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Austria is a small and open advanced European economy which had seen rapid progress in its research and innovation system. Keeping up the dynamic development of the Austrian innovation system is an important task. After nearly two decades of sustained growth, the expansion of R&D expenditure has slowed in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and constraints on public R&D expenditure are tight in current budgets. The main challenge is to increase the efficiency of current spending and to continue structural and institutional reforms in research organisations and public administration while launching new initiatives to address some of the main bottlenecks perceived in the research, technology and innovation system. In March 2011, the Austrian Council of Ministers announced a new Research, Technology and Innovation (RTI) Strategy for 2011-20: Becoming an Innovation Leader.

Hot Issues

Hot Issues are major national STI policy priorities, as self-reported by countries in their responses to the OECD STIO 2014 policy questionnaire.

Industry-science linkages

Industry-science linkages have improved in recent years, with an average share of public research funded by industry (Panel 1o). Longstanding initiatives to promote strategic science-industry collaboration include the competence centres for excellent technologies (COMET), co-operation and innovation networks (COIN-Net), as well as the Christian Doppler (CD) Laboratories. The Josef Ressel Centres programme (started in 2012) applies the principles of the CD Labs in local contexts. The Laura Bassi centres of expertise support a forum for skilled female and male researchers from academia and the private sector to work together. Recent initiatives include the Knowledge Transfer Centres and IPR Commercialisation Programme (2014-18) and new rules and guidelines for the ownership and licensing of publicly funded research results and IPR licensing support for PRIs.

Improving the education system (in general or focusing on tertiary education)

Against the backdrop of increased international competition, Austria is preparing for a potential lack of human resources for STI.To ensure the required supply, education is a key part of the RTI Strategy. The New Secondary School initiative is a major educational reform and the MINT Programme aims to improve education in mathematics, IT, natural science and technology. Forschungskompetenzen für die Wirtschaft is an initiative to build R&D skills, while the Lifelong Learning Strategy and the Lifelong Guidance Strategy aim to increase human capital at all levels. Joint ministerial programmes such as Jugend innovativ, Sparkling Science and Innovation Generation aim to stimulate interest in and skills for STI in young people.

Innovation to contribute to addressing social challenges (including inclusiveness)

Like other advanced countries, Austria faces social challenges related to ageing, health and climate change, which the government intends to address through STI. A number of inter-ministerial working groups on societal challenges have been created in recent years, and Austria has joined seven out of ten EU Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs). In one of the JPIs, Urban Europe, Austria plays a leading role in its governance.

Strengthening public R&D capacity and infrastructures

Austria has been reinforcing its science base with relatively high public-sector R&D expenditure (Panel 1a). Its share of top 500 universities is in the upper middle OECD range and international publications are in line with the OECD median (Panel 1b, c). Maintaining healthy funding or university research, especially competitive project-based funding, is essential to their future performance. New performance contracts were concluded between the state and public universities and the Academy of Sciences in 2012 and 2013, respectively. To improve its research infrastructure, Austria takes an active part in the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) and is involved in several initiatives of the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). Austria co-ordinates the ERIC on Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI). Universities are encouraged to collaborate on R&D infrastructure investment and use.

Encouraging innovation in firms and supporting entrepreneurship and SMEs

Austria’s number of global corporate investors in R&D (Panel 1e) is at the OECD median, and foreign MNEs are the main force in R&D performed by large companies (Panel 2). However, many innovative, R&D-performing SMEs (Panel 2) are competitive in niche export markets and a noteworthy strength. Public support has shifted towards indirect support measures and moved slightly towards business R&D (Panel 4). The RTI Strategy seeks to increase research-intensive firms (particularly SMEs) by 3% a year and firms conducting R&D by 25% by 2020. To this end, the system of fiscal incentives was simplified in 2011, and the remaining instrument, the R&D premium, was raised from 8% to 10% to reach USD 691 million (EUR 547 million) in 2012. New initiatives include a package of measures (Jungunternehmer-Offensive) introduced in 2012 to support young entrepreneurs and the Frontrunner Initiative for leading innovative firms. A new voucher scheme for innovation in creative industries was introduced in 2013, and the Loan Initiatives for innovative start-ups as well as the AWS PreSeed and AWS Seed Financing schemes for high-technology companies were broadened and expanded.

Country Charts

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Selected Highlights

STI policy governance

With the adoption of the RTI Strategy in 2011, a task force comprising all relevant ministries was established to oversee its implementation, and issued a comprehensive plan in November 2013. A concept for innovation- related public procurement was adopted in 2012, with the Ministry of Science, Research and Economy and the Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology jointly overseeing its implementation.

New sources of growth

A “manufacturing of the future” initiative has a budget of USD 70-80 million to strengthen Austrian manufacturing through research on future technologies and processes. Austria does not currently have a technology advantage in biotechnology and ICT (Panel 3). The Biotechnology Action Plan bundles existing initiatives with new measures to promote the development of biotechnology with a budget of USD 60 million (2013-15). ICT of the Future is a new funding programme to support technology development and innovation in ICT applications linked to societal challenges.

New challenges

Austria’s technology advantage in environment- related technologies has increased in the past years (Panel 3). The new Energy Research Initiative (ERI) based on the 2010 Energy Strategy will support technology development for the production of renewable energy sources and the storage of CO2. The Cleantech Initiative provides risk capital for innovative enterprises in energy and environmental technologies The government-owned AWS Bank’s capital injection of USD 8.3 million (EUR 6.9 million) is expected to leverage around USD 42 million (EUR 35 million) in funding. E-Mobility is an initiative to develop a more sustainable and efficient transport system.

Clusters and regional policies

With the Automotive Cluster Styria, founded in 1995, Austria was an “early mover” in cluster policy. Almost every federal state (Land) runs cluster initiatives or incubators to link companies and research institutions around thematic priorities. Nationwide, there are more than 100 innovation infrastructure sites (Impulszentren). A national platform for clusters was established in 2008 to create a structured and co-operative forum for regional and national clusters. Around 55 cluster initiatives with around 10 000 partners and 20 technology parks participate in the platform. In 2014 the focus will be on enabling technologies and societal challenges.


The Go-International programme of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce encourages internationalisation, including of innovative firms. The export cheque for technology-oriented enterprises, for example, co-finances various activities of these businesses abroad. Austria is actively involved in EU activities, such as ERA-NET, Joint Programming Initiatives or Joint Technology Initiatives, and the government is working on the implementation of its STI internationalisation strategy “Beyond Europe” to strengthen collaboration outside the EU. The Austrian R&D funding schemes are generally receptive to co-funding and partnerships from abroad.

Recent developments in STI expenditures

GERD was 2.86% of GDP in 2013 (Key Figures) and is estimated to stay in this range in 2014 (Austrian Report on Research and Technology 2014). This puts Austria well ahead of the EU28 and OECD averages. Austrian growth of GERD – the fastest among EU countries during 2007-12 – has slowed recently due to budgetary constraints. The recent Work Programme for the Austrian Government 2013-18 endorses the objective to spend 2% of GDP on higher education by 2020. The government also supports the ambition to raise GERD to 3.76% of GDP by 2020, with up to 70% funded by business.