Who finances what?

25/Jul/2014

An MRI scanner / Valerie Chetelat

Particle accelerators, observatories or genetic databases - the federal government wants to know what infrastructure Swiss researchers need. But some things get left by the wayside. By Simon Koechlin

In research, great emphasis is placed on collaboration. Many scientists run projects that require access to equipment or databases that are beyond their own budgets. Such infrastructure is also becoming more and more important in Switzerland. "Classical research infrastructure includes, for example, the particle accelerator at CERN and the big telescopes at the European Southern Observatory", says Katharina Eggenberger from the Research domain at the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). Today, research infrastructure is also increasingly regarded as including databases and service provision centres – such as archives holding census and opinion poll data from aross Europe.The SERI is currently drafting a ‘Roadmap for Research Infrastructures’. An inventory is being compiled of existing infrastructures, and the federal government is also ready to embark on new infrastructure projects that will be of great significance to Switzerland as a research location. The quality of both existing and future projects is being evaluated by the SNSF. If its assessment is positive, then a project is included in the Roadmap, and the parties involved decide who will pay for it – the SNSF, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences or universities. The final decision on financing, however, will only be taken within the framework of the Federal Council Dispatch on the promotion of Education, Research and Innovation (ERI) for 2017–2020.

At universities, however, there are mixed feelings about the Roadmap. "It’s certainly a good idea to get an overview", says Raymond Werlen, General Secretary of the Rectors’

Conference of the Swiss Universities (CRUS). "However, we have to decide now what infrastructure is going to be important for us from 2017 onwards – even before the goals of the next budget period have been discussed". Furthermore, the Roadmap itself is not easy to comprehend, and it isn’t quite clear just what types of infrastructure will be covered.

What about editions?

Markus Zürcher agrees. From his position as the General Secretary of the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, he criticises the fact that certain editions will not be regarded as research infrastructure. Today, such scholarly editions are almost always made available in digital format and serve as a basis for new research projects. "You can see from the draft that they still find it difficult to recognise that researchers in the humanities today work with such resources", says Zürcher. For this reason, says Ingrid Kissling-Näf from the SNSF’s Humanities and Social Sciences Division, the SNSF has issued a call for edition projects in the humanities.

Eggenberger can understand the reservations expressed, and she admits that the Roadmap is not yet fully developed. However, she is most emphatic that projects in the humanities and social sciences will also be recognised as infrastructure. The most important reason for setting up this Roadmap, however, is to improve coordination for financing purposes. There is room for savings in several areas. For medical imaging, for example, the purchase of expensive equipment, such as tomographs, is often done without any prior discussion between different institutes. "The Roadmap will give us a better overview of what’s important for us as a research location, and who will pay for what", says Eggenberger.

(From "Horizons" No. 101, June 2014)


 

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