The fall of the Berlin Wall revives research


The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago paved the way for a previously unthinkable research cooperation. © Keystone

The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago and the opening of borders paved the way for a previously unthinkable research cooperation with Eastern Europe. With the SCOPES programme, Switzerland has sup-ported this cooperation from the outset.

The fall of the Iron Curtain on 9 November 1989 ended the separation of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from the West, which had lasted for decades. It was a historic moment and the beginning of a difficult process in the former communist states. An old system - the planned economy - was replaced by a new market-based economy from one day to the next. Industries suddenly had to face up to global competition. This soon led to economic breakdown in many countries of Eastern Europe.

Launch of research cooperation with Eastern Europe

It was in this context that the Swiss parliament approved a loan to provide support for Eastern Europe. The idea soon arose of using part of the promised money to strengthen the scientific community in these beleaguered countries. The SCOPES programme (Scientific Co-operation between Eastern Europe and Switzerland) was jointly launched and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in 1990 (overall amount: CHF 81 million).

Rewarding partnerships

Ever since then, hundreds of SCOPES projects have helped science in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to advance and become more competitive in the global arena. The supported teams form a kind of germ cell that instigates change and innovation.

Today, researchers in Eastern Europe are still paid much less than their colleagues in the West. This is why careers in academia hold only limited appeal for most. Thanks to SCOPES, researchers now earn a decent salary and receive funding for their research projects. The grants also enable them to carry out joint research with international partners and attend conferences all over the world. This kind of international cooperation is extremely important for Eastern European countries, who are hoping to participate in programmes of the EU.

"Joint projects with Eastern European colleagues are also interesting for researchers from Switzerland, particularly in the natural sciences and engineering because there is a lot of talent in these domains," says Evelyne Glättli, who is responsible for the programme at the SNSF. But the SCOPES programme is also of interest to Swiss researchers for other reasons. For example, it enables them to engage in research that cannot be carried out in Switzerland. There are archives, collections, archaeological sites and ecosystems in Eastern Europe that are unique throughout the world.

Although it is to be discontinued in 2016, SCOPES is still attracting a great deal of interest. Plans are already afoot at the SNSF to continue the research cooperation with Eastern Europe beyond the end of the programme.

Further information

You will find a dossier on "Cooperation with Eastern Europe" with descriptions of selected projects at:

International Co-operation division
Evelyne Glättli
Phone +41 31 308 22 22