Horizon Europe and future prospects
Institutional Communication Service
28 July 2023
One-third of current Swiss scientific publications are joint papers with EU scientists. This implies that Switzerland's non-participation in the EU research programme, Horizon Europe, poses various challenges to the research community, economy, and society. The instability caused by this situation is also felt at Università della Svizzera italiana, and its long-term consequences are currently under investigation.
Swiss researchers are still facing challenges despite the implementation of some measures like reimbursing costs for collaborative projects and providing transitional funding for calls closed to Swiss participants. The effectiveness of these measures in mitigating the negative impacts of not being involved in Horizon Europe is uncertain. As a result, Switzerland is actively seeking to establish new cooperation initiatives with countries like the United States, Israel, and Japan. The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation aims to diversify international alliances and reduce reliance on a single partner.
In terms of finances, the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) has directed funding agencies in Switzerland to implement transitional measures for tools that exclude Swiss participants. This includes requiring the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) to organise replacement calls for ERCs.
The problem at hand is not limited to financial concerns. A helpful analogy that has been circulating in the media can help clarify the issue. It is as if Federer was unable to participate in Roland Garros, and Switzerland's solution was to organise a small tournament exclusively for Swiss players in Gstaad. If Federer were to win, he would receive the same prize money. Doing research with Horizon funds gives researchers much more visibility.
As far as USI is concerned, 14 Horizon Europe projects have been approved since 2021, one of which was part of the last ERC evaluation round, then funded by the federal government, for a total volume of just over €7.5 million. These projects span across different fields like participatory communication, argumentation, information systems, cyber security, sustainable tourism, and vascular ageing.
The data showcases the endeavours of researchers at USI to address this difficulty. Additionally, USI has taken part in initiatives to increase political awareness about the potential long-term consequences of not participating in these programmes. As Switzerland boasts a knowledge-based economy, high-quality research plays a crucial role in tackling global issues like climate change. Thus, we hope that negotiations with the European Union will prioritise access to the European area of research and higher education.
Swiss partners have benefited from a stable funding mechanism provided by the federal government, allowing them to participate in collaborative projects. The situation is now clearer compared to the partial exclusion in 2014, and thanks to timely decisions to fund participation, Swiss partners can continue to be involved in European consortia, albeit partially.
The consequences of being excluded from Horizon Europe will gradually reveal themselves. If the uncertainty persists, it may pose challenges, particularly in terms of acquiring funding. Horizon Europe is a significant European-level research and innovation funding program. Not being a part of it could mean that Swiss establishments miss out on a crucial funding source for their research and development projects. This could jeopardise the competitiveness of Swiss institutions and limit opportunities for international collaboration.
Another central aspect is participation in governance and decision-making. Exclusion would mean that Switzerland would have no say in defining research priorities, policies and funding programmes, limiting its influence in the European research landscape.
Horizon Europe encourages collaboration and knowledge exchange among European researchers. Without association, Switzerland would miss out on the opportunity to participate in high-level international research projects and benefit from European collaboration networks. Moreover, Horizon Europe plays a significant role in making Switzerland more attractive to international researchers by offering funding opportunities, infrastructure, and research networks. If Switzerland becomes less attractive, it could result in a brain drain to countries actively participating in the programme.
The long-term consequences of the current situation could greatly harm the reputation and quality of Swiss universities. This is why the new rector of USI, Luisa Lambertini, has declared that she will work "to ensure that the importance of what is at stake is understood. A solution must be found to this exclusion". Currently, resources are being allocated at USI, but researchers will have to explore alternative funding options, including private funds. As USI looks towards the future, there are numerous challenges to overcome, and the issue will be addressed in detail during the planning of the four-year period from 2025 to 2028. The goal remains in any case - added Lambertini - the qualitative growth of USI.
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