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Pressure grows on cabinet to up research funds

The number of students is likely to rise by 15,000 by 2011.

(Keystone)

Leading Swiss science and education authorities have added their voices to calls on the government for a ten per cent increase in the funding of research.

The cabinet wants to limit the increase to 4.5 per cent over the next few years, but it is also facing pressure from parliament.

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

In a joint statement published in Basel on Friday they said a 4.5 per cent increase would hamper Switzerland's competitive edge.

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.

It was also argued that more money was needed because the number of students was likely to increase by 15,000 by 2011 and because new research fields should be tackled to ensure that Switzerland keeps its innovation drive.

The statement added that the spending cuts were already threatening to undermine the competitiveness of the renowned Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne.

The quality of the universities had declined, research institutions lacked the money to produce excellent results and there was already a shortage of engineers, IT specialists and top researchers, it said.

Parliament

Moves are also underway in parliament to force the government to reconsider its position. The House of Representatives earlier this month approved a proposal for an eight per cent hike in the research budget.

The Senate for its part came out in favour of a six per cent increase. Three of the four main parties also want higher spending than the government.

The Senate is also putting pressure on the cabinet to create a single unit dealing with education, vocational training and research. However the country's 26 cantons would keep their autonomy on education.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin argued that it made no sense to increase the budget massively for a limited period if the level of spending can't be kept up.

"If you want to maintain quality, you need a certain modesty when it comes to spending but keep it at an even rhythm," he told parliament.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

According to figures from 2003, Switzerland spends SFr23 billion ($20.7 billion) on education.
Cantons and local authorities pay 86% of the costs, the federal authorities contribute 14%.
Most of the federal funding goes towards the universities and an additional SFr700 is spent annually on research.

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