Science and Technology - Challenges and Chances in Austria." Peter Storer (Attaché for cultural affairs at the Austrian Embassy in Canada), Peter Nagele (ASciNA), Gertraud Oberzaucher (Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology, BMVIT), and Philipp Marxgut (Austrian attaché for science & technology in North America) delivered the opening remarks. Many of the participants had arrived the night before the Austrian Science Talk 2010 officially began to attend the ASciNA Awards (click here to read the bridges ASciNA Award report).

News from the Austrian S&T policy front

The first panel was a Q&A session with Friedrich Faulhammer, secretary general of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science and Research (BMWF), and Ingolf Schädler, deputy director general of innovation at the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology. "By all means, we are aware of the faults," replied Schädler to the question of "what will happen next, now that the announcement and system evaluation of a new RTI-Strategy has been made, with recommendations of the Austrian Institute of Economic Research?" At the same time, "some things worked very well," he continued. This could be seen through indicators such as the comparatively high research intensity and the positive reports of patent statistics. For the future, in any case, it would be important to "integrate and simultaneously reform the educational system." Scientific research needs new blood and must become even more internationalized. Schädler also talked about the future of research funding. He stated that an emphasis is being put on the four areas of energy, mobility, information and communication technology, and efficient production processes. At the same time though, research funding will, as always, stay open for other sectors as well.

Friedrich Faulhammer concentrated on the future of Austria's university system and the excellence initiative. He stressed positive developments such as the establishment of the IST Austria and the goal of remodeling and strengthening Austria's Ph.D. programs. However, in the fields of mobility and internationalization Austria still has a lot of catching-up to do, according to Faulhammer. He also mentioned the necessity of bringing more role models to Austria's universities. Therefore, new appointments in the university sector should favor applicants with international experience over those who seek a promotion at the same institution.

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Chances and Challenges in Basic Research

Ingolf Schaedler (BMVIT)
Karin Gutierrez Lobos (vice rector of the Medical University of Vienna)
Thomas Koenig (ERC)
Helmut Leopold (AIT)
Arno Rettenbacher (Austrian researcher who worked in the US)
Friedrich Prinz (professor at Stanford University and keynote speaker)

"Autonomy has helped to give the universities more possibilities in the organization of their funds," claimed Karin Gutierrez Lobos, vice rector of the Medical University of Vienna, in the second panel of the day. As an example, she described the Medical University of Vienna, where junior professorships were created and several new positions were advertised through such autonomy. In addition, she stated the need to push the currently important fields of systematic patent exploitation and strategic human resource planning.

Thomas König, who represented the European Research Council (ERC) at the Austrian Science Talk, was confronted with a question about scientific excellence as the only criterion when assessing proposals at the ERC. "This is exactly what makes the ERC and the sponsored projects that successful," König stated. "There is a fierce competition between different countries to see who can get the most grants." Equally important, however, was the question of which country can attract the most grant recipients."

Applied Scientific Research as Impulse for the Industry or vice versa?

In the third panel, Helmut Leopold, who heads the department for safety and security at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), looked back on AIT's first year of operation and gave an overview of the Institute's areas of business. His goal for AIT is "to play in the Champions League." To do so, one needs to focus on a few selected areas. In several of these (e.g., medical engineering and telemedicine) AIT is already among the very best worldwide, according to Leopold.

Arno Rettenbacher, a researcher from the Austrian region Tyrol who worked in the US before accepting an offer with Swarowski and returning to Austria after several years abroad, gave a presentation from a "re-patriate"'s point of view. He returned to Austria in 2008 and explained what he believes to be the main differences between the US and Austrian systems: transparency in scientific research, bureaucracy, and mobility.  He added that "experience abroad is not a one-way street." Many young scientists, especially, tended to get the wrong impression about that, in Rettenbacher's opinion.

Keynote Speech

Friedrich Prinz, professor at Stanford University, was chosen to give the keynote speech titled "Globalization of Science and Technology: EU - USA - Asia." He outlined how Austria's position and, in the wider sense, Europe's position in the academic world have changed during the last 100 years and how the US and Asia have become more important. During WW II, many excellent scientists had to emigrate to the US, causing the focus in academics and science to shift from Europe to the US. The Asian influence during the past 30 to 40 years has grown immensely in this field as well, furthering globalization. Prinz stated that Austria's universities have great potential but that we need to partake more in the competition for the brightest minds. To do so, he believes legal foundation (in the sector of immigration law) and broad acceptance of cultural diversity to be crucial.

Afternoon Session: World Café

At Prinz's, Gutierrez Lobos', and Welzig's table 

The agenda concluded in the afternoon with the World Café, where all conference speakers discussed further related topics at seven separate tables. Michael Strebl (Salzburg AG), Elvira Welzig (AIT), Stefan Eichberger (Austrian Research Promotion Agency, FFG), Gertraud Oberzaucher, Philipp Marxgut, Peter Nagele, and Hans Nagl and Gisbert Mayr (both from the Austrian Business Agency) acted as (co-)hosts.

The topic of conversation at each table was roughly specified in advance, although similar subjects were touched upon at different tables depending on the discussants. The "Policy" table, led by Schädler and Faulhammer, concentrated on the topics of work permission, right of residence, and support with finding employment. At their "Innovation and Industry" table, Leopold, Strebl, and Rettenbacher focused on reasons (e.g., family) for returning to Austria. "Careers in Scientific Research" was the topic of Prinz's, Gutierrez Lobos', and Welzig's table, but the discussions also touched on scientific communication and the missing alumni tradition in Austria. At the "Founding a Company" table, Nagl and Mayr reported several cases with specific interest in founding a company in Austria. Oberzaucher, Marxgut, and Eichberger discussed the supply and demand of living and working in Austria and outlined the support the OST provided. They also spoke about the recently extended R&D online job listings, the grants by brainpower austria , and the future format of the Austrian Science Talk.

In the evening, a restaurant by Vancouver's harbor provided the perfect venue for concluding a successful day of conferencing and networking. Many of the Austrian scholars and scientists were first-time participants at the AST and went home with valuable information as well as many new contacts for staying in touch with each other, and with Austria, while in North America.


The author, Stefan Eichberger, is program manager of "brainpower austria," a program of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT), managed by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). {/access}