Panorama of Plant Research Funding in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of the most innovative countries in Europe when it comes to innovation according to the recently released European Innovation Scoreboard 2009. This is mainly due to the fact that Switzerland has a particularly large proportion of small- and medium-sized enterprises.
Although not an EU Member State, Switzerland contributes to and participates in the EU Research Framework Programmes (FP) as an Associated Country. In general, this regarded positively by Swiss researchers who accounted for 2.6% of the participants in FP6. For the seven years of FP7, Switzerland’s contribution will amount to about €1.4 billion. Similarly, the country participates in COST, with about €19 million earmarked for the 2008 to 2011 period.
There are three types of universities in Switzerland: the federal institutes of technology, the cantonal universities and the universities of applied sciences. The federal government is responsible for the ‘Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology’ – ETH Zurich and ETH Lausanne – and four Swiss research centers, among which is the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL). There are ten cantonal universities and eight universities of applied science.
Agricultural research is carried out at two research institutes funded by the federal office for agriculture: Agroscope, conducting applied agriculture research at three research stations around the country and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture.
Public funding of R&D is average by international standards. It is strongly oriented towards universities and basic research, accounting for 28% of the total domestic expenditure on R&D, more than in the United States.
Funding activities for basic research and more applied research (technology transfer) are essentially carried out by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Innovation Promotion Agency (CTI), respectively. These institutions also play an important role in policy-making and in shaping the Swiss research and innovation system from a public perspective.
Funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation
The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funds basic research in all scientific disciplines, primarily in the form of targeted project funding or of individual project funding for researchers. More than 7'000 researchers every year receive funding from SNSF, of which at least 5'000 are 35 years old or younger. The SNSF accepts applications for project funding for basic scientific research on 1 April and 1 October each year.
SNSF supports research projects within two large research programmes: the national research programme (NRP) and the national centers of competence in research (NCCR). Both programmes provide funding for coordinated collaborative research. The goal is to improve Switzerland’s research structures and strengthen the country’s position in strategically important fields. Very few of these programmes are open to transnational applicants.
One example is the NRP ‘Benefits and risks of the deliberate release of genetically modified plants’ involving 29 projects that examines the benefits and risks of genetically modified plants under the ecological, social, economic, legal and political conditions of Switzerland. The NCCR Plant Survival is another example. Thisinterdisciplinary network studies the interactions of plants with their environment, in natural and agricultural systems.
SystemsX.ch – is an SNSF-funded national research programme on systems biology. SystemsX.ch supports projects that comply with the above definition of Systems Biology. After three calls for applications, more than 75 SystemsX.ch projects have been launched since 2008: 14 large integrated research projects (RTDs), 40 student projects (IPhDs), 21 pilot projects (IPPs), and six Bridge-to-Industry projects (BIP).
The Ambizione programme is targeted at young researchers – who received their doctorate in the last 5 years – who would like to conduct a research project at a Swiss university or ETH. The programme is open to Swiss researchers currently spending a stay abroad or who have returned after a stay abroad, as well as to foreign scientists wishing to carry out research work in Switzerland. Before applying, the researcher must have contacted and received confirmation from a host institution in Switzerland. Subsidies, covering salary and project funds, are granted for a maximum of three years.
To increase the number of women in research, SNSF annually awards a limited number of Marie Heim-Vögtlin (MHV) subsidies aimed for doctoral and postdoctoral candidates. The goal is to support the reintegration of qualified female scientists into research who were forced to interrupt their career for personal reasons.
In addition, SNSF provides various types of funding for short individual visits abroad with the aim of initiating or solidifying international collaborations, for limited periods of research abroad, or to fund researchers from abroad to visit Switzerland. Applications can be submitted at any time, but at least two months before the grant is due to start.
SNSF has concluded exchange programme agreements for international cooperation with Italy, China, South Korea and Japan. In the framework of these agreements, Swiss scientists can conduct research abroad, or a Swiss institution can host a researcher from abroad for up to 12 months, depending on the agreement. Researchers abroad should contact the SNSF partner organization in their country for specific details.
Cooperation agreements exist with the following organizations and countries:
- Italy – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR) – Short visits of up to 3 months in all disciplines.
- China – National Natural Science Foundation of China (NNSFC) – Grants for up to 12 months
- South Korea – Korean Science and Engineering Foundation (KOSEF) – Grants for up to 12 months and short visits of up to 3 months.
- Japan – Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) – Grants for up to 12 months and short stays of up to 3 months
The Indo Swiss Joint Research Programme (ISJRP) is launching a third call for proposals for Joint Research Projects between Swiss and Indian researchers. The selected projects will be funded for at most 36 months and will receive a maximum support of CHF 250,000 per project (for the Swiss portion).
Another programme funded by SNSF is the Sinergia programme in which funding for a maximum of three years is provided to a network of at least three to eight research groups, one of which can be outside Switzerland if the expertise is required. Sinergia focuses on collaborative projects in a promising new area of research or at the cutting-edge of international research. Application deadlines are the same as for project funding (1 March and 1 October).
Funding from the Innovation Promotion Agency
CTI aims at “building a bridge between the lab and the market”. The agency promotes projects in applied research and development (R&D) that are carried out jointly by private-sector businesses and academia. CTI exclusively funds the public research partner, in the form of salaries for around 1'000 researchers each year. The private business partner has to cover his own expenses (at least 50% of the project costs). Between 2004 and 2007, funding by CTI amounted to approximately €270 million.
CTI runs a number of initiatives and programmes following a bottom-up approach. In most of the projects, cooperation between business firms and public research institutes are compulsory for funding. Apart from the CTI regular innovation projects, funds are also available for ”Discovery Projects”, i.e very high-risks R&D projects with high economic potential.
Research teams or consortia can submit project proposals at any time. Committees of experts meet regularly to evaluate grant proposals. Proposals should be submitted to CTI at least two weeks prior to the meeting date.
Other funding sources for plant scientists
Agroscope runs three multidisciplinary research programmes: ProfiCrops, NutriScope and AgriMontana. Although mainly targeted at Agroscope research teams, international partners can also become involved. For more details, please contact the research coordinator of each programme.
Most Swiss universities offer PhD programmes open to students from all nationalities. Switzerland awards a high share of PhD degrees relative to its population, and foreign students account for 42% of students enrolled in PhD programmes. One programme specifically targeted at plant research is the PhD programme in Plant Sciences offered at the Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center. The students can choose among more than 40 scientific and transferable skill courses. The Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center also offers a specialized PhD Program in 'Plant Sciences and Policy' open to talented young scientists that are motivated to carry out excellent research in plant sciences and to take responsibility at the interface between policy, public and research. For both programmes, the recruitment occurs at an international level, with two deadlines per year (1 July and 1 December). Applications should be submitted online.
The Swiss agency for development and cooperation (SDC) funds agricultural research activities focused on development in the South. For example, the agency provides a large share of the funding for the ERA-Net ARD (Agricultural research for development). It also runs the Research Fellow Partnership Programme for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources that provides doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships to support agricultural research projects carried out in partnership between a CGIAR centre (or equivalent) and a Swiss research institution. Deadlines for applications are 31 March and 30 September.
The Swiss State Secretariat of Education and Research (SER) signed bilateral agreements with partner organizations in China, India, Russia and South Africa to promote collaboration between research institutions and encourage long term research partnerships between the countries involved. These programes provide funding for joint research projects, institutional partnership, as well as staff and student exchange. Please check the programmes’ websites for updates on the latest calls.