A forward-looking structure for the SNSF
A smaller Foundation Council, more competencies for the Research Council, a Delegates Assembly as a new body – the SNSF is adapting its organisational structure as of 2024. In so doing, it can continue to perform its tasks effectively in the future.
The SNSF's current organisational structure no longer fully meets today's requirements. The Statutes were previously partially revised for the last time in 2007; some of the basic structures date back to the 1970s. With the current revision, the SNSF is responding to developments in research and research funding. It is giving itself a more adaptable structure based on the principles of good organisational management. This will enable it to continue performing its tasks effectively in the future while tackling challenges flexibly and competently.
The fully revised Statutes were approved by the Federal Council in June 2023 and by the Federal Supervisory Authority for Foundations in August 2023. The Statutes will come into force on 1 January 2024 and will set out the following responsibilities and tasks of the SNSF bodies:
The Foundation Council will continue to be responsible for ensuring that the SNSF remains true to its mission and for overall governance. It will be composed of personalities from science, the economy, politics and administration. With between 7 and 11 members (previously 42), the Foundation Council will have a size that is suited to its overall strategic management tasks.
In line with the principle of scientific self-administration, the Research Council will determine funding schemes and funding policies to an even greater extent in the future.
The Research Council will continue to be responsible for selecting grant applications submitted to the SNSF. It will make the funding decisions and ensure high standards in evaluation. To this end, it is already being supported by scientific experts today. Every year, 80 to 100 evaluation panels with around 1000 honorary members assess the applications and lay the foundations for the Research Council’s decisions.
The new Research Council will be composed of between 30 and 80 highly qualified researchers working at universities and other institutions in Switzerland. The flexible number of members makes it possible to organise the Research Council in line with specific needs. The SNSF will decide in the coming months which organisation it will implement for the next few years.
An Academic Board will lead the activities of the Research Council. It will support the SNSF in addressing future challenges. The Academic Board will consist of 5 to 6 members of the Research Council and the Director of the SNSF (in an advisory capacity).
The Delegates Assembly is a new advisory body that will help shape the development of the SNSF. In this body, the universities and other research institutions, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, and the associations of early-career researchers will represent their interests. The Delegates Assembly will comprise a maximum of 40 members.
This body will manage the Administrative Offices in Bern and will be responsible for all administrative tasks as well as for the SNSF’s national and international networking and its communication activities. It will support and coordinate the activities of the Foundation Council, the Research Council and the Delegates Assembly. Implementing the evaluation procedures and administering grants are among the core tasks of the Administrative Offices.
The independent auditors are a further SNSF body. The Swiss Federal Audit Office will examine the bookkeeping and annual financial statements of the SNSF to ensure compliance with the Statutes and legal framework.
Broad-based revision of the Statutes
Responsibility for the Statutes revision project lies with the current Foundation Council of the SNSF. It consists of 42 representatives of the Confederation, the higher education institutions, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences and other organisations from the science sector.
The SNSF is expected to set out the details of its future organisation and tasks by mid-2024. As was already the case for the entire reorganisation, it will carry out internal and external consultations for this purpose, especially with the higher education institutions.
Why a new structure?
Since its foundation in 1952, the SNSF's Statutes have been amended several times. The current Statutes are already 20 years old and set out the structure of the SNSF in detail. The basic structures have existed in their present or very similar form since the 1970s. Research, research funding, the higher education landscape and public governance have changed significantly since then. The number of funding applications has increased fivefold since 2005. The SNSF could only partially adapt its operations to these developments based on the existing Statutes. Against this backdrop, the Foundation Council decided in March 2021 to fully revise the Statutes effective 1 January 2024.
With this structural reform, the SNSF is creating a statutory basis that takes account of developments. The aim is also to ensure that the SNSF and its bodies can respond flexibly and dynamically to future changes. The new Statutes hence provide a reliable framework that leaves room for the detailed structures and modes of operation. These are set out in separate regulations: the Foundation Regulations and the Organisation Regulations for the Research Council. Both these regulations are approved by the Foundation Council, which can therefore amend them if necessary. The Statutes, on the other hand, need to be approved by the Federal Council.
