All eight National Centres of Competence in Research of the fourth series will be continued

All eight National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs) launched in 2014 will continue. The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) is supporting their third funding phase with 85.9 million francs.

The National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCRs) establish research networks with an international reach in the Swiss university sector. They promote long-term research on topics of strategic importance to Swiss science, business and society. The maximum funding period for an NCCR is twelve years and is divided into three funding phases of four years each. NCCRs launched in 2014 will enter the last of these funding phases between May and July 2022. They have been awarded a total of 85.9 million Swiss francs in funding for the next four years.

Eight NCCRs, seven higher education institutions

In 2014, the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research launched the fourth series of NCCRs, based on a selection process managed by the SNSF. The eight selected NCCRs are based at seven Swiss higher education institutions:

  • NCCR Bioinspired Materials (University of Fribourg)
  • NCCR Digital Fabrication (ETH Zurich)
  • NCCR MARVEL (EPF Lausanne)
  • NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering (University of Basel / ETH Zurich)
  • NCCR On the Move (University of Neuchâtel)
  • NCCR PlanetS (University of Bern / University of Geneva)
  • NCCR RNA & Disease (University of Bern / ETH Zurich)
  • NCCR SwissMAP (University of Geneva / ETH Zurich)

The NCCRs are research networks: their scope far exceeds the boundaries of their home institutions. They not only work together with leading research institutions in Switzerland and abroad, but also establish collaborations with private-sector players.

The National Research Council (NRC) was tasked with deciding on the NCCRs’ requests for continuation. To this end, the NRC evaluated the NCCRs, with support from advisory panels composed of experts of international repute and the SNSF Administrative Offices.

Evaluation by the National Research Council

The evaluation by the NRC takes scientific and structural aspects into account. On the science side, it examines, among other things,

  • whether the scientific performance of the NCCRs meets the highest standards and decisively advances the relevant research field;
  • whether the NCCR and its research groups are internation
    ally visible and well-connected;
  • whether Switzerland's position in the relevant research field is strengthened by the NCCR.

The structural aspects of the evaluation encompass structures created at Swiss higher education institutions and research institutes within the scope of the NCCRs, but also measures aimed at promoting young researchers, gender equality, knowledge and technology transfer, as well as communication beyond the boundaries of the academy. The evaluation considers

  • whether the NCCRs are shaping the structure of the Swiss research landscape;
  • whether the NCCRs are establishing new and sustainable cooperation structures;
  • whether the relevant research area is strengthened by NCCR structures, infrastructures and programmes.

These scientific and structural aspects are taken into account by the NRC for achievements already made and in view of the future prospects of the NCCRs.

The NRC's evaluation concluded that the fourth NCCR series has been extremely successful and has consistently performed at a very high level. Thanks to their excellent performance and prospects, the NRC has approved the continuation of all eight NCCRs of the fourth series. They thus enter their third and final funding phase.

Incentives for sustainable structures

From the available funding, all eight NCCRs of the fourth series were awarded a basic contribution of 60% of the average approved funding from the previous two funding periods. The remaining funds were awarded competitively among the eight NCCRs. This increases the budget of the NCCRs for the third phase to an average of 66% of the average budget for the first two phases.

Funding for the NCCRs by the SNSF decreases proportionally in the third funding phase. The SNSF thus creates an incentive to tap alternative sources of funding to support the activities of the NCCRs. In doing so, it also promotes the establishment of sustainable structures that are independent of SNSF funding. Overall, the SNSF thereby ensures that the NCCRs leave a legacy that will far outlast their twelve years of funding.

Past NCCRs have already been successful in this regard; for example, the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (University of Bern), the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences (University of Geneva) or the Swiss Nanoscience Institute (University of Basel) originated from NCCRs that have already been completed.

Competition between NCCRs

The SNSF's core activity is awarding research grants based on competitive selection processes. Since 2015, the SNSF has also applied such a process in the transition between NCCR funding phases.

For competitive distribution of the remaining funds, the NRC cross-compared all NCCRs of the fourth series based on the above-mentioned evaluation criteria. Due to the consistently very good performance and prospects of all NCCRs, the NRC decided on a homogeneous distribution of funds. As a result, the NCCRs were awarded between 64.5% and 68.5% of the average funding amount of the past two funding periods.