National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs)
From sustainable architecture to the evolutionary origins of language to quantum computers: the NCCRs fund long-term research projects on topics of strategic importance to Switzerland.
The SNSF published the call for proposals for the sixth series of NCCRs on behalf of the federal government at the end of November 2023. The call is aimed at researchers in Switzerland who want to conduct long-term research projects on topics of strategic importance. The decisions on new NCCRs from this call are expected to be communicated in early 2026. The next NCCRs will start in the first half of 2026.
For experienced researchers
NCCRs are intended for experienced researchers.
An NCCR consists of several research groups working together in an interdisciplinary, interuniversity network with partners from the academic, public and private sector. They help structure the Swiss research landscape and strengthen its international network.
NCCRs are always hosted by one or more Swiss higher education research centres.
Long-term, broad-based funding
The federal government defines the financial framework. Between 8 and 20 million Swiss francs are usually approved for the first four-year period. NCCRs last for 8 to 12 years and are divided into four-year periods. The length of the third period may vary. In addition to the federal contribution, funding for the NCCRs comes from the universities and from third parties.
Interval between calls
The SNSF periodically launches new NCCR calls on behalf of the federal government. Six to ten NCCRs are approved for each call. To date there have been five NCCR series (2001, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2020). The first three series have been concluded.
The SNSF provides adequate advance notification of new NCCR calls.
Responsible applicant (NCCR director)
The responsible applicant is the designated NCCR director. The director represents the other participating applicants – other members of the NCCR team of directors as well as project leaders / principal investigators (PIs) – vis-à-vis the SNSF.
Leading and conducting an NCCR is a challenging task. The SNSF therefore expects outline and full proposals from internationally renowned researchers with proven experience in research management. Leading an NCCR is a long-term task. The designated director must therefore commit to this responsibility and to leading the NCCR for at least its first four years (first phase).
In addition to the NCCR director, the NCCR team of directors consists of co-directors and deputy directors. They are members of the NCCR team of directors and are also applicants in the same way as the project leaders / PIs. All members of the NCCR team of directors are expected to have proven experience in research management.
Outline or full proposals can only be submitted if they have the formal support of one or more home institutions. Participating home institutions define long-term goals in line with their strategic planning to structurally strengthen the respective research area together with the NCCR. Home institutions therefore commit to supporting the NCCR with financial and structural contributions.
The call document describes the requirements for applicants and home institutions in detail.
How to apply
Please remember the following points when preparing an NCCR outline or full proposal.
You need a mySNF account to submit your letter of intent and outline proposal. Further details are available on the Submitting a grant application page. All proposal documents for NCCRs must be in English.
The submission of a declaration of intent by 15 February 2024 is a mandatory step for the submission of an outline proposal.
Enter a provisional budget for the first phase indicating the amount requested from the SNSF and the contributions from the home institutions, and submit a letter of support from each participating home institution.
Once the outline proposals have been evaluated and the results of the evaluation communicated, the responsible applicants and respective home institution(s) have two months to decide whether to submit a full proposal or not. The responsible applicants must notify the SNSF of their decision.
At the appropriate time, the SNSF will notify applicants of the platform on which full proposals are to be submitted. NCCR proposals must be submitted by 5 p.m. CET on 3 February 2025.
The templates for NCCR full proposals will be provided on the relevant platform.
An NCCR proposal comprises a research plan, up-to-date CVs for the responsible and the other applicants, a detailed budget for the first four-year period, the letters of support setting out the financial and structural contributions of the participating home institutions and letters of support from other institutions or partners who are taking part in the NCCR or are interested in its results.
The SNSF offers online information events for researchers and representatives of universities and research institutions.
The evaluation procedure for NCCRs comprises two stages. There is an outline proposal stage and a full proposal stage.
The SNSF evaluates the scientific and structural aspects of the proposals and recommends a shortlist of outstanding proposals to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for funding.
The SERI is responsible for evaluating and prioritising the shortlisted full proposals in terms of research and higher education policies. The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research makes the final decision on which NCCRs to fund.
The SNSF uses its standardised evaluation procedure to assess NCCR outline and full proposals. However, there are variations in the evaluation criteria – which are adapted to the collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of research in NCCRs and their structural goals – and in decision-making, which is aligned with the federal legislation governing the NCCR selection (see legal foundations).
The SNSF evaluates NCCRs using the following criteria:
- The scientific quality of the overall research plan and of the individual projects, including the potential to stimulate interdisciplinarity, new scientific approaches and methods within disciplines or cooperation in new areas of research;
- The critical mass and added value of the NCCR compared to the sum total of the individual projects;
- The plausibility of the goals and measures in terms of knowledge and technology transfer; education & training of young researchers, equal opportunities; communication & outreach and open science (only evaluated at the full proposal stage);
- The quality of NCCR management and suitability of the team of directors;
- The appropriateness of the requested funding and the home institutions’ contributions;
- The strategic relevance of the research topic for Swiss research.
Legal foundations and regulations
NCCRs are generally subject to the same eligibility requirements as SNSF project funding. You can find the general regulations governing SNSF funding here:
Following the decision by the Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), the SNSF prepares a contract with the NCCR director and participating home institutions. The SNSF is the third contracting party. The contract contains detailed regulations governing NCCR funding for each four-year period, the rights and obligations of the contracting parties and other participants in the NCCR, as well as the review process and organisational aspects.
