The Dispatch on the Promotion of Education, Research and Innovation for the years 2021–2024 provides for a continuation of the bilateral cooperation programmes with non-European partner countries launched in 2008. An international assessment conducted in 2020 confirmed that these programmes play an important role in the diversification of international research collaborations and result in a significant increase in the number of scientific co-publications by Swiss and non-European partners. The funding instrument has now been confirmed for another four years and performance agreements signed with five Leading Houses.
An evaluation published by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) in March 2020 shows that the federal bilateral R&I cooperation programmes launched in 2008 generate considerable added value for Swiss researchers and their institutions. In the light of this report, the Federal Council, in consultation with the Swiss Rectors' Conference swissuniversities, decided to continue the programmes and renew the mandates with five Leading Houses for the funding period 2021–2024. ETH Zurich remains the Leading House for East and Southeast Asia, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) for South Asia and Iran, the University of St Gallen for Latin America and the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland (HES-SO) for the Middle East and North Africa region; the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (SwissTPH), in collaboration with the University of Basel, is the Leading House for Sub-Saharan Africa. The performance agreements between SERI and the Leading Houses were signed in February 2021.
The Leading Houses’ primary task is to promote new research collaborations with regions with high scientific potential. This includes developing instruments that meet the interests of the Swiss scientific community, such as start-up funding for new bilateral research projects, support for international workshops/seminars or small mobility grants.
Joint research projects
Along with the five Leading Houses, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is responsible for implementing bilateral programmes at national level. With its counterparts abroad, it funds joint research projects (JRPs) for larger bilateral science projects. The Leading Houses award complementary grants for smaller pilot activities; these are open to the entire Swiss research community. Both JRPs and Leading House grants are selected in a competitive peer review process based on the quality of the projects put forward. Projects must also always have appropriate counterpart funding from the partner country.
Success so far – more going forward
In the 2017–2020 funding period, over 500 grants (including for bilateral research projects or for mobility programmes) were awarded under the federal government's bilateral cooperation programmes in research and innovation. In 85 per cent of the cases, the grant is expected to lead to a scientific publication, and in 70 per cent it is expected that an application for a larger international cooperation project will be made. The programme has enabled 80 per cent of grant holders to establish new long-term partnerships and networks in the respective regions. Over half of the projects have led to student exchanges even after funding has come to an end.
The opportunity grants support bottom-up initiatives of researchers from Swiss universities, universities of applied sciences, universities of teacher education, and public research institutes, linked to specific events or incidents in China (incl. Hong Kong and Taiwan), Japan, South Korea and member states of ASEAN.
The aim of the Research Partnership Grants is to strengthen or initiate a scientific exchange between Swiss and Latin American researchers and institutions. They can be used to develop joint project proposals to be submitted to large funding agencies in Latin America, Switzerland, and Europe.