SNSF completes evaluation of Temporary Backup Schemes: 21 SNSF Consolidator Grants awarded


This picture shows a researcher with his instruments in the mountains. ©  PermaSense Project

The SNSF has awarded an SNSF Consolidator Grant to 21 excellent researchers wanting to work in Switzerland. In so doing, it has completed the core tasks linked to the transitional measures it implemented in place of the grants offered by the European Research Council (ERC), from which researchers in Switzerland had been excluded. Despite its successful completion, the scheme must remain a one-off for the SNSF in this form.

​The SNSF Consolidator Grants, worth up to CHF 2 million, are part of the Temporary Backup Schemes (TBS) launched in March 2014. They made it possible for outstanding researchers working or planning to work at a Swiss research institution to apply for grants to the SNSF  that are comparable to the prestigious "frontier research grants" of the ERC. This measure became necessary after the fallout from the yes vote in the referendum on "mass immigration" in February 2014 led to Switzerland being excluded from the Horizon 2020 programme - including the ERC grants - from the end of February to mid-September 2014.

Success rate of nearly 20%

Following the SNSF Starting Grants in November 2014, the SNSF has now also awarded its SNSF Consolidator Grants. A total of 111 submitted applications were evaluated in a two-phase procedure. On completion of the first phase, 45 researchers were invited to the second phase, in which they presented their projects before one of the three dedicated evaluation panels set up for this scheme. The crucial criteria for obtaining a grant included the project's potential to produce scientific breakthroughs as well as the researcher's ability to conduct a highly original, large-scale project. Ultimately, 21 projects were approved: 4 projects in the humanities and social sciences, 6 projects in the life sciences and 11 projects in mathematics and the natural and engineering sciences. This corresponds to a success rate of 19%. Women submitted approximately 18% of all applications, and 24% of successful applications.

A budget of around 40 million francs

The researchers received up to CHF 2 million (excluding overhead) for their five-year projects. The total budget for the 21 funded projects amounts to CHF 39.6 million. Host institutions will receive additional funding of 15% to cover their overhead costs.

The highest number of applications were submitted by researchers from EPFL and from the universities of Zurich and Geneva. The 21 SNSF Consolidator Grants are distributed across the higher education institutions as follows: University of Basel 1, University of Geneva 3, University of Neuchâtel 1, University of Zurich 4, EPF Lausanne 7, ETH Zurich 2, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) 1, Friedrich Miescher Institute 1, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute 1.

TBS evalution completed - projects can go ahead

With researchers in Switzerland again able to submit research proposals to the ERC as of 15 September 2014, the SNSF has duly completed its core tasks and evaluation of TBS with the award of the SNSF Consolidator Grants. Now it is the turn of the recipients of these highly coveted grants to do their part. By forging ahead with their ambitious projects at various higher education institutions and institutes, they will help Switzerland to maintain its standing as a hub of research excellence.

Successful, but non-recurring in its present form

The over 250 applications submitted for TBS are a clear indication of the necessity of these short-term transitional measures. TBS were the SNSF's contribution towards a stop-gap funding solution for researchers in Switzerland and towards maintaining the international competitiveness of Swiss research. Their partial success justifies the heavy additional workload the SNSF had to deal with, which at times tested its resilience to the limit. The task of finding further international peer reviewers at short notice proved particularly difficult.

Furthermore, no international comparisons were possible for the evaluation of the SNSF Starting and Consolidator Grants. Also for this reason, the SNSF is convinced that Switzerland's full association with Horizon 2020 in the future is an absolute necessity. It represents the only way in which researchers in Switzerland can pit themselves against the best minds in Europe. The SNSF and the ERC are each on a different mission and have to accomplish different tasks. TBS in their present form must therefore remain a one-off initiative.

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