The Confederation's international science policy focuses on cooperation with Europe and North America, and with other countries that have a significant potential for scientific and technological development. The federal government's bilateral cooperation programmes, launched in 2008, aim to intensify research and innovation cooperation with these regions.
In its International Strategy on Education, Research and Innovation, the Federal Council states that Switzerland should continue to occupy a leading position in this area: «Key factors for implementing this vision include committed and internationally active Education, Research and Innovation (ERI) actors and the required framework conditions as well as financial resources. Swiss ERI actors rise to the international challenges emerging from the tension between competition and cooperation. Through that, they strengthen their ability and willingness to learn, to conduct research, and to innovate and be creative. They promote the exchange of ideas and contribute to the development of solutions to global problems.»
The Federal Council launched the bilateral programmes in 2008 to foster cooperation with non-European partners in the ERI sector. The purpose of the programmes is to encourage research and innovation cooperation with regions that have a significant potential for scientific and technological development. Based on the principles of mutual interest, joint funding and scientific excellence, they are designed to facilitate long-term and sustainable partnerships. The bilateral programmes consist of two complementary instruments: joint research projects with the BRICS countries as well as with Argentina, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, and Leading House pilot activities with promising regions. Along with Swissnex, the programmes are Switzerland's main bilateral instrument to support the international activities of Swiss ERI actors with non-European countries and to promote Switzerland's international attractiveness in the ERI sector.
Joint research projects
Joint research projects (JRPs) are conducted on behalf of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) in cooperation with funding agencies in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and Vietnam. A JRP usually lasts between three and four years and enables Swiss researchers to address specific questions together with researchers from the partner countries. From 2017 to 2020, more than 100 JRPs received funding. As they have proved to be so successful, the bilateral programmes will be continued in the years 2021–2024. In consultation with its partner organisations, the SNSF regularly launches calls for proposals for larger bilateral research projects.
Leading House pilot activities
In the Leading House model, selected Swiss institutes of higher education are commissioned by SERI to set up cooperation instruments for seed funding and innovative pilot projects under the framework of the bilateral programmes. This has proved to be a useful and efficient format for establishing privileged contacts and testing new instruments of research and innovation cooperation. Between 2017 and 2020, more than 500 pilot research and innovation activities with these new countries and regions received funding.
In consultation with the Rectors' Conference swissuniversities, the following Leading Houses have been commissioned to run smaller pilot projects regionally in 2021 to 2024:
- North Africa and Middle East: University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HES-SO)
- Sub-Saharan Africa: Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) in collaboration with the University of Basel
- Latin America: University of St Gallen (HSG)
- East and Southeast Asia: ETH Zurich (ETHZ)
- South Asia and Iran: Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW)
The institutions are commissioned by SERI to pursue the following strategic goals as Leading Houses:
- Contribute to the development of scientific cooperation between Switzerland and countries with high potential in the designated region by developing cooperation instruments that meet the interests of the Swiss scientific community.
- Promote knowledge among Swiss ERI actors about countries with high potential in the designated region by providing them with the necessary contacts and expertise on the ground.
- Represent the interests of the Swiss scientific community towards potential foreign partners in the relevant region.
Research.swiss: Switzerland's research and innovation promotion instruments at a glance
An external evaluation commissioned by SERI in 2020 showed that the bilateral cooperation programmes generate considerable added value for Swiss researchers and their institutions. They play an important role in diversifying bilateral research collaborations and contribute to the significant increase in the number of new scientific publications with partners in the target countries. Overall, the evaluation shows that the bilateral programmes contribute significantly to the creation of strong and lasting international networks between institutions and researchers. The evaluation also makes recommendations for the future of the programmes, including creating standard means of communication. In response to this recommendation, SERI launched the Research.swiss platform in 2021 in collaboration with its partners and Swissnex. Current calls for proposals in the bilateral programmes are published on this site, which also provides the first comprehensive overview of Switzerland's research and innovation funding instruments.
Evaluation of Switzerland’s bilateral cooperation programmes in science and technology, prepared by IRIS group for the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (PDF, 4 MB, 05.03.2020)
Evaluation of the Impact of Swiss Bilateral Research Programs (PDF, 812 kB, 14.11.2012)Benedetto Lepori and Anke Dunkel