Two years ago, on 26 May 2021, the Federal Council broke off negotiations for a framework agreement with the EU. For Swiss universities, this decision has drastic consequences. For the time being, Switzerland is positioned as a non-associated third country and its researchers can no longer participate as a full partner in Horizon Europe and Erasmus+. In concrete terms, the consequences are being sidelined in key roles in EU programmes, reduced competitiveness and innovation, and fewer resources for universities.
The Federal Council is currently holding out the prospect of benchmarks for a new negotiating mandate, the cantons support new negotiations with the EU and there are also positive signals from the EU. The universities need quick solutions. The price for standing on the sidelines over the past two years has already been high. The damage to Switzerland as a centre of knowledge cannot be undone, but it can be mitigated with a decisive step towards a negotiated solution and pave the way for an innovative and internationally competitive education and research centre. The Swiss authorities are striving to mitigate the negative effects with various measures. These measures are indispensable but are not a complete substitute for Switzerland's full participation in EU programmes.
For the universities, the situation regarding research programmes is currently as follows: Projects can no longer be realised as planned, Swiss researchers are losing project leads, and researchers and projects are relocating to other countries. As a result, the universities are losing out on millions, especially in the highly competitive and prestigious ERC grants.
With Erasmus+, Switzerland is not only excluded from the exchange programmes, but also from the development of a European digital education space. The consequence for higher education institutions is that partnerships have to be negotiated in a complicated bilateral way and the administrative hurdles remain high. All of this makes Switzerland less attractive for both partners and students.
swissuniversities is looking at the following scenarios:
- Switzerland and the EU find a solution for the association in 2023 or 2024.
Full association is important for the universities at any point of time. It would allow them to fully participate again in the largest and most important research programme in the world. A further weakening of Switzerland as a location for education, research and innovation would thus be avoided.
- Switzerland will only be a fully associated member from the next programme period starting in 2028.
Permanent measures would have to be created and maintained for the entire duration of Horizon Europe to prevent the exodus of excellent researchers and innovators. The consequences of non-association under Horizon Europe would also be felt in the long term, well after a renewed full association in 2028, with a weakening of the innovative strength of the Swiss economy and society.
- Switzerland remains a non-associated third country in the research and education projects in the EU.
The damage does not only affect the higher education institutions. The Swiss economy and society would also have to face negative consequences. In the event of non-association, it is necessary to make Switzerland as attractive a location for higher education as possible. Switzerland's exclusion is also a loss for the European higher education landscape, which will lose an equal partner.
swissuniversities appeals to Swiss higher education and research policymakers to secure the international top position of Swiss universities with the following measures:
- The rapid development of concrete solutions for full association as soon as possible.
- The sustainable securing of instruments and budgets that reduce the damage of non-association for the universities.
Knowledge and education are among Switzerland's most important resources. If the universities are weakened, Switzerland also loses its attractiveness as a location. It is therefore in the general interest of society to prevent an erosion of the international positioning of Switzerland as a centre of knowledge and education.