Federal bilateral programmes for cooperation in research and innovation with partners beyond Europe meet objectives

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The evaluation of bilateral cooperation programmes in research and innovation commissioned by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI was published on 3 March. According to the report, the programmes, launched in 2008, have brought considerable benefits to Swiss researchers and their institutions. For example, they contribute greatly to the diversification of bilateral research collaborations and have led to a significant rise in the number of joint scientific publications with partners in Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Japan and South Korea. The programmes also facilitate and foster cooperation with national research funding agencies. The report recommends the continuation of the programmes in their decentralised form, at the same time proposing greater harmonisation of the individual funding instruments and more unified communication channels.

In the current funding period (2017-2020), 530 grants from a budget of CHF 48.4 million have been awarded, including for research projects and mobility programmes, under the federal bilateral cooperation programmes in research and innovation. In 85% of the cases, the grant is likely to lead to a scientific publication, while 70% of the grants may result in proposals for large-scale international cooperation projects. 80% of grant holders are able to build up new partnerships and networks in the various countries in which the programmes operate. More than 50% of the projects have led to student exchanges, even after funding came to an end. The evaluation shows that, overall, the bilateral programmes play a major role in creating strong and lasting international networks between institutions and researchers.

Switzerland has considerably expanded its international research activities since 2007, and now has one of the most international research communities in the world. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of joint publications by Swiss researchers and researchers from other countries rose by 88%. The number of joint research publications with the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and with Japan and South Korea rose by as much as 166% in the course of the decade.

The programme also fosters long term the Swiss National Science Foundation’s cooperation with its non-European partner agencies. The SNSF is responsible at national level for implementing the bilateral programmes in conjunction with a number of Swiss higher education institutions. Along with partner agencies abroad, the SNSF funds Joint Research Projects (JRPs) involving large-scale bilateral science proposals. Six Swiss higher education institutions are appointed by SERI to act as Leading House for a given region. These apportion funding for smaller pilot activities, which are open to the whole of the Swiss research community. Both JRPs and Leading House funding is awarded in a competitive peer review process. Projects must always be able to demonstrate matching funds from the partner country.

The evaluation also highlights that science diplomacy, although difficult to quantify, has been strengthened by the bilateral programmes.

The report concludes that the bilateral programmes complement existing funding mechanisms and respond to the needs of Swiss researchers. It recommends continuing the decentralised Leading-House model as it closely involves the researchers themselves.

Improvements could be made by harmonising instruments and making communication more coherent. The mandates of the Leading Houses for the 2021-2024 funding period will now be discussed on the basis of the evaluation.

Documents

  • Evaluation of Switzerland’s bilateral cooperation programmes in science and technology, prepared by IRIS group for the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation