Representatives of Swiss academia are concerned about the European Commission’s decision to suspend Switzerland from Horizon 2020 research programs and Erasmus+ student exchange programs. The EU decided to suspend the Swiss after they voted for stricter immigration rules that limit the free movement of people.
They shared their worry with the three most directly concerned Federal Councilors in an open letter. They requested that the government do everything in its power to find a solution that will allow Switzerland to participate in these programs. Otherwise the “mini-guillotine” from the EU will completely isolate Swiss research, education and innovation, the university leaders state in their letter.
The presidents of EPFL and ETH Zurich, the Conference of Rectors of Swiss Universities and the Board of the Swiss National Science Foundation made reference to the rapid progression of research in Switzerland over the past ten years. International rankings and an attractive enough environment to attract top researchers are witness to this, as is the prestigious “FET Flagship” grant obtained for the Human Brain Project.
Losing a third of the grant money
Switzerland will miss out on a lot of money, prestige and connections when they will be banned from the European programs. The Swiss, although non-EU, are top-receivers of ERC-grants for excellent research. “Being excluded from these programs means that among other things our scientists could no longer compete for ERC Grants,” EPFL president Patrick Aebischer explained. “Yet at present this source of funding makes up a third of competitive grant money in our school.”
Financial issues aside, it’s above all at the symbolic level of a loss of image and attractiveness as a research community that concerns these leaders. “Scientists with ERC Grants, or those who are competing for them, will no longer be interested in joining our faculty,” said Aebischer.
“The big scientific issues of our time are by definition international in scope, whether you’re talking about energy, medicine, or information technology,” added ETH President Ralph Eichler. “We must be able to engage in multi-year international collaborations.”
Time is essential. Deadlines for submitting grant proposals fall between March 25 and October 31. “Everything takes place in this period,” said Patrick Aebischer. He has called upon his faculty to continue submitting grant proposals within the required deadlines, hoping that a solution will be reached soon.
Day of Mourning
In the meantime students are so worried about the impact of the present situation, that they organize a ‘National Day of Mourning’ tonight in Bern. “Chère Suisse, adieu’ is its motto of this flashmob, all dressed in black. On their Facebook page they state: “Putting an end to negotiations with Switzerland, Europe has also put an end to the hope of students, PhD students and professors to continue to benefit from such agreements in the future.”
“A meeting is intended for students, doctoral students and professors… everyone concerned should be mobilized! Meeting: This Thursday, February 20 at 6 p.m. , all dressed in black, at the Federal Palace. This action symbolizes the mourning of the academic world.”