Switzerland and South Africa lay the foundations for stronger cooperation in research and innovation

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The fifth meeting of the Swiss-South African joint committee established under the bilateral agreement on scientific and technological cooperation took place in Bern on Monday, 23 September. The discussions covered a range of matters including twelve new research projects, closer ties between the national research promotion agencies, and new possibilities for cooperation between universities of applied sciences in both countries.

A bilateral agreement on scientific and technological cooperation has been in place between Switzerland and South Africa since 2007. This has helped to significantly boost relations between scientific communities in the two countries. The results of the last call for joint research projects could serve as the most recent example for the joint committee composed of high-level representatives from the respective ministries and leading scientific institutions of both countries. Following a joint call by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), twelve of around 90 project proposals were accepted. These projects in the fields of public health, environment and energy, as well as social sciences and humanities will now receive funding.

For the next phase of the bilateral programme, and to enhance cooperation, the SNSF and the NRF are currently negotiating a direct cooperation arrangement in the shape of a ’Lead Agency’ agreement. The agreement would allow researchers in Switzerland to submit a joint research project developed with a partner in South Africa to just one of the research promotion organisations. This procedure would significantly reduce administrative costs and facilitate bilateral cooperation.

In addition, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, in conjunction with the University of Basel, acts as Leading House for Sub-Saharan Africa. As such, it regularly offers instruments for researchers interested in cooperating with partners from that region. One such example is the Swiss - South African Business Development Programme (SSABDP), which aims to strengthen the entrepreneurial know-how of researchers and innovators in marketing their research projects.

In addition to the official joint committee delegation, two further South African delegations are also currently in Switzerland as part of bilateral cooperation activities in the field of education, research and innovation. The first delegation of South African scientists is conducting a fact-finding mission on science and technology with the support of Presence Switzerland. The second delegation consisting of representatives from Venda University is focusing its attention on Swiss universities of applied sciences and is seeking to strengthen cooperation in the field of applied R&D, and encourage student and academic staff exchanges. Since 1962 around 100 South African researchers and artists have been able to spend part of their academic careers at a Swiss institution thanks to a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship.

A brochure showcasing some of the highlights of the cooperation arrangement since the conclusion of the bilateral agreement is due to be published in the near future. The number of Swiss-South African publications has increased fourfold in the period between 2004 and 2014.