New FWF Grant Scheme “ASTRA” introduced: our reaction 

In a significant update to its grant portfolio, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has announced the launch of a new grant scheme named “ASTRA”, set to commence in the summer of 2024. This new programme for excellent postdoctoral research will replace the existing Start and Richter grants.

Key features of the ASTRA scheme include:

  • Annual selection of 18 awardees
  • Grant amounts ranging from EUR 500,000 to 1 million
  • An exclusive gender-specific tenure package offering an additional EUR 200,000 for female researchers, conditional upon receiving a qualification agreement within three years of the project’s start
  • Implementation of quotas and discipline-specific juries across three fields: Natural Sciences & Technology, Biomedicine, and Humanities & Social Sciences
  • A single call for proposals each year, with a five-year project duration
  • Eligibility for researchers 3-8 years post-PhD on limited contracts
  • At the interview stage, 25 candidates will be shortlisted, with seven non-selected finalists receiving a fixed grant of EUR 450,000.

During a meeting held on Monday, March 4th, 2024, we were briefed on updates by FWF President Christoph Gattringer. Representing the Elise Richter Network board at this gathering were Stefanie Widder and Doris Lucyshyn. Throughout our discussion, we acknowledged the potential benefits of the proposed changes, yet also voiced significant concerns. We stressed the need to broaden the eligibility timeframe and to incorporate those on part-time permanent contracts. While we put forward our recommendations, it is important to note that the meeting was informational rather than consultative, leaving the future adoption of these suggestions uncertain.

In the meeting the FWF has also pledged ongoing support for the Elise Richter Network, suggesting the future inclusion of ASTRA awardees.

If our concerns are addressed appropriately, we are confident that the new ASTRA scheme presents a promising opportunity worth considering. Further details and guidelines can be found on the FWF’s website.