The Swiss economics minister, Joseph Deiss, has called on science and business to work together to pull the economy out the doldrums.
Deiss made his comments during the first Swiss Science Forum, which aims to bridge the divide between scientists and industry.
During his address to over 300 delegates, Deiss stressed that Switzerland was an ideal place for innovation, even though it was showing signs of lagging behind other countries.
“We have to get to grips with the future needs of the global economy,” Deiss urged. “We can gain a competitive edge through strong achievements in education, research and technology.”
During a day of seminars and workshops, participants learnt about the vagaries of setting up a business and about new strategies to draw the scientific and business worlds closer together.
“Despite the high level of our research, we only rarely manage to make our laboratories a commercial success,” Deiss lamented.
The conference, which will be held every year, came less than a month after the House of Representatives approved a cash boost for science and research. The package amounted to SFr16.9 billion ($13 billion) for education, research and technology.
Werner Arber, a Swiss Nobel Prize laureate for medicine and a professor at Basel University, told swissinfo that there had been a recent sea change in the attitude of Swiss universities towards the corporate sector.
Higher education institutions were now encouraging their students to be more business-savvy, he said.
“When I was young, particularly in the 1960s, we were actually told by the universities not to become dependent on private enterprise,” Arber said.
“But in the past two decades, it has become accepted that innovations from scientific research can be used in business.”
The Science Forum also addressed the issue of the “brain drain” of Swiss scientists, who often end up in countries offering higher salaries and better facilities, such as the United States.
But Arber was optimistic that there was enough in Switzerland to lure the same scientists back.
“It’s good to encourage Swiss scientists to go elsewhere for a period of time and many will come back [provided] Switzerland succeeds in maintaining a good scientific standard,” he said.
“And of course they also have family members or some other reason to come to their country.”
Arber added that all good scientists, regardless of their origins, were welcome in Switzerland. “We can profit if we have a mix.”
The Swiss Science Forum is the brainchild of Science.Com, a Bern-based communications firm which publishes the science policy journal, Vision.
It was through Vision’s readership that the company discovered a need to widen the public debate on the health of science in Switzerland.
Sponsors include Credit Suisse, the Federal Office of Technology, Coop, Nestlé and the National Science Foundation.
swissinfo, Faryal Mirza
The first Swiss Science Forum took place in Bern on Tuesday.
More than 300 delegates from business, science and politics attended.
The event’s goal was to bring scientists and industry closer together.
The forum will be held every year.
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