In the past, federal policy on scientific cooperation was strongly geared towards Europe and North America. Since 2008 the Federal Council has added a new component to this policy, with a strategic concentration on non-European countries with strong potential for scientific and technological development.
There are currently seven non-European countries that have been identified as priority countries for developing and strengthening bilateral cooperation in research: Brazil, China, India, Russia, South Africa (including research institutes in Côte d'Ivoire and Tanzania), Japan and South Korea.
Switzerland has concluded cooperation agreements with each of these countries. Partnerships are based on the principles of scientific excellence, mutual interest and equal co-funding by the two partner countries. Bilateral research cooperation programmes are launched with the aim of strengthening scientific relations between Switzerland and its partner countries in research areas which are of strategic importance to both parties. They also aim to promote the international networking activities of Swiss higher education institutions and research institutes and to raise their profile abroad.
In Switzerland, these programmes are managed by Leading Houses with the assistance of Associate Leading Houses and the Swiss National Science Foundation, which is responsible for calls for joint research projects. Most of the Swiss research institutes have thus enjoyed support when setting up cooperation projects with the countries in the programme. In 2011, an external study conducted by the Science Service of the Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI) assessed these programmes positively; the programmes have therefore been continued for the 2013-2016 period. The Leading Houses have also been asked to look into which other countries might be suitable partners.