Universities pay a high price for Switzerland’s sidelining in the European Union’s research and education projects

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Swiss higher education institutions can no longer participate as full partners in Horizon Europe and Erasmus+. This has serious consequences for the universities, as projects cannot be realised or can only be realised to a limited extent. The recruitment of researchers is made considerably more difficult, and there is a risk of top researchers migrating to other countries. In addition, millions will be missing from the budgets of the universities.

Since the Federal Council broke off negotiations on the Framework Agreement with the European Union, Switzerland has been positioned as a non-associated third country until further notice.

The further development is open and highly uncertain. The universities envisage the following scenarios for future positioning:

1. Switzerland will be fully associated in the course of 2022.

The prerequisite for this is a political decoupling from an institutional framework agreement and the adoption of a specific agreement for the research and education sector.

For the universities, this means that they can immediately participate in the EU programmes as fully-fledged partners. The negative effects of non-association in 2021 would not be directly/completely reversed, but could be kept somewhat limited.

2. Efforts for full association in 2022 fail.

Full association in 2023 and in the following years of the Horizon Europe period until 2027 is practically impossible. For the universities, this means that they will still not be able to participate fully in the world's largest and most important research programme. This leads to a further weakening of Switzerland as a location for education, research and innovation. The consequences of non-association will be felt in the long term, also for the innovative strength of the Swiss economy and society.

3. Switzerland is creating the conditions for it to be a fully associated member again in the next Horizon period from 2028.

For the universities, this means that permanent measures would have to be created and maintained for the entire duration of Horizon Europe in order to prevent the exodus of excellent researchers and innovators. The consequences of non-association under Horizon Europe would also be felt in the long term, well after a renewed full association in 2028.

4. Switzerland positions itself permanently as a non-associated third country in the research and education projects in the EU.

The damage does not only affect the universities. The Swiss economy and society must also be prepared for negative consequences. In the event of non-association, it will be necessary to make Switzerland as attractive a location for higher education as possible. Ultimately, Switzerland's side lining will also be a loss for the European higher education landscape, which will lose an equal partner: Science only succeeds in cross-border networks.

For universities, this means that, as it stands today under Horizon Europe, they can continue to participate in various parts of the programme, e.g. the majority of collaborative projects. However, the management of projects and participation in prestigious individual projects such as ERC Individual Grants or MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships would be permanently denied to Swiss researchers. Participation would have to be financed purely through federal contributions. Funding from the EU would no longer be possible. Switzerland would have to seek and find alternative opportunities or partners in order to continue to operate as an internationally attractive location for research and innovation. However, bilateral cooperation cannot in any way replace participation in European programmes: The development is more time-consuming and the costs are significantly higher.