Survey among researchers in Switzerland about their needs and expectations towards the SNSF

This picture shows the pictogram for evaluations. © SNSF

A survey conducted by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) provides the SNSF with information on the researchers funding situation and their opinion on two key funding schemes – Project Funding and Sinergia. This input will help the SNSF to adjust the design and handling of the two instruments.

​In 2012, the Presiding Board of the Research Council and the Executive Committee of the Foundation Council decided to initiate an online survey among researchers in Switzerland, to learn more about their needs, expectations towards the SNSF and institutional support. The study complements an internal analysis and serves as a basis for decisions about the future configuration of project funding and Sinergia.

Data from nearly 3,500 researchers

In October 2013, NIFU sent the survey to a representative sample of 8,000 researchers drawn from a database provided by Swiss research/higher education institutions and the SNSF. The overall response rate was 50%. After excluding those who did not meet the criteria (holding a PhD or substantial researcher experience, and being affiliated with a Swiss research institution), 3478 datasets of researchers in Switzerland remained for analysis. The response rate was high among researchers who obtained SNSF funding at least once during the past six years. It was low among unsuccessful applicants, non-applicants, researchers in lower academic positions and researchers outside the universities. This situation is not satisfactory for the SNSF but is commonly observed in similar surveys.

An overview of the key findings

The key findings concerning the SNSF are in general rather positive, but also reflect clear strengths and weaknesses:

  • In general, when comparing with their other relevant funding sources, researchers were satisfied with SNSF project funding and Sinergia.
  • SNSF project funding is highly rated when it comes to offering opportunities for unique/original research and to the impact on the reputation and career of the grantees. Sinergia scores high on opportunities for building new national scientific networks, opportunities for doing interdisciplinary research and opportunities for broadening one’s field of expertise.
  • The results are less positive for both funding schemes when it comes to support for new projects that do not require preliminary research, opportunities for addressing high-risk topics and the flexible use of funds.

The survey shows that project funding is highly appreciated and there are few distinct preferences concerning planned changes. Nevertheless, changes implying more flexibility are welcomed by most of the researchers.

Implications for the SNSF

The results show that different groups of researchers have different needs. These differences are linked to institutional affiliation, field of research and academic position. When considering adjustments to SNSF project funding and Sinergia, these diverse needs represent a considerable challenge, even more so because many (successful applicants) are satisfied with the scheme as it is. In addition, the need for more flexibility as expressed by the respondents contrasts to a certain degree with the need for more simplicity and clarity in the SNSF funding schemes, as put forward by an internal analysis.

The results of the survey together with the results of the internal analysis present a useful basis not only for changes to project funding but also for the elaboration of the Multi-Year Programme 2017-2020. The final report is currently being discussed by the bodies of the SNSF. The SNSF will publish a statement and announce further steps in summer 2014. For the public and interested circles, the final report is already made available now.