Confederation’s research and development spending to decline in 2021

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In 2021, the Confederation spent CHF 2.2 billion to carry out or support research and development activities. Compared to 2019, the last observed year, this represents a decrease of CHF 413 million (-16%). The main reason for this is the non-association with the European Union (EU) research and innovation framework program ’Horizon Europe’. These results are based on the evaluation of administrative data by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

After several years of growth, federal spending on research and development activities will fall by CHF 413 million (-16%) between 2019 and 2021 to CHF 2.2 billion. This decline in federal R&D spending in 2021 is mainly due to the cessation of payments to the European Commission for the Research and Innovation Framework Programme.

Change of financing method

The fact that Switzerland was not associated with the EU’s research and innovation framework program, Horizon Europe in 2021, had a strong impact on the Confederation’s R&D expenditures. As a non-associated third country, Switzerland was unable to make mandatory contributions in 2021 to the European Commission. Instead, the funds originally earmarked for the contribution to the European Union are being reused to directly finance Swiss participation in research and innovation projects under the transitional measures.

This change in funding method creates a time lag in the funds actually paid out, which are recorded as research expenses. In fact, the planned sums are allocated to researchers as the projects progress and no longer in the form of a single payment to the European Union, as was the practice in recent years. This shift alone explains the decline in total federal research spending. If we look only at the R&D contributions made by the Confederation abroad, we see that the amounts have fallen from 850 million francs in 2019 to only 292 million in 2021.

Support for national research is on the rise

The Confederation supports research mainly through national and foreign contributions. While foreign contributions have decreased significantly, national contributions have increased to CHF 1.6 billion in 2021, an increase of 8% between 2019 and 2021. The main beneficiary of national contributions, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), received CHF 1.1 billion, an increase of 4%.

Expenditures for conducting research within the Confederation’s units (called intramural expenditures) as well as for federal mandates increased in 2021. Between 2019 and 2021, federal intramural expenditures will increase by 8% to CHF 231 million. Declining since 2012, the Confederation’s mandates saw a slight rebound in 2021 (+4% compared to 2019) to reach an amount of 70 million francs. This increase is mainly due to an increase in the importance of mandates carried out by the Swiss university sector on behalf of the Confederation.

Agriculture essential for the Confederation

Nearly half of the federal government’s R&D expenditure (excluding contributions) is allocated to the agricultural domain, amounting to 149 million. Most of the research activities in this domain are carried out by the federal agricultural research stations (’Agroscope’). With 11% of the expenditure, i.e. an amount of 32 million, the defense domain is the second most important. It is followed by three other domains, namely the domain of industrial production and technology as well as the domain of structures and social relations, each representing 8% of the expenses. The environment accounts for 7% of the Confederation’s expenditure.

Research staff continues to grow

In 2021, 2184 people were involved in research and development activities within the Confederation, an increase of 5% compared to 2019 (+106 individuals). Expressed in full-time equivalent employment (FTE), research personnel reached 1095 FTE (+5%). This increase in federal research personnel is strongly related to the increase in federal spending to carry out its own research activities. The share of women among research personnel continues to grow (42% in 2021), an increase of 9 percentage points since 2006.


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