The president of the organisation governing Swiss universities says the free movement of people is essential to Switzerland’s top innovation standing in the world and that uncertainty over bilateral agreements with the European Union has already taken its toll on the research sector.
Michael Hengartner, the rector of the University of Zurich who is also the head of the umbrella organisation swissuniversities, told the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper that the number of Swiss researchers involved in the Horizon 2020 European research programme had dropped by half since Switzerland’s voters chose to place quotas on EU immigrants in 2014.
“We are taking on ten times fewer leadership positions in European research programmes than before,” Hengartner added. “Good researchers are not coming to Switzerland because they can’t be guaranteed enough security for their project financing and don't know what the future holds.”
Hengartner highlighted Swiss researchers’ dependency on strong international networks, saying that two-thirds of Swiss research groups work with partners from other European countries, while only one third work with other Swiss groups. He also pointed out that besides India, Switzerland has the most researchers working abroad of any other country in the world.
When asked whether swissuniversities would become heavily involved in a campaign to maintain Switzerland’s close ties to the EU if there were to be a vote on such a matter, Hengartner said the organisation would take a stand, having learned from its mistake in having been silent before the February 2014 vote on immigration quotas.
“Our message is that the country’s long-term well-being is in danger if Switzerland’s institutions of higher learning, its research and its innovation platforms are not doing well,” he said.
“We can’t rest on our laurels, but must be fully engaged in defending our first-place ranking in innovation.”
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