Switzerland is very competitive in the field of research and innovation. It is also among the countries with the highest spending on R&D in relation to their gross domestic product. The private sector accounts for more than two-thirds of Swiss R&D expenditure, which currently amounts to over 3 percent of GDP or around CHF 22 billion. Public research funding hinges mainly on the proactive work of researchers, the principle of competition and international cooperation.
Role of the Confederation and the cantons
The division of tasks between the private and public sectors in the field of research and innovation has established itself over time and is based on two pillars of Swiss politics, namely subsidiarity and a liberal economy. The state is active in the areas where it has an explicit constitutional mandate. Education, research and innovation exist in a complex complementary system, in which different responsibilities and subject matters interlace.
State institutions at all political levels ensure to provide a fertile ground for excellent research and successful innovation. Among other things, they ensure the quality of education at all levels, make their public facilities available and provide a reliable political and legal environment.
In addition, government agencies at various levels invest in research. In Switzerland, basic research mainly takes place at the federal institutes of technology and at universities. Applied research and development and the transfer of knowledge into marketable innovations, however, is primarily the domain of the private sector and universities of applied sciences.
The public sector finances research according to liberal principles. This means that funds are awarded on the basis of the researchers’ individual initiative on a competitive basis, where the decisive factor is the quality of the proposals submitted. Promotion of international cooperation is another cornerstone of this policy.
Under the Research and Innovation Promotion Act (RIPA), the Confederation is responsible for supporting research and innovation through the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Swiss Agency for Innovation Promotion (Innosuisse). It also provides funding for the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences and supports almost 30 research institutions of national importance. Finally, the Confederation funds teaching and research at ETH Domain institutions.
The cantons in turn are committed to promoting research in their role as funding bodies of the universities and universities of applied sciences.
International cooperation is an important cornerstone
International research cooperation is high on Switzerland’s agenda. Switzerland is involved in numerous international research organisations and research programmes, such as CERN and the multiyear research framework programmes of the European Union, and also promotes bilateral research cooperation with selected priority countries.
High level of competitiveness
Switzerland currently holds leading positions in a number of international rankings in research and innovation, in terms of academic publications in relation to population size or in terms of patent applications, for example. In addition, Swiss academic publications are highly regarded among the international scientific community. Switzerland’s involvement in the competitive EU framework programmes continues to produce successful results, with Switzerland taking a leading place in both success rates of approved applications and acquired funding.
These top rankings show that Switzerland’s research and development policy and the division of responsibilities between private and public stakeholders work well. Research and innovation are, however, activities that are always focussed on the future, and as such they remain a constant challenge. We will always need to research that which is as yet unresearched; develop that which has not yet been developed; and make marketable that which has not yet been sold.