Conclusion, but not the end: funding expires for eight National Centres of Competence in Research

The eight National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs) launched in 2010 are reaching the regular end of their funding period. Supported with CHF 345.1 m by the SNSF, they will continue to shape Swiss research in the future.

NCCRs create research networks of international standing across Swiss academia. They promote long-term research on topics of strategic importance to science, business and society in Switzerland.

In 2010, the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research launched the third series of NCCRs. The eight NCCRs of this generation are based at seven Swiss universities:

  • NCCR "Chemical Biology – Visualisation and Control of Biological Processes using Chemistry" (University of Geneva and EPF Lausanne)
  • NCCR "Kidney.CH – Kidney Control of Homeostasis" (University of Zurich)
  • NCCR "LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives" (Universities of Lausanne and Geneva)
  • NCCR "MUST – Molecular Ultrafast Science and Technology" (ETH Zurich and University of Bern)
  • NCCR "QSIT – Quantum Science and Technology" (ETH Zurich and University of Basel)
  • NCCR "Robotics – Intelligent Robots for Improving the Quality of Life" (EPF Lausanne and ETH Zurich)
  • NCCR "SYNAPSY – The Synaptic Bases of Mental Diseases" (Universities of Geneva, Lausanne and EPF Lausanne)
  • NCCR "TransCure – From Transport Physiology to Identification of Therapeutic Targets" (University of Bern)

By the end of the year, these eight NCCRs will come to their regular conclusion. During their twelve years of existence, they have further strengthened Switzerland's leading position in their respective research fields and made their results available to the scientific community across over 7500 publications.

During the entire funding period, they were supported by the SNSF with 345.1 million francs, corresponding to approximately 38% of their total budget of 906.3 million francs. Most of the remaining funding was provided by the home institutions and project participants; less than 2% of the total funding came from third parties.

Dialogue within academia and beyond

The scientific knowledge gained in the NCCRs is of great interest to both experts and the general public. While the experts discuss findings with leading figures in the field at international conferences, outreach to the non-academic public is carried out via multiple channels. For example, members of the NCCR LIVES are entering basic social sciences terms in Wikipedia, and the NCCR SYNAPSY has organised two roundtables on mental health. In addition, at the "Vitaport" exhibition launched by the NCCR TransCure in Elfenau Park (Bern), visitors are vividly shown how substances are transported in the body and how this is linked to health and disease.

Creation of new fields of education and research

One key component of the NCCR funding scheme is implementing structural changes for the long term. Thus, over the past twelve years, the home institutions of the NCCRs have firmly embedded their research areas in the Swiss university landscape. To this end, they have, for example, created or appropriately staffed professorships and established suitable research infrastructure. Some NCCRs have also enriched their home institutions with new research centres. For example, the NCCR QSIT played a leading role in founding the "Quantum Center" (ETH Zurich) and participates in the "Quantum Computing Hub" (ETH Zurich and Paul Scherrer Institute). Centres of this type contribute to the long-term strengthening of research in a field through, for instance, joint acquisition and use of costly infrastructure or promotion of fruitful collaborations between research groups.

The NCCRs also have a lasting impact thanks to the promotion of young researchers in academic tuition and at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels. Some have even launched new degree programmes. The NCCRs Chemical Biology and Robotics have each established eponymous master's degree programmes at their home institutions, and the NCCR Kidney.CH has launched the postgraduate programme "Translational Nephrology". Through graduates and former researchers, the knowledge gained in the NCCRs will continue to find its way into science, business and society beyond the end of their funding period.

Valuable contributions to equal opportunities and technological innovation

In addition, all NCCRs implement measures that promote equal opportunities. For example, the ETH Women Professors Forum emerged from the NCCR MUST's advancement programme for women. Founded in 2012, it currently counts over 80% of female professors at ETH Zurich among its members. In 2016, it was extended to EPF Lausanne. The Forum will continue to support young women who want to pursue careers in science or engineering – two fields in which they are particularly underrepresented.

Because the eight NCCRs of the third series engaged in knowledge and technology transfer, their research results will continue to have an impact outside academia in the future. On the one hand, they collaborated with players from the private sector; on the other, their members filed more than 80 patent applications and founded more than 40 start-ups or spin-offs.

Long-term structures: conclusion but not the end

The conclusion of an NCCR does not mean that it stops having an impact. It continues to benefit various stakeholders through its wide-ranging research work, from advancing knowledge to technological innovation, educating the interested public, and supporting social causes. Thus, the NCCRs leave their mark – in academia and beyond – even after their SNSF funding period has expired.