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Government bends to research funding demands

More and more people in Switzerland are undertaking tertiary studies

(Keystone)

The Swiss cabinet has decided to spend more on research and education, with a planned annual funding increase of six per cent between 2008 and 2011.

The government caved in to demands from parliament, after both houses warned that a proposal to set the increase at 4.5 per cent was insufficient and unacceptable.

At the beginning of July, cabinet had initially decided out of budgetary concerns not to go beyond the 4.5 per cent level in funding for training, research and innovation for the three-year period starting in 2008.

But during the recent parliamentary session in Flims, canton Graubünden, the Senate demanded the six per cent increase, while the House of Representatives called for eight per cent.

Apart from the rightwing People's Party, which aims to cut spending across the board, all parties support increases for research, education and innovation of up to ten per cent. Parliament will have the final say next year.

Funding for these sectors was set at SFr17.35 billion for the period between 2004 and 2007, with annual increases of around five per cent.

Last week, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Academy of Science, the country's 12 universities and federal technical institutes, as well as the colleges of applied sciences also warned of a serious blow to science and research in Switzerland if the government refused to increase spending.

Additional tasks

They said a ten per cent increase on the 2008-2011 budget for science and research was justified to make up for spending cuts over the past four years and because of additional tasks the institutions had to assume.

The government has justified its change of heart by saying that its new proposal would answer the needs of education, research and innovation throughout the country. It added that this sector was a priority for Switzerland's future.

According to Ursula Renold, head of the Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology, overall funding would reach SFr21.20 billion for the next budget period, or an increase of around SFr619 million.

With more spending on the cards, the government has also avoided a confrontation with the cantons.

The head of Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education, Isabelle Chassot, recently told swissinfo, that plans to revise legislation determining how much cantons receive for education, research and innovation were beyond comprehension.

She said at the time that the government's strategy was turning it into an "unreliable" partner, especially as the government was expected to increase its support in this area.

Cabinet said on Wednesday that it recognised the need for more funding, especially with more students beginning tertiary education. It also admitted that research and education had lost ground on other nations.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Switzerland spends SFr11,000 annually on each student – SFr3,000 more than the average for 29 OECD countries.
In 2003 Switzerland spent SFr26 billion on education – the cantons spent SFr22.3 billion and the government spent SFr3.5 billion; the government also finances the two federal institutes

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