By clearly assigning tasks, competencies and responsibilities, the SNSF aims to meet the demands placed on institutions of public interest in today's environment, in accordance with the principles of good governance. The revision also strengthens the scientific management of the SNSF and the strategic competence of the Research Council.
The funding opportunities and funding policy of the SNSF are set out in the Funding Regulations, which remains unaffected by the reform.
Statutes from 2024
The fully revised Statutes – the SNSF's new "constitution" – were approved by the Federal Council in June 2023 and by the Federal Supervisory Authority for Foundations in August. The Statutes will enter into force on 1 January 2024. They set out the competencies and tasks of the SNSF bodies: the numerically reduced Foundation Council will continue to be responsible for the overall management of the SNSF. Alongside its evaluation work, the Research Council will focus more strongly on the strategic development of funding schemes and funding policies. Stakeholder groups will represent their interests in the newly created Delegates Assembly. But the "constitution" only sets out the basic principles. This creates maximum flexibility for shaping structures and modes of operation for the different bodies, as well as in view of future changes.
Smaller Foundation Council
As of 2024, the Foundation Council of the SNSF will continue to be responsible for ensuring that the SNSF remains true to its mission and for overall governance. It will now no longer consist of 42 delegates of the higher education institutions and other actors, but of 7 to 11 members. By abandoning the delegation principle, the SNSF can avoid a mixing of interests and any resulting role conflicts. The higher education institutions and other actors can represent their interests in the newly created Delegates Assembly.
The Foundation Council will be composed of prominent individuals from science, the economy, politics and administration. They will bring together knowledge of the Swiss research landscape as well as economic, political and legal expertise. The Foundation Council will thus be well equipped to perform its strategic tasks.
The President of the Foundation Council will be elected by the Federal Council. The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) will appoint one member without voting rights. The other members will be elected by the Foundation Council. The election will be preceded by a public call for applications and selection by a nomination committee. For the first term of office starting in 2024, the Executive Committee of the existing Foundation Council will elect the members of the new Foundation Council by the end of 2023. As with the other honorary bodies of the SNSF, the term of office is four years; re-election is possible once.
More competencies for the Research Council
In the spirit of scientific self-governance, the new Statutes strengthen the role of the Research Council in funding policy and funding opportunities. For example, the Research Council will now have a Policy Committee (working title). It can set up working groups on funding policy issues which, for example, draw up guidelines on open science, equal opportunities in research or international cooperation. The SNSF is increasingly expected to develop forward-looking positions and measures on funding policy issues. With its expanded competencies and adapted organisation, the National Research Council will continue to make a significant contribution to ensuring very good conditions for scientific research in Switzerland.
As of 2025, the Research Council will be composed of between 30 and 80 highly qualified researchers working at universities and other institutions in Switzerland. They must have outstanding scientific credentials and broad-based research experience and must also be able to contribute expertise in research and funding policy. How large the Research Council will ultimately be is still an open question; it will depend on the range of tasks and organisation of the Council.
Responsible for evaluation
The Research Council will continue to be responsible for selecting grant applications submitted to the SNSF. It will make the funding decisions and ensure high standards in evaluation. To this end, it will be supported by scientific experts from Switzerland and abroad, who will assess applications in evaluation panels. These panels will be supervised by the Research Council. Already today, 80 to 100 evaluation panels with around 1000 honorary members assess the applications and lay the groundwork for the decisions of the Research Council.
To enable the Research Council to perform its tasks effectively, it will be divided into programme committees (working title), each of which will be responsible for one or more funding schemes. They will supervise and direct the work of the evaluation panels and make the funding decisions. They will also continue to develop the funding schemes.
