SNSF – investing in researchers and their ideas for 70 years

Founded on 1 August 1952, the SNSF funds outstanding research at Swiss universities on behalf of the federal government. Tens of thousands of SNSF-funded projects have generated new knowledge and solved problems.

The SNSF in 1952 – and in 2022. At first glance, they have little in common. In the beginning, the budget was a few million Swiss francs, which was enough to fund 150 to 200 research projects. Today, the SNSF invests around one billion francs per year in several thousand projects.

The best of each research discipline

However, a closer look reveals that, on a fundamental level, little has changed. In 2022, the SNSF continues to fund the best scientific research projects in all disciplines and to support the careers of young researchers. "But it’s no longer a question of Swiss research having to catch up with other countries, as was the case after the Second World War, but rather of maintaining and expanding the leading position we have achieved since then," says Jürg Stahl, President of the Foundation Council.

SNSF-funded research strengthens Switzerland's innovative power and increases societal well-being. Moreover, it contributes to progress and sustainable development worldwide. "This is another feature the SNSF of today shares with the SNSF of the early years," says Jürg Stahl. "Its activities are not meant to benefit Switzerland alone. Our country was spared the full brunt of the war, and the SNSF founders therefore felt it was their duty to the world, and to Europe in particular, to promote scientific research and contribute to reconstruction."

National and independent

Matthias Egger, President of the 100-member Research Council, points out further parallels between then and now. "With the SNSF, something completely new came into being: national research funding with government money – managed and implemented by science itself." Its foundation enabled nationwide competition between the best research ideas, independently of politics and business, and driven solely by excellence. "It is precisely this freedom that is still key to the way the SNSF works and to its success," Egger emphasises.

Honorary bodies of leading researchers, supported by an efficient administration, select the projects to be funded. The SNSF wants not only to invest in excellent research but also to provide excellent funding services itself. It is therefore continually fine-tuning its evaluation processes to make them even fairer and more efficient. It still supports mainly projects whose topics are chosen by the researchers themselves – just as it did 70 years ago. This results in research that is relevant, creative and diverse.

Providing incentives for development

Thanks to its independence and broad expertise, the SNSF can also help in shaping future research and, indeed, has been doing so since 1952. "With our funding policies, we have often initiated forward-looking practices and standards," says Director Angelika Kalt. Examples include equal opportunities for women and men and open access to research results and data.

She also emphasises the flexibility of the SNSF: "Where necessary, we respond quickly to challenges, including on behalf of the federal government." For example, the SNSF launched a special call for proposals and two National Research Programmes on Covid-19. In 2021, as in 2014, it organised and implemented transitional measures to compensate for the exclusion of Swiss-based researchers from parts of the EU's Horizon Europe programme. And in 2022, it provided rapid support for researchers affected by the war in Ukraine.

"Keep up the good work!"

The SNSF was founded on 1 August 1952. 70 years later, Jürg Stahl, President of the Foundation Council, takes stock: "The creation of the SNSF was a groundbreaking act. Today, research from Switzerland ranks among the best in the world and makes a significant contribution to the well-being of people in our country and around the world. The SNSF has played a major role in this. Keep up the good work!"