research funding in switzerland
© John Wollwerth |

Here, Open Access Government maps out Switzerland’s research funding plans in 2020 onwards to maintain its position as a world leader in research, innovation, and education

The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) deals with matters relating to economic affairs, research, and education, and is where the Federal Government’s expertise on economic affairs and trade policy is concentrated. It has been headed since January 2019 by Guy Parmelin. On 9th December 2015, the Federal Assembly elected Guy Parmelin to the Federal Council. He took over as head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) in January 2016. Then, since January 2019 he has been head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research. The EAER combines education, research, and innovation – three areas deemed absolutely crucial for society and for Switzerland’s economic performance.

Switzerland has considerably expanded its international research activities since 2007 and now has one of the most international research communities in the world. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of joint publications by Swiss researchers and researchers from other countries rose by 88%. Under the current funding period (2017–2020), 530 grants from a budget of CHF 48.4 million have been awarded, including for research projects and mobility programmes, under the federal bilateral cooperation programmes in research and innovation – with an 85% success rate in the grant leading to a scientific publication.

What about the future?

To continue the strategy for employment, growth and prosperity in Switzerland and for securing sustainable development, it is important to secure access to research cooperation and funding programmes in Europe. In May of this year, the Federal Council adopted a dispatch on funding requesting Parliament to approve CHF 6,154 million in funding to secure Switzerland’s participation in the Horizon package. (1) This ‘2021-2027 Horizon package’ consists of Horizon Europe, the EU’s next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, due to start in 2021, and also three other European initiatives. Provided Parliament approves this funding, the Federal Council and the EU will be able to renew their bilateral research agreement and secure Switzerland’s continued and uninterrupted participation in the Horizon package as an associated state.

Switzerland intends to participate fully in the entire package, and it is Switzerland’s aim to ensure its researchers can take part in the first calls for proposals of Horizon Europe and its initiatives. Competing and networking for funding on an international level positively affects the quality and competitiveness of research and innovation in Switzerland. According to a study by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation, Swiss participation in the Framework Programmes also has numerous economic and social benefits. It is therefore in the interests of Switzerland and its research and innovation landscape that this participation should continue.

National vs International

While it is extremely important to cooperate with Europe for the Swiss economy to remain dynamic and competitive, Switzerland must also request funding on a national level. On 26th February, the Federal Council adopted the Dispatch on the Promotion of Education, Research and Innovation (ERI) for the period 2021- 2024 for the attention of Parliament. It is requesting almost CHF 28 billion over the next four years with the aim to ensure that Switzerland remains an international leader in the field of education, research and innovation. Digitalisation plays a large part in this, with one of the main challenges being digital transformation.

These are the Federal Council’s priorities as set out in the ERI Dispatch for 2021-2024:

Vocational and Professional Education and Training (VPET): The Federal Government supports the practical training of skilled workers. It encourages innovative projects that prepare the VPET domain for digital transformation and lifelong learning, to maximise the potential of workers in Switzerland.

Continuing Education and Training (CET): To help and support workers keep up to date with technological changes in the workplace the Federal Government, together with the cantons, promotes adult basic skills courses, particularly in the fields of languages, information and communication technology, and numeracy.

Digital transformation: The ERI policy supports actors in coping with and shaping digital change in all areas. The Federal Government will continue the efforts already initiated in the Action Plan on Digital Transformation to improve digital skills in the field of ERI. It will also support the development of ‘digital skills’ and research capacity in strategic areas (artificial intelligence, Industry 4.0, cybersecurity).

Higher education: The Federal Government calls on the institutions of the ETH Domain to play a leading role as drivers of innovation through excellence in teaching and research and knowledge transfer.

Promotion of research and innovation: The Federal Government, together with the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF and Innosuisse, funds efficient promotion agencies committed to competition. The SNSF focuses on free basic research and promoting the careers of young scientists, while Innosuisse concentrates on application-oriented research from the fields of science and industry. (2)

ERI policy contributes towards long-term development and equal opportunities in all fields. In so doing, it also contributes towards implementing the 2030 Agenda and thus supports preparatory work on the 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy. Federal Councillor Parmelin stated: “Our mission is clear: we must maintain our excellence in these areas and if possible, further develop it.” Cutting-edge research is essential and with the ERI research plans for 2021-2024, Switzerland is on the path to achieving this.



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