Early-career researchers employed in NCCRs can apply directly to the NCCR team of directors for mobility grants and flexibility grants. The SNSF assesses the applications supported by the NCCR team of directors in accordance with the NCCR-specific guidelines for these supplementary measures:
FAQ – Number of SNSF applications
I have already reached the maximum permitted number of grants for the same funding period in accordance with Article 13.1 of the Regulations on project funding. Can I still take part in an NCCR?
Can I participate in several NCCRs as other applicant?
Yes. Other applicants in the role of project leader / principal investigator can participate in several outline or full proposals. However, the SNSF expects researchers to have sufficient resources/capacity to commit to each NCCR. They must ensure that they have sufficient time for the tasks and projects of the NCCRs.
If I am a member of an NCCR team of directors submitting an outline proposal, can I contribute to other outline proposals at the same time?
No. Members of an NCCR team of directors – directors, co-directors or their deputies – cannot participate in any other NCCR of the same series. Consequently, they cannot be involved in any additional outline or full proposal.
FAQ – Other eligibility criteria
Can researchers from other countries participate in an NCCR as other applicants?
Yes. Provided their skills are necessary for the project, around 10% of the other applicants can work at a research institution in a different country. Their participation in the NCCR should be restricted to one phase (4 years). However, exceptions are possible in justified cases.
Is it possible to include industrial partners in NCCR projects?
In principle, yes. However, they cannot be applicants. In addition, it must be ensured that no NCCR funding is used for research with a direct commercial purpose. Compliance with the principles of academic freedom, academic independence and freedom to publish must be guaranteed.
FAQ – Size, duration and budget
The SNSF also accepts proposals for shorter, smaller NCCRs. What does that mean in terms of duration, funding and number of applicants?
The funding period covered by the proposal must be between 8 and 12 years. The budget for the first phase is between 8 and 20 million Swiss francs. The SNSF makes no stipulations as to the number of applicants involved in an NCCR.
Is it still possible to submit proposals for large NCCRs, as in previous calls?
Yes, that is possible.
Are there different requirements for smaller or shorter NCCRs?
No. All NCCRs, regardless of their size and duration, are required to establish long-term structures and a network in their respective field of research. Depending on the research area, it is possible to achieve these goals in smaller consortia.
Is preference given to smaller and/or shorter NCCRs?
No. All outline and full proposals are subject to the same evaluation criteria and procedure.
What level of detail is required for the budget submitted with the application?
The budget must cover the first four years. It differentiates between management costs (including for the structure-related areas of KTT, education and training, equal opportunities, communication and outreach, and open science), costs for research and for structural measures. The budget must only cover SNSF funding and the self-funding provided by the home institution(s). The Excel template provided by the SNSF, with additional explanations, must be used for budgeting.
FAQ – Home institution eligibility, role and support
Which institutions are eligible as home institution for an NCCR?
The Federal Act on the Promotion of Research and Innovation (RIPA) defines three categories of recognised Swiss higher education research centres that are eligible as home institutions for NCCRs:
- The Federal Institutes of Technology and the research centres of the ETH domain;
- Universities, universities of applied sciences, universities of teacher education and other institutions in the higher education sector that are accredited under the HedA;
- Research facilities of national importance which receive funding from the Confederation (RIPA, Art. 15).
What are the tasks of a home institution in an NCCR?
The topic covered by the NCCR must either be one of the home institution’s strategic priorities or become a strategic priority after the approval of an NCCR. Associated with this is a willingness to develop and structurally strengthen the research area and to continue supporting it after the end of the NCCR. Structural reinforcement encompasses firstly the research itself (e.g. new professorships, infrastructure, topic-specific centres or networks) and secondly the structure-related areas (education and training, KTT, equal opportunities, communication and outreach and open science).
What is the minimum amount of funding that a home institution must commit to providing?
There are no required amounts for the funding provided by home institutions. The nature of this funding depends on the specific needs of the respective research area. For example, it could be cash, new (assistant) professorships, research equipment or new curricula. The SNSF takes into account the institutions’ different financial and structural situations when it evaluates the self-funding of home institutions. In all cases, it must be possible to identify the strategic prioritisation by the home institution of the NCCR topic, and the proposed measures must be suitable for enhancing the international visibility and competitiveness of the research community in question.
What expenditure cannot be included in home institutions’ contributions?
Home institutions must bear the following costs, which cannot be included in their contributions to the NCCR: General operating expenses and overheads, costs of procuring and operating basic equipment, and salaries of project leaders (except for (assistant) professorships created explicitly for the NCCR). These requirements also apply to the institutions of project leaders who do not work at a home institution.
Can third parties submit letters of support?
Parties who are not directly participating in an NCCR can submit letters of support at the full proposal level in addition to the letters submitted by the home institution(s). Such letters must contain adequate commitments that are relevant to the implementation of the NCCR. Third-party letters of support are not considered during the outline proposal evaluation.
- NCCR Affective Sciences
- NCCR Climate
- NCCR CO-ME
- NCCR Democracy
- NCCR FINRISK
- NCCR Genetics
- NCCR Iconic Criticism
- NCCR IM2
- NCCR Molecular Oncology
- NCCR MaNEP
- NCCR Mediality
- NCCR MICS
- NCCR Nanoscale Science
- NCCR Neuro
- NCCR North-South
- NCCR Plant Survival
- NCCR Quantum Photonics
- NCCR sesam
- NCCR Structural Biology
- NCCR Trade Regulation
- NCCR Chemische Biologie
- NCCR Kidney.CH
- NCCR LIVES
- NCCR MUST
- NCCR QSIT
- NCCR Robotics
- NCCR SYNAPSY
- NCCR TransCure