Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Switzerland Exiled from Europe

EU to CH: none of your penknife/cuckoo clock research here,
thank you very much

These are nervous times for Swiss researchers. On 26 February the EU decided to categorise Switzerland as a 'Third Country' within the new Horizon2020 programme rather than an 'Associated Country'.

So what does that mean? Why should we care?

Well, it means that, whilst Switzerland can participate in (some of) H2020, it's researchers, companies and institutions will be unlikely to receive funding from it, and will not count as one of the minimum three partners needed for most collaborative projects. Moreover, they will be excluded from any 'single beneficiary' schemes, such as those run by the ERC, and the SME instruments.

This does seem slightly odd. I'm sure there's Borgian machinations underlying the decision, but that fact that Israel is an Associated Country but Switzerland is not suggests that maps - or, indeed, an understanding of the geographic limitations of Europe - are in short supply in Brussels.

But never fear: the modern answer to all of the world's ills has ridden to the rescue. Yes, you can now sign an epetition to get DG Research to reconsider. Whilst it's been signed by 7,486 unterstutzer, I wouldn't hold your breath. Epetitions make us feel better about stuff, and it's good to register your thoughts, they haven't got a great track record on actually getting governments (or Eurocrats) to change their minds. I mean, when oh when will the Department of Transport see sense and rename the A63 as the 'Highway to Hull'?

Still, I think both the Swiss and EU officials are doing a disservice to all across (geographical) Europe. European research can only benefit from the participation of the Swiss, particularly when it comes to penknife technology and cuckoo clock research.

Enough stereotypes. Do a little digging and you can see what we (Europeans) are losing. The Complete University Guide highlights the fact that 'Switzerland has the highest ranked university in Continental Europe in the 2013–14 QS World University Rankings: ETH Zürich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), which is ranked 12th. The country also has three other institutions in the QS top 100: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne at 19th, University of Geneva at 71st, and University of Zurich at 78th.'

We - as a continent - cannot afford to turn our backs on such world-beating, quality research.

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