NCCR "North-South – Research Partnerships for Mitigating Syndromes of Global Change" (2001-2013)
NCCR Director: Prof. Hans Hurni (2001-2013)
Home Institution: University of Bern
Research in the NCCR and major results
The NCCR North-South aimed to develop and consolidate an integrative research approach to generate knowledge for sustainable development in the context of global change in developing and transition countries. The programme brought together six Swiss research institutions and 140 partner institutions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Building research partnerships between participants in the industrialised global "North" and their peers in the developing global "South" was central to the programme's success. It addressed topics such as poverty, conflict, health, sanitation, natural resources and governance.
The following examples illustrate some of the programme's highlights: researchers refined theories of "multi-locality", showing that in the context of migration a "household" should not be understood as a residential unit, but rather as a tight network of exchanges of support (e.g. remittances) and services between people living in different countries (e.g. Kyrgyzstan, India, Pakistan and Nepal). They provided evidence for linkages between sustainable land management and mitigation of climate change. Other groups tested the "One Health" approach – uniting doctors and veterinarians with very positive results. In Chad, mobile human–animal health campaigns markedly improved vaccination rates for serious illnesses.
The NCCR was awarded CHF 36 million for a duration of 12 years of research. The table below shows that this amount represents roughly 37% of the overall expenditure of the NCCR. The remaining funds were mainly granted by third parties, namely by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), or by the research groups involved, who contributed funds of their own.
Funding 2001 - 2013
Funding sources (CHF)
Self-funding by University of Bern
Self-funding by project participants
International standing of Swiss research
The NCCR North-South strengthened Switzerland’s international position in research on global change. The six Swiss partner institutions in the NCCR clearly enhanced their standing, particularly in the research fields listed below:
- Migration: Development Study Group (DSGZ), University of Zurich
- Conflict transformation: Swiss Peace Foundation (swisspeace), Bern
- Health care systems: Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), Basel
- Sanitation and wastewater management: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag-Sandec), Dübendorf
- Natural resources and sustainable regional development: Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern
- Governance: Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva
The NCCR covered a unique thematic range and geographic scope, and therefore its research stood out in the international context. With regard to its research approach, structured network interaction and variety of initiatives pursued in parallel, it came to serve as a model also for other countries.
Articles without peer review
Articles in anthologies
Structural development – Perspectives for the research domain
The NCCR fostered an important structural development and renewal of research staff at both the University of Bern and at the other involved Swiss partner institutions. The University of Bern established in 2009 the "Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)", emanating from the NCCR North-South, as an interdisciplinary research centre. Moreover the NCCR provided manifold opportunities for young researchers to design and lead their own research projects, a significant contribution towards strengthening research capacities in the field. To further promote the education of highly skilled professionals, the NCCR institutionalised the "International Graduate School North-South (IGS)", a doctoral programme addressing topics such as global change, sustainable development and innovation, run jointly by the universities of Basel, Bern and Zurich. Thus, the IGS North-South preserves a part of the network of Swiss partner institutions built by the NCCR North-South.
By supporting Regional Coordination Offices in the global South, the NCCR established and consolidated local and regional research networks, linking universities, research centres and international organisations in different "Joint areas of Case Studies JACS". The NCCR was active in the following regions: West Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Togo); East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania); Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Sudan); Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan); South Asia (Nepal, India, Pakistan); South-East Asia (Thailand, Laos, China, Vietnam); Caribbean and Central America (Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba), and South America (Bolivia, Peru, Argentina).
Number of created professorships
4 new full professors6 new assistant professors1 replacement (retired professor replaced by professor participating in NCCR)
Junior group leaders
7 junior group leaders
Infrastructure / platforms
Eight Regional Coordination Offices with regional knowledge hubs (including databases, services, etc.)Different web-based knowledge platforms linked to regional observatoriesInternational Graduate School North-South (IGS North-South), a joint doctoral programme of the Universities of Bern, Basel and Zurich
University of Bern, University of Zürich, EAWAG, Swiss TPH, swisspeace, IHEID, EPFLThe very broad network in the south can be seen from this link.
Knowledge and technology transfer to society and industry
The NCCR strictly focussed its research on urgent issues and problems faced by countries of the global South. With regard to the generation, exchange and dissemination of knowledge, the NCCR developed two approaches: an innovative instrument called "Partnership Actions for Mitigating Syndroms PAMS" as well as "Policy Briefs" to provide research evidence for policy-makers.
The PAMS were small participatory projects of limited time and financial scope, designed to bring researchers together with partners from outside academia with the aim of understanding problems, reaching joint solutions and obtaining new inputs for research. More than 100 PAMS were initiated and concluded in the different regions. The "Policy Briefs" series provided research highlights from the NCCR on important development issues, both for an international and a regional audience. The global issues were aimed at Swiss and international decision-makers on development matters, while the regional series provided information for local development agencies and ministries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Overall the NCCR delivered 66 policy briefs in the two series.
The programme periodically assessed the exchange and dissemination of knowledge and evaluated its PAMS programme at the end of the first four-year period. Consequently, the NCCR put in place a specific monitoring procedure, "Monitoring research effectiveness MORE", which was meant to assist researchers in enhancing the impact of their work.
Knowledge and technology transfer
After completing their studies, about 10% of doctoral students and postdocs found jobs in the private or public sector. These young researchers play a pivotal role in direct knowledge transfer between the public and the private sector.
Promotion of young scientists and the academic careers of women
Over 550 PhD students, postdoctoral students and local trainees benefited from NCCR North-South training events between 2002 and 2012. Beside the disciplinary training delivered by institutional partners and many smaller local training courses conducted by the different research groups, the two most important integrative training formats of the NCCR North-South were seven continental "Regional training courses RTCs" and eight "Intercontinental integrative training courses ITCs". The "International Graduate School North-South" still exists, capitalising on the inter-institutional network established by the NCCR North-South.
A study of the NCCR, tracing the career development of the involved PhD students showed that the career-boost effect in the South was impressive. Almost 60% of the Southern alumni obtained a higher position (leading or middle management) following their PhD degree. The great majority of them worked at universities or research institutes in their countries. Thus, the research collaboration in the NCCR did not lead to a brain drain from the South, i.e. the movement of high-skilled researchers to the North.
The NCCR defined both research and career-related objectives with regard to the promotion of women's academic careers. And a ratio of 2:3 (female to male researchers) was defined as a target for the programme. Three years after its start, the NCCR mandated a study on the level of gender equality in the programme. The results revealed that the careers of women researchers faced the same fate as elsewhere in academia: after the PhD women were clearly less often promoted to the level of senior researchers. As of the second phase (2005) the NCCR integrated gender-related aspects systematically in all domains and created career opportunities in the form of leadership positions for so-called transversal projects, for which a number of women researchers successfully applied.