SNSF funding 2021-2024: New opportunities for Swiss research

The SNSF has set four priorities in its forthcoming multi-year programme. This will help Swiss research to overcome challenges and fulfil its potential.

In spite of its very strong global position, Swiss research faces a number of challenges. "More diversity is needed, more interdisciplinary collaboration, better data infrastructures, and closer links to the economy and society," says Matthias Egger, President of the National Research Council of the SNSF. In the multi-year programme 2021-2024, the SNSF has given priority to these four points. In addition, it aims to make its funding activities more efficient, more fair and more effective. "All measures share the same goal: to maintain Switzerland's leading position in global research," Matthias Egger stresses.

The four priorities of the SNSF for 2021-2024:

Foster excellence through diversity

The SNSF also plans to award grants to female doctoral students in the STEM disciplines and life sciences. And it will increase its support for projects in engineering and health research at universities of applied sciences for a limited period.

The SNSF hopes that these measures will lead to more original and impactful results, increase the number of women in research and boost use-inspired investigation.

Strengthen international leadership through collaboration

Many of today's research questions are only answerable if various disciplines work together. For instance, neuroinformaticians, biochemists, microelectronics specialists and sports medicine researchers are studying biomarkers in human sweat for the same SNSF project. The SNSF has for a long time been funding small research consortia and financing the National Research Programmes (NRPs) and the National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs). Now it wants to fill the gap in-between with a funding scheme for medium-sized consortia comprising at least five groups. The scheme will create incentives for researchers to collaborate on larger topics and will allow them to explore new fields and play a leading role in global science.

Support data infrastructures and services

Research produces, stores, administers and analyses ever-increasing amounts of data, such as measurement data incl. statistical analyses. The SNSF wants to ensure that researchers in Switzerland have access to high-quality data infrastructures and services (DIS) and that they receive expert advice. This will also expedite the transition to open science. As of 2021, the SNSF will support existing DISs of national importance, such as the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences (FORS), and provide funding for new DISs under a government mandate. The SNSF's stringent selection procedures will contribute to the overall high quality of these infrastructures.

Enhance the value of research for society

Switzerland does not exploit research findings to the full. To address this issue, the SNSF plans to extend the BRIDGE programme together with Innosuisse, the government's innovation promotion agency. Since its inception in 2017, BRIDGE has successfully financed projects at the interface of basic science and innovation. Among other new features, BRIDGE will now fund experienced researchers not only in technical disciplines, but also in all others.

In addition, the SNSF will support networks that bring universities together with companies, public sector institutions, associations and other users of scientific results. This is aimed at shortening the time it takes to transfer and implement scientific results within society and the economy.

4.8 billion francs

In order to implement the new measures and continue its successful funding activities, the SNSF is requesting the sum of 4.8 billion francs from the government for the 2021-2024 period. This corresponds to an annual increase of 3.5 per cent. "The money is well invested," says Felicitas Pauss, interim President of the SNSF Foundation Council. "The independence of the SNSF as a funder enables highly relevant, creative projects that would not be financed by private companies. This provides a foundation for innovation in the economy and public administration. It makes Swiss research internationally successful."

The SNSF has now submitted its multi-year programme 2021-2024 to the Swiss government. The budget will be decided by parliament in 2020.

SNSF Multi-Year Programme 2021-2024 (PDF)

Digitalisation: a substantial contribution from the SNSF

Research on digitalisation is expected to keep gaining traction in the coming years. The SNSF is already financing numerous projects of this kind. "RNNAIssance", for instance, aims to develop feedback neural networks that are very similar to biological brains. Within the scope of the "Digital Lives" call, researchers are analysing aggression on the internet from a sociological perspective. For the first time, they are interviewing online commentators who have been legally prosecuted.

Several National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs) are studying digitalisation. The NCCR "QSIT - Quantum Science and Technology" has been investigating quantum physical effects since 2011. Thanks to this NCCR, numerous Swiss scientists have become pioneers of quantum technology. Researchers participating in the NCCR "Robotics" are at the cutting edge of drone and four-legged robot development.

The best ideas in competition

The SNSF promotes scientific research on behalf of the Swiss government. Research is an important factor in Switzerland's prosperity and global competitiveness. The SNSF invests approximately 1 billion francs per year. At year-end 2018, it was funding 6500 ongoing research projects, in which 16,300 people were taking part. "We organise a contest between the best ideas," says Matthias Egger, President of the National Research Council of the SNSF. "Researchers and teams from all academic disciplines, higher education institutions and research centres can apply for funding on a competitive basis."