Targeted measures to consolidate Switzerland's position as a location for research and innovation

Now that Switzerland no longer has full access to the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe 2021-2027, national measures are needed to ensure that Switzerland can remain competitive internationally. The Federal Council therefore adopted two complementary measures in May 2022.

Author: Nicole Schaad
Two men working with robotics
The federal government has a number of coordinated support mechanisms at its disposal to sustain Swiss research and innovation activities. From 2023, two specific measures will complement this range of support mechanisms: the National Quantum Initiative and targeted expansion of international research cooperation. Photo: Oliver Oettli

Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation in many different research areas. It also has very extensive international networks. This allows researchers in Switzerland to maintain existing partnerships, explore new cooperation opportunities and test their international competitiveness. The current limited access to Horizon Europe makes it all the more important for Switzerland to take targeted measures to enhance its appeal as a location for research and innovation. In order to mitigate the negative effects of the current situation, the Federal Council has introduced national transitional measures. At the same time, it has also adopted two complementary measures.

Funding for bilateral and multilateral research partnership programmes

The funding of bilateral and multilateral research partnership programmes will help to meaningfully expand and consolidate existing cooperation initiatives and open the way for the establishment of new partnerships in the medium term. Priority will be given to research partnership programmes relating to strategically vital areas and will involve countries both in and outside of Europe. In essence, the aim will be to establish small ‘national research priorities' where top-notch research can be coordinated through international research alliances.

A total of CHF 80 million has been allocated to bilateral and multilateral research partnership programmes for the period 2023-2028. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has been asked to act as the implementing partner and corresponding preparatory work for this is already underway. The first step will be to clarify how best to implement such research partnership programmes, which topics should be chosen and which partner countries should be considered. The first two research partnership programmes are slated to begin in early 2023, followed by two more research partnership programmes in 2024.

National Quantum Initiative

The second supplementary measure concerns the field of quantum technology where Switzerland has outstanding expertise.

Quantum technology ranges from fundamental research (quantum computing to accelerate processing) to very promising commercial applications relating to measuring instruments or communication (quantum sensing or quantum communication). In a bid to reinforce Switzerland's already outstanding position in this field and to improve networking ties with the various partners through targeted coordination, the federal government has launched a national initiative with the following objectives: launch competitive calls for proposals specifically designed to boost research; establish and expand infrastructure and technology platforms to coordinate the transfer of knowledge and technology at the national level; develop appealing syllabuses; and encourage international cooperation. A budget of around CHF 80 million has been set aside for this measure for the period 2023-2028. These funds will supplement the already considerable expenditure made by Swiss higher education institutions, existing quantum research activities such as Quantum Science and Technology (QSIT) and Spin Qubits in Silicon (SPIN) as well as the SERI-commissioned Quantum Transitional Call by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) as part of Swiss transitional measures.

The development work on the National Quantum Initiative has begun: preliminary discussions have taken place with the designated implementation partner, the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT). The national steering committee to be set up during the first phase will be responsible for setting priorities and overseeing funding activities. This body is expected to begin work at the start of 2023.

Importance of complementary measures in the context of further measures

Complementary measures are intended to strengthen Switzerland's research and innovation position in key scientific fields. They will be implemented regardless of whether re-association to the Horizon Europe package becomes possible in the future. Should Switzerland recover its full-fledged associated country status, the measures currently underway will complement the Horizon programmes and bring added value to them. In the event of non-association, the complementary measures can be expanded or adapted. In such case, further measures would then also need to be considered to maintain Switzerland's appeal as a location for research and innovation and safeguard its international research activities.