Just over a year ago, the EU excluded Switzerland from the European research program Horizon Europe. Scientists in Switzerland raised the alarm: Without Horizon, the Swiss research location would lose importance and good minds would lose. The example of a young researcher now shows how the exclusion actually works.
Severe setback for young neurobiologists
Adrian Wanner is a neurobiologist at the Paul Scherrer Research Institute: “My research is about reconstructing circuits in the brain in order to understand how information is processed. In the healthy as well as in the diseased brain.»
The young researcher’s international career recently suffered a setback: Among thousands of applicants, he received one of the coveted grants from the European Research Council ERC. But he had to turn down the two and a half million euros because Switzerland is no longer part of the EU’s Horizon funding program. Above all, this means that the high prestige of this international award is lost, says Adrian Wanner: “It is a very important award, especially for young researchers like me. I can’t lead her like that anymore.”
This somewhat conservative attitude that many national funding agencies have is difficult for competitive and forward-looking research.
Everything has become more complicated, says the neurobiologist, and the lack of international networking is a great loss. Instead of managing his project himself and implementing it with colleagues from Europe, Wanner now has to rely on the Swiss research programs. However, the Swiss National Science Foundation has already rejected his project once. Too ambitious, so the reasoning: “This somewhat conservative attitude, which many national funding agencies have, is difficult for competitive and future-oriented research.”
Everything the same thanks to transitional financing?
Despite the hardships of a young scientist, Swiss research does not appear to have come to an end. According to the responsible State Secretariat for Research and Innovation, Swiss researchers can still take part in two-thirds of Horizon Europe calls. The Swiss will receive the money for participation directly from Bern instead of Brussels.
The Federal Council has provided transitional funding of CHF 1.2 billion. However, the situation is not the same as before. Mascha Zurbriggen from the State Secretariat for Research and Innovation says: “Even where research from Switzerland is approved, you do not have the same rights as your partners.”
Researchers from Switzerland would not be able to manage projects and would therefore lose a lot of prestige and design opportunities, says Zurbriggen: “In our survey, researchers also report that projects have been canceled as a result or that access to international networks is becoming difficult.”
The federal government is already planning further transitional measures
Mascha Zurbriggen cannot say exactly whether the feared “brain drain” of scientists moving away will happen: “We have no figures on how many researchers have migrated abroad due to non-association. In our survey, however, some participants reported that it is currently more difficult to retain or recruit staff.»
Even where research from Switzerland is approved, it does not have the same rights as its partners.”
Zurbriggen hopes that Switzerland will soon be included in the EU funding program. However, the federal government does not seem to be very optimistic. As early as May, the Federal Council announced transitional measures for the EU tenders for next year.