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Who is FWO

The research Foundation Flanders - FWO offers researchers in Flanders the opportunity to create knowledge.

The FWO: a unique place

New ideas, revolutionary insights, solutions to social issues ... scientific research makes an essential contribution to our society. The FWO offers researchers in Flanders the opportunity to create knowledge. Through our financial resources, we support:

  • Individual researchers (professors, doctoral students, postdocs and their teams). This is how we support both fundamental and strategic basic research in Flanders. Candidate researchers themselves propose relevant themes.
  • Tailor-made programmes and projects. Research programmes driven by researchers and specially designed programmes, such as applied biomedical research (TBM), are aimed at meeting specific needs.
  • Research infrastructure, both national and international, that provides our researchers with the tools they need to carry out their research at the highest level of excellence.

Our approach

The FWO uses leading international methods to evaluate applications and to distribute the available funds. We set out the criteria for peer review and let expert panels select the best research proposals. At the same time, we encourage international cooperation, both through projects and through the exchange of researchers. Together with VLAIO, the FWO is also responsible for NCP operation in Flanders. We want to take the lead in every field and strive for an innovative research policy, focusing on topical issues such as gender, diversity, open science, intersectoral mobility, knowledge security, the mental health of young researchers ...

Our mission

The FWO aims to be the leading funding partner for researchers in Flanders. By offering financial support and promoting international cooperation, we create a favourable climate for world-class scientific research. We are responsible for selecting the best research proposals based on international peer review. This ensures that the funding that the FWO in its turn receives from, first and foremost, the Flemish and, in addition, the federal level is used optimally.

Our approach

With our funding, we subsidise fellowships and research projects, infrastructure, travel grants and international scientific cooperation. We also work closely with other funding agencies. Going forward, we want to focus even more on:

  • European and global cooperation: we co-fund international research consortia, we participate in bi- and multilateral cooperation, and we support promising researchers who might narrowly have missed hugely competitive European grants.
  • Diversity and inclusion: we create more space for diverse research profiles and look out for specific groups that are overlooked, such as young potential with a migration background or a less favourable social background.
  • Innovative research: we allow researchers to think outside the box and propose bold scientific ideas. We encourage mission-driven research around crucial themes such as climate change, water quality or cancer.
  • Strong research infrastructure: we make every effort to provide today's and tomorrow's researchers with a research infrastructure that is sufficiently strong, both at home and abroad.
  • Open science: we encourage researchers to preserve their data and findings sustainably and share them with others responsibly. We encourage the use of Open Access, the FRIS research portal and other open science channels.
  • Objective evaluation: we adopt the best international standards to evaluate applications and to allocate our resources.

Our vision

Through research with impact, we change the world and make knowledge-boundary-breaking breakthroughs possible. Through excellent research, we expand the knowledge base on humans and their environment and explore promising areas around socio-economic value creation. To achieve this, we fund fellowships and research projects, infrastructure, travel grants and international scientific cooperation.

Our values

We subscribe to the values formulated by umbrella organisation Science Europe for funders of scientific research. As a funding partner, we strive for:

  • autonomy and freedom for researchers and their organisations;
  • caring and collegiality between researchers;
  • collaboration between researchers, both (inter)national and across sectors and domains;
  • equality, diversity and inclusion for all researchers;
  • integrity and ethics in the conduct and communication of any research;
  • transparency and openness at every level. 

In our daily work, we not only offer researchers our own resources, but also help them advance to the European and international levels. We maintain close ties with various Flemish and European networks, associations, research institutions and funding agencies. This is how we leverage the Flemish knowledge economy and strengthen its impact on the world by using qualitative peer review within the various funding channels.

Our history

After the First World War (1914-1918), many agreed that the Belgian economy needed more innovation for the country to get back up on its legs. When on 1 October 1927 King Albert I called for a new impulse for fundamental scientific research as the basis for more applied research and economic development, he only voiced what had already taken root among other policy makers. One concrete result was the establishment on 27 April 1928 of the National Fund for Scientific Research (Nationaal Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek). As one of the first research councils on the European continent. At this point, it was business that took the lead.

The NFWO initially had to work with modest resources. During its first year of operation, it awarded 158 grants in total, a number that over the subsequent years would increase. From the outset, it funded fellowships and, in addition, awarded 'associate’ fellowships, somewhat comparable to today's postdoctoral mandate. During the first 25 years of its existence, the NFWO awarded 456 candidates, a modest number in a contemporary perspective. Today, the FWO alone funds an average of 850 basic research fellows per year. The growing trend in the number of PhD fellowships since 1928 showed a particularly marked increase in the 1960s. The democratisation of university education played a significant role in this. The channel for postdoctoral fellowships exhibited a similar trend. Established academics could initially count on subsidies for scientists and resources for technical staff, research trips and equipment. It was only after the war that the research projects as we know them today were added. Already from the outset, applications submitted to the NFWO were decided on by 24 specialist scientific committees. The boundaries between basic and applied research were less defined then than now, however.

In response to the cross-border deployment of the sciences, the NFWO strengthened its international ties over the years. In 1974, for example, it was among the founding members of the European Science Foundation (ESF), and the FWO has, since then, continued its commitment to cooperation in Europe and with partners elsewhere in the world. The transnational dimension was further highlighted by travel grants and the encouragement of international scientific contacts in the context of research fellowships and projects.

The democratisation of higher education and the concept of the welfare state had a major impact on NFWO. As did Belgium's transformation into a federal state. From 1969, one year before the first reform of the Belgian state along community lines, the committees and the Board of Trustees were composed on the basis of language parity. In 1988, when a new state reform shifted science policy to the communities, a 'federalisation' of the FWO itself began. That process finally led to the creation in 1996 of the Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek - Vlaanderen (FWO), which concluded its first management agreement with the Flemish community the following year. The FWO saw its funds increase in the following years. The Flemish Community became the largest funder and today accounts for about 80 per cent of the FWO budget. In 2006, the FWO received the status of Foundation of Public Utility by Royal Decree and in 2009 it became an externally independent agency (EVA) by decree.

The FWO was for years the main supporter of fundamental research support. In 2014, however, the new Flemish coalition agreement contained a radical policy that disbanded the IWT which saw its programmes split between the FWO and the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO). The guiding principle in this reform was that academic researchers could primarily turn to the FWO and business to VLAIO. In line with this, the IWT programmes for strategic basic research (SBO) projects, the grants for predoctoral strategic basic research (SB grants) and applied biomedical research (TBM) were transferred to the FWO. It is, after all, academic institutions and their scientists that are taking the lead in this. The Hercules Foundation, which had been responsible for funding large and medium-sized research infrastructure since 2007, was also incorporated into the FWO. The expansion of the FWO offer and its administrative translation entailed quite a reform. This is now being fully rolled out.

The FWO has, of course, continued to evolve but has consolidated around the new and larger set of programmes and missions that had emerged since 2014. In 2022, the organisation moved to a new address at Leuvenseweg 38 in Brussels, which, as Hoek38, also is a home for Flemish science.

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