Strong, new generation of Swiss scientists for internationalised research

​Science is an international activity, and cross-border scientific cooperation is increasing. As I explained in my recent article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper (NZZ), a study recently published in Nature has revealed that the research output of Western countries has grown in recent years, primarily owing to international collaboration. Nowhere is this more true than in Switzerland, with more than two-thirds of Swiss scientific publications now having at least one non-Swiss co-author. This is actually a strong sign for Switzerland, since coordination, competition and exchange are key to science today, and we are ahead of the curve. I believe that two main reasons underlie the increasing difficulties experienced in encouraging young Swiss to take up careers in research: competition from international candidates is strong and, besides, there is a general lack of options in Switzerland for taking up academic careers with a clear framework.

Therefore to guarantee a strong, new generation of Swiss researchers, we need to take our talented young people and provide them with the education that they need to become world-class researchers; they must be able to compete against the many foreign candidates on the career ladder. On the other hand, we need to make our somewhat old-fashioned system of academic careers more dynamic, so that well-educated new researchers have a fair opportunity to show off their skills. So, how can we achieve this together with the higher education institutions?

For me, the key aspect is to remain open to any schemes and measures that may be suitable to make the new generation more dynamic and more competitive. Nowadays, an international curriculum is typically vital for successful academic careers. Our funding system must therefore offer increased support for cross-border mobility at as early a stage as possible – even before candidates undertake their doctorate. Why should young Swiss researchers not achieve their doctorate abroad, and then return to our higher education institutions, in the tenure track framework, for example? And this brings us to the second point: we must give our new generation of academics clear options for their careers as early as we can. We need to explain the demanding requirements that these options entail – in the case of tenure track, for example – but also show that there is a transparent framework and rules with which candidates can engage if they decide to proceed. This could also help us to reduce the bottleneck experienced on the university career ladder, as individuals would be able to make the fundamental decision on whether or not to take up an academic career at an earlier stage.

Martin Vetterli
President of the National Research Council of the SNSF


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