Switzerland’s research publications by institutional sector

Assessing the quality of a country's research is not an exact science. However, quality can be inferred by measuring indicators such as the share of world publications, the impact of research publications or the most cited publications. Such indicators enable comparison between countries, observation of research output over time and assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of their research activities. SERI therefore regularly monitors research output and presents its findings in a report entitled, ‘Bibliometric Analysis of Scientific Research in Switzerland’.

Switzerland's research performance, 2014-2018
Indicators Switzerland's
Swiss share of world publications    
Total 1,1% 20
Top 10% 1,6% 13
Publications per
million inhabitants
Total 7056 1
Top 10% 1063 1
Global impact of publications
(measured by number of citations)
125 3

Source: Clarivate Analytics (SCIE/SSCIE/A&HCI/ESCI),
processed by SERI, © SERI 2020

The current report for the years 2014-2018 shows that Swiss research is on a very solid footing: Switzerland ranks 20th in terms of the share of world publications. Moreover, if Switzerland’s research output is considered in terms of the number of inhabitants, Switzerland even ranks 1st with over 7000 research publications per million inhabitants. Switzerland also ranks 1st in terms of the most frequently cited publications (top 10% publications) and 3rd in terms of the impact of its publications, a very respectable position.

Breakdown of publications by institutional sector
Although dominated by the higher education sector, Switzerland's outstanding research performance is due to the combined research strength of four institutional sectors:

  • Higher education: cantonal universities, federal institutes of technology, universities of applied sciences, private universities and university hospitals
  • Private businesses: private companies, private clinics and hospitals
  • Research institutes: research institutes within the ETH Domain, cantonal laboratories, federal research institutes, foundations and all public non-university hospitals
  • International organisations: e.g. CERN, World Health Organization (WHO), the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, etc.

The higher education sector produces most research publications (71%), far ahead of research institutes (14.8%), private businesses (8.6%) and international organisations (5.6%).


Breakdown of Switzerland’s publications by institutional sector, 2014-2018
Source: Clarivate Analytics (SCIE/SSCIE/A&HCI/ESCI),
processed by SERI © SERI 2020

Publication profiles of institutional sectors

In terms of research field distribution, the publication profiles of Swiss institutional sectors differ markedly. If we compare the profile of each institutional sector with that of Switzerland as a whole, we find the following:

  • Higher education: active in all research fields, but particularly active in ‘Life Sciences’ (25% of this sector’s total research output), ‘Clinical Medicine’ (24%) and ‘Physical, Chemical and Earth Sciences’ (23%). As the higher education sector produces most of Switzerland's research publications, its publication profile has a direct impact on that of Switzerland as a whole.
  • Research institutes: also active in all research fields, most notably in ‘Agriculture, Biology and Environmental Sciences’, which accounts for 18% of this sector’s total research output, compared to an average share of 10% of research output for Switzerland as a whole.
  • Private businesses: very active in two research fields ‘Life Sciences’ (29%) and ‘Clinical Medicine’ (30%). This reflects the importance of Switzerland’s economic activities in the area of pharmaceuticals, chemistry, biology and health.
    Private businesses are also slightly above average in the research field ‘Engineering, Computing and Technology’. In contrast, they have comparatively few research publications in ‘Physical, Chemical and Earth Sciences’.
  • International organisations: their publication profile differs from that of Switzerland as a whole for the research field ‘Physical, Chemical and Earth Sciences’, which accounts for 37% of this sector’s total research output (compared to 23% for Switzerland as a whole) and for the research field of ‘Social and Behavioural Sciences’ with 14% (compared to 9% for Switzerland as a whole).

Most cited publications by institutional sector
Some experts believe that research performance can be better assessed by considering only the most frequently cited publications rather than then total volume of publications. To do this, publications are ranked according to the number of citations found in other research publications. With this indicator, only a certain proportion of publications (usually the top 1%, 5% or 10%) are taken into account.

Institutional sectors Proportion of publications produced
by institutional sectors in Switzerland
that are Top 10% publications
Higher education 19,2%
Research institutes 17,6%
Private businesses 15,9%
International organisations 24,9%

Proportion of publications produced by institutional sectors in Switzerland that are Top 10% publications, 2014-2018
Source: Clarivate Analytics (SCIE/SSCIE/A&HCI/ESCI),
processed by SERI  © SERI 2020


Publication profile of Swiss institutional sectors, 2014-2018
Source: Clarivate Analytics (SCIE/SSCIE/A&HCI/ESCI),
processed by SERI © SERI 2020

If we look at the top 10% of the world's most frequently cited publications (top 10%), we find that 24.9% of the publications produced by international organisations came from those based in Switzerland. This is an outstanding result, which demonstrates the robust research performance of this institutional sector. The other three institutional sectors in Switzerland also have significant shares in the top 10% publications, ranging from 19.2% (higher education) to 15.9% (private businesses).

International partnerships in publications by institutional sector
International partnerships in publications is another criterion used to determine whether a country’s research output is appreciated by researchers from other countries and, above all, whether the researchers of the country in question are well integrated in international research networks. The Swiss research community has outstanding international networking ties: In all four of the institutional sectors, the proportion of international partnerships is at least 76% and, in the case of international organisations, as high as 96%.

The latter proportion is hardly surprising given the large number of researchers who belong to foreign institutions and who work regularly or occasionally for international organisations based in Switzerland. The high level of international partnerships in the research output of private businesses is also both surprising and gratifying: Three out of four research publications from this institutional sector resulted from an international partnership.

Breakdown of Switzerland’s publications by institutional sector, 2014-2018
Source: Clarivate Analytics (SCIE/SSCIE/A&HCI/ESCI), processed by SERI © SERI 2020

Overall, it can be seen that higher education institutions account for the highest proportion of Swiss research output and therefore shape Switzerland's research profile. However, scientific publications from the other institutional sectors also fare very well, especially in terms of most cited publications and international partnerships. In this way, all four institutional sectors help to strengthen Switzerland’s position as a location for research and innovation.