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Massive threat to medical research and patient care if the medical universities' budgets are cut back

(Vienna, 18 Oct. 2010) The cuts in university budgets that were announced for the next performance period starting in 2013 would actually affect Austrian universities today. And they would hit medical universities in particular.

If the budget is simply rolled over this would mean that massive staff cutbacks would have to be implemented immediately at the medical universities in order to remain in line with the staff budget, which is under pressure due to value adjustments and biennial salary increases. This amounts to over 80% of public funds at the Medical University of Vienna, for example. At the two other places of public-status medical universities, in Graz and Innsbruck, the situation is similar.

180 fewer posts at MedUni Vienna, more than 1,000 fewer posts at Austrian universities
At MedUni Vienna a 2% salary increase would incur an additional annual need of € 6m. If biennial salary increases and general inflation increments for rents, material expenditure and investments (only for replacement purchases) are included, MedUni Vienna would need an additional € 10m in 2013 alone, calculated at today's prices, to maintain the status quo! In other words, staff cuts would have to start as early as next year, because by 1 Jan. 2013 at least 180 posts will have to be shed to finance the status quo after that; for 2014 and 2015 the same procedure would have to be repeated. When combining all Austrian universities, more than 1,000 posts will be affected by the austerity measures by 2013!

First casualty would be basic research, particularly clinical research
The looming staff cuts will initially have a direct impact on basic research. The entire medical staff at the Medical University of Vienna works at the Vienna General Hospital AKH (in Graz and Innsbruck as many as 50% work for regional clinics). Today the staff primarily carries out tasks of pure patient care so that little time remains for research and teaching. But clinical research in particular is the heart of medical universities! The current performance agreement which is valid until 2012 would have eased the situation to some extent: for the first time, MedUni Vienna would have sufficient funds available to increase its medical staff at least in some critical areas. This by itself gratifying development is now not just threatened by a stop but the staff figures will have to be reduced below the value before 2010.

Patients will also be affected
As well as basic research, patient care at AKH will be directly affected. Unless the City of Vienna agrees to step in and offset the loss, which is its task, it might not be possible to maintain the present quality of care. Because apart from the reduction in the number of physicians during core working hours, the allocation of medical staff at night and on weekends will no longer be possible in its current form in order to comply with the Federal Act on hospital doctors' working time.

Collapse in funds for research expected
Since they were hived off in 2004 the medical universities have succeeded in catching up with a great deal of basic research. Not only as regards the sharp rise in publications in prestigious medical journals but also the substantially increased funds which could be acquired from national (FWF) and international research promotion (EU projects) draw an impressive picture. This is where the medical universities are threatened by dramatic cuts if they are no longer able to invest in their scientific staff and infrastructure (a vital necessity to successfully acquire competitive funds).

Medical uni rectors call for continued public research financing
The policy-makers' request that universities should increasingly obtain private funds, such as sponsoring or fundraising, under these circumstances is void because:

1. the revenues of almost all public universities have, since their hive-off from the Federal Government, already increased many times more than revenues in the form of public funds;

2. private funds largely flow into contract research, whereas private funding of basic research does not have such a strong tradition in Central Europe as it does in Anglo-Saxon countries;

3. neither contract research nor private research promotion serves to finance permanent staff and infrastructure; and

4. the state must not shy away from the priority of financing basic research. This also includes clinical research, which is chronically underfinanced or unfinanced by the Federal Government. Basic research secures the welfare state in the long run, it is the only research field which is obliged to disclose all its findings and the only one which finally guarantees applied research at a high level. As it is also where the best brains have learned to do research – in basic research.