The members of the Research Council will continue to evaluate research projects themselves in addition to their strategic tasks and leadership role. The requirements for a clear separation of roles between evaluation work, supervision of evaluation processes and funding decisions are taken into account. Evaluation work gives the members of the Research Council direct insight into the latest developments in research. In addition, they can contribute the knowledge and experience gained in evaluation to SNSF funding policy.
Academic Board of the Research Council
The Research Council is led by its Academic Board, which supervises, steers and is responsible for the activities of the Research Council, the Programme Committees and the Policy Committee. The Academic Board is the main contact for the Foundation Council and the Delegates Assembly. This body is made up of the President of the Research Council, two Vice Presidents and two to three other members of the Research Council as well as the Director of the SNSF (in an advisory capacity).
New body: the Delegates Assembly
As an advisory body, the Delegates Assembly represents the interests of researchers and organisations from the scientific community. It helps to tailor the SNSF's funding schemes to the needs of the research community.
The Delegates Assembly will be composed of a maximum of 40 representatives of the universities and other research institutions, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences and organisations of early-career researchers. The delegates are involved, for example, in the preparation of the SNSF multi-year programme, sit on election committees for the Foundation Council, the Research Council and the Academic Board of the Research Council, or submit proposals for dealing with strategic issues. The Academic Board of the Research Council shall consult the Delegates Assembly on important changes to the funding schemes. Where there are significant reasons, the Delegates Assembly may refer the multi-year programme back to the Academic Board of the Research Council. In this way, stakeholders from the scientific community have a direct influence on the SNSF's funding policy and future direction.
The Delegates Assembly constitutes itself and elects a President and a Vice President from among its members. Together with two other members, they form the office of the Delegates Assembly which, supported by the SNSF Administrative Offices, prepares the body’s business and meetings. It coordinates its activities with the Academic Board of the Research Council and with the other bodies.
Executive Management and Administrative Offices
Consisting of at least three members, the Executive Management is responsible for all tasks of the Administrative Offices. The Executive Management is chaired by the Director of the SNSF. She or he is elected by the Foundation Council.
The Administrative Offices support and coordinate the activities of the Foundation Council, the Research Council and the Delegates Assembly. They conduct the evaluation procedures and administer the funded projects. Moreover, they ensure effective communication and maintain the SNSF's national and international network.
Timetable up to 2025
- January 2024: The new Foundation Council takes up its duties.
- January/February 2024: The Foundation Council approves the new Foundation Regulations.
- March/April 2024: The newly created Delegates Assembly commences work.
- May 2024: The Foundation Council approves the new Organisation Regulations of the Research Council.
- January 2025: The Academic Board of the Research Council takes up its duties.
- April 2025: The new Research Council carries out its duties in its adapted structure.
Project organisation 2021-2025
With the "GO 2024" project (Governance and Organisation 2024), the SNSF is developing its new organisational structure. The work is broadly based, the tasks and decision-making competencies clearly defined. The following bodies are carrying out the project work:
Foundation Council: The current Foundation Council comprises 42 representatives of the higher education institutions, the Confederation, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences and other organisations of the science sector. It bears responsibility for the project, is the client and makes the final decisions.
Steering Committee: The Steering Committee is composed of the President of the Foundation Council, one member of the Foundation Council and the Director of the SNSF. It makes steering decisions, prepares decisions for the Foundation Council and communicates externally.
Sounding Group of the Foundation Council: Six members of the Foundation Council form the Sounding Group. It advises the Steering Committee and the project team and participates in the drafting of the Statutes and regulations.
Reflection Group of the Research Council: The Reflection Group consists of twelve representatives of the divisions and the specialised committees of the Research Council. Together with the Presiding Board, it draws up the Research Council's Organisation Regulations on behalf of the entire Council.
Presiding Board of the Research Council: The Presiding Board of the Research Council contributes to the development of possible forms of organisation for the Research Council. It approves the proposals of the Reflection Group and the Project Team for the attention of the Foundation Council.
