Pressure mounts on government over EU research programmes

Research is a cross-country venture, higher ed representatives say © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

University and student representatives, as well as the thinktank Reatch, have called on the Swiss government to ensure that key scientific and research exchange with the European Union continues.

This content was published on March 26, 2021 - 14:22

The move comes as Switzerland tries to work out its future relations with its largest trading partner.

In an open letterExternal link, the signatories – which include the rectors of Zurich, Bern and Fribourg universities as well as the co-president of the Swiss Student Union – said that education, science and innovation benefited from the exchange of ideas. But Switzerland was “no island”.

“In the global competition for attention and talents, and due to our small size, our country relies on intensive exchange with its neighbours,” said the letter. Trainees, students and researchers should not be forgotten in the current debate over the EU, it said.

“The coronavirus crisis has again shown how important the scientific sector is for dealing with current and future challenges. Large research projects can only take place if there is international cooperation.”


But Switzerland’s participation in the EU’s Horizon research programme is currently unclear, the letter deplored, as is Swiss participation in Erasmus+, the EU’s student exchange programme.

Non-EU Switzerland is usually signed up to Horizon 2020 – which is the world’s biggest scientific funding initiative – as an associated state. Parliament rubber-stamped Switzerland’s financial contribution to the follow-on programme, which runs from 2021-2027, in December 2020.

However, EU institutions are currently finalising the adoption of the legal basis for this programme. Switzerland is not involved in these consultations.

The Swiss government has previously insisted that participation in the European research programme is in no way linked to stalled talks on a long-term institutional framework agreement between Brussels and Bern.


After the controversial 2014 vote to re-introduce immigration quotas for EU citizens, Switzerland was effectively barred from EU research programmes, including Horizon 2020. This ban was later partially loosened.

But Switzerland is still excluded from the Erasmus+ education exchange programme. An interim arrangement has been put in place: the Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP).

Last September student organisations handed in a petition with more than 10,000 signatures calling on the government to start immediate negotiations to rejoin Erasmus+, arguing that without proper participation, international cooperation in education risks being endangered in the long term.

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