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Young scientists Switzerland helps block Balkan brain drain

The central square in Zagreb

The central square in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, which has been affected by the emigration of skilled young workers


Switzerland is supporting a project that aims to drive innovation in Croatia and limit the emigration of talented young scientists. The programme was officially launched on Tuesday in the Croatian capital Zagreb in the presence of various ministers and the Swiss ambassador. 

With a budget of CHF4.7 million ($4.7 million), the project was developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Croatian Ministry of Science and Education, the Croatian Science Foundation (CSF), and various academic institutions in Croatia. 

“Not only do we want to encourage the talented pool of Croatian scientists living abroad to return home, but we also want to give young researchers a real chance, responsibilities and future prospects in their own country so they will no longer need to go abroad in order to have a successful career,” said Olivier Küttel, head of International Affairs at EPFL. 

Following a selection process that began in March, four young and promising Croatian researchers will each receive CHF1 million to set up a laboratory, hire a team and put a research programme in place. If, after four years, the pilot programme is a success and the researchers live up to expectations, they will be given tenure. 

Scaled back 

The idea dates back four years, right after Croatia joined the European Union. The project, which was even more ambitious at the time, was submitted to the European Commission for funding through the Horizon 2020external link programme. 

Then, on February 9, 2014, Swiss voters narrowly backed an initiative against mass immigration and the project had to be re-thought and scaled back. In the end, the project will be funded through the CHF1 billion that Switzerland has contributed to the EU for Eastern European countries. The Croatian government will cover 15% of the project’s cost in addition to providing appropriate research facilities.

There are high hopes that this measure will help reduce Croatia’s brain-drain, reduce migration to Switzerland, and serve as a model for other European countries. 

“These talented young scientists will certainly attract others like them, create jobs and startups, and ultimately give Croatia’s economy a real boost,” said Küttel. “And since it’s a pilot project, it could be quickly rolled out in other European countries.”

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