Research Council: The entire Research Council gives feedback on the proposals of the Reflection Group and the Project Team.
Project Team: The Project Team consists of staff from the SNSF Administrative Offices plus a specialist in the management of large-scale projects. It draws up the Statutes and regulations in cooperation with the other bodies, taking into account the requirements.
External advice: An expert on organisational governance advises and supports the Foundation Council, the Steering Committee and the Project Team.
Why have the Statutes of the SNSF been revised?
The SNSF has revised its Statutes on the instructions of the Foundation Council. The previous Statutes date from 2007, with some elements going back to the 1960s and 1970s. The revision of the Statutes aims to ensure that the SNSF receives a modern governance, enabling it to organise itself flexibly and act dynamically. It must be able to perform its mission optimally and to a high standard in an increasingly complex environment. With this revision, the SNSF is taking account of developments in research and research funding.
What are the key changes compared with the previous Statutes?
The restructured Foundation Council is no longer a broad representative body, but despite its reduced size remains committed to the promotion of scientific research. The Research Council’s strategic competence has been strengthened. The SNSF's funding policy is in its hands. The newly created Delegates Assembly provides stakeholders a platform for participation and exerting influence. The Executive Management, comprising several members, remains the operational management body of the SNSF.
What is the SNSF’s new “distribution of power” ?
The task lists of the various bodies define the “distribution of power” at the SNSF. The biggest changes are that strategic decision-making has been transferred to the Research Council, and the position of the stakeholders has been strengthened by giving them their own assembly with participation rights. The Foundation Council continues to bear ultimate responsibility for the management and supervision of the other bodies.
What are the key aspects of good governance in the new Statutes?
The allocation of tasks to the various bodies has been specified in detail and clearly demarcated, and now complies with the rules of good governance for foundations. The governance of the SNSF is designed to avoid conflicting roles or interests. The revised Statutes allow for best practice for foundations, guaranteeing in particular the principles of transparency, effectiveness and balance of power (checks and balances). The requirements imposed on grant-awarding foundations in terms of governance have increased in recent years.
What do the SNSF's new rules and regulations look like?
The Statutes contain the overarching principles regarding the Foundation’s purpose, organisation (bodies) and allocation of tasks. At just 20 articles, they have been kept sufficiently concise to permit a flexible response to changes. At executive level, the Foundation Regulations and the Organisational Regulations of the Research Council set forth the rules of procedure. They define the structure of the bodies and how they relate to one another, and lay down the procedures for electing their members.
Has anything changed as regards the SNSF’s principles and purpose?
No, as an organisation the SNSF still lives by the slogan “By science for science”. The SNSF continues to be guided by its established principles and values. The text of the Statutes is now preceded by a preamble that summarises the value of research and the principal activities of the SNSF.
Has the revision of the Statutes given the SNSF a new “status” as an organisation that could also have an impact on its relationship with the Confederation?
No, the SNSF remains a self-governing private-law science foundation. It enjoys a large degree of autonomy as a militia organisation. At the same time, as the SNSF fulfils a governmental public service by carrying out its funding activity in accordance with the Research and Innovation Promotion Act (RIPA), it is subject to the supervision of the Confederation (via the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation, or SERI), in particular by means of a service level agreement.
When do the provisions of the new Statutes come into effect?
The fully revised Statutes enter into force on 1 January 2024.
Is there a transitional period for the institutionalisation of the new organisation?
The statutes foresee 2024 as a transition year for the introduction of the new structures and processes. The new Foundation Council may extend this transitional period into 2025.
Why has the Foundation Council been reduced to 7-11 members?
The current Foundation Board is too large for a strategic body (45 members) and the role of the members is unclear, which can lead to a mixture of interests and role conflicts. This problem was alleviated by reducing the size of the Foundation Board and creating a new body, the Stakeholder Delegates Assembly. In this new body, the stakeholders can bring in their interests.
