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Science in jeopardy without more funds

Scientists are worried about the level of public funding for Swiss research

(Keystone)

The government's scientific advisory body has repeated its call for a huge cash injection over the next few years to prevent a decline in Swiss research.

The Swiss science and technology council on Wednesday presented a nine-point plan demanding more money and organisational changes.

"The quality of science in Switzerland is on a downhill course," the council's vice president, Catherine Nissen, told swissinfo.

"We need to have certain structural reforms within the Swiss university system to improve efficiency," added 1996 Nobel prize winner, Professor Rolf Zinkernagel.

"Linked to that, we need more funds because they have stagnated completely for the past 12 years."

More money

The council has called for a 50 per cent increase in public funding for higher education and research between 2004 and 2007.

That would see a rise from SFr3 billion to SFr4.5 billion. Under the latest government proposals, an extra SFr1.1billion may be available.

"Without more funding, Switzerland cannot maintain a top position in science and technology," council president, Professor Gottfried Schatz, said.

"The Swiss innovation system has too many barriers to true creativity. It is too fragmented; it is too conservative; it does not give enough free rein to the ideas of young people.

"Secondly it doesn't have enough money and innovation of the system and more funds must go hand in hand because there will be no reform without some funds and there should be no funds without the reform."

Brain drain

Science and research funding in Switzerland accounts for almost three per cent of gross domestic product.

Countries like Finland, Denmark, Sweden and more recently, the United States have increased their scientific budgets substantially.

The scenario looks bleak unless urgent steps are taken said Nissen. "The brain drain is already a great problem and it will increase," she said.

She said the recent decision by the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, to transfer its research activities from Basel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, was symptomatic of the crisis.

Career structure

Among its proposals, the science and technology council has also called for a modern career structure for young academics, long-term budgets so universities can plan their future and better transfer of knowledge between academia and industry.

"We have to try to persuade politicians that basic research is important," said Nissen.

"It is very easy to convince politicians that applied research is important for obvious reasons like faster cars or better medication but it is much harder to defend more funding for basic research."

by Vincent Landon


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