How is the new Foundation Council composed?
The profiles of the Foundation Council members need to be aligned with the Foundation's purpose: “Promoting scientific research”. This means that they must demonstrate familiarity with the scientific world and awareness of the framework conditions for scientific research in Switzerland, together with knowledge of how foundations are managed. Ideally, the Foundation Council will consist of scientists and people closely involved with science who are allied with the SNSF’s mission; while at the same time covering competences in finance, law, foundation management and business.. The overall composition needs to be balanced, but with an emphasis on scientific profiles.
What are the tasks of the Foundation Council?
The Foundation Council’s basic remit is to assume ultimate managerial responsibility and to carry out the Foundation’s overarching strategic mandate. Traditional tasks relating to the budget, accounting and the annual report are assigned to the Foundation Council in accordance with foundation law and the standards for foundations. The specific tasks of the Foundation Council are set forth in Art. 6 of the Statutes.
How and when are the members of the Foundation Council elected?
Under the transitional provisions, the Executive Committee of the Foundation Council in office until 31 December 2023 determines the initial composition of the Foundation Council on the basis of the revised Statutes. The term of office of the newly elected members of the Foundation Council begins on 1 January 2024. Thereafter, the process for electing members of the Foundation Council takes place in accordance with Article 15 of the Foundation Regulations.
How much time can one expect to spend annually if serving as a member of the Foundation Council?
As a general rule, serving as a member of the Foundation Council requires a commitment of about 10-15 working days per year. In addition to six ordinary meetings lasting half a day each, there will also be committee duties (Finance and Audit Committee, Nomination and Compensation Committee) and participation in ad hoc working groups for specific business if necessary.
How big will the Research Council be in future?
The size of the Research Council will depend on what is required for it to carry out its duties. The Statutes specify that its size may range between 30 and 80 members. This range provides the necessary flexibility for organising the Research Council.
Why is it necessary to reorganise the Research Council?
The current structure of the Research Council dates back to 1975. Since then, the research landscape and the needs of researchers have evolved, the number of applications to be assessed has risen steadily, and the requirements in terms of modern, efficient organisational management have increased. Furthermore, the Research Council currently deals with policy matters as well as research evaluation, even though its expertise matches mainly the needs for the evaluation. This imbalance may have a negative effect on the Council’s impact and – contrary to the Statutes – lead to situations where responsibility for complex tasks or cross-departmental policy is in effect transferred to the Administrative Offices. The revised Statutes reconsider the Research Council's organisation and functioning in order to take these points into account. In particular, principles of modern governance are being implemented. The new Statutes strengthen the SNSF's role by providing it with strong academic leadership from the Research Council, whose increased focus on research and science policy enables it to create an optimal environment for the research community (“science for science”).
What are the tasks of the future Academic Board of the Research Council?
The Academic Board of the Research Council manages the business of the Research Council and is composed of members of the Research Council. It organises the Research Council and decides on the allocation of tasks within this body. It ensures optimal cooperation with the other bodies and is the main contact partner for the Delegates Assembly.
What are the tasks of the Research Council?
The roles and responsibilities of the Research Council are set out in Article 9 of the Statutes. They allow the goals of the reorganisation to be achieved: strong academic leadership, clear separation of tasks and roles (good governance), and a lean and flexible organisation. The future Research Council will focus more strongly than today on developing funding schemes, while taking into account the different needs of the Swiss research community and responding to external factors. It will also set up, chair and supervise evaluation panels, make funding decisions and allocate funds. The evaluation of proposals will continue to be one of the Research Council’s tasks.
Who elects the new Research Council?
The Foundation Council has extended the terms of office of the current Research Council members until 31 March 2025. The members will continue to be elected by the Foundation Council in the future, but this will now be at the request of an Electoral Committee composed of members of the Foundation Council, the Research Council, the Delegates Assembly and at least one external expert.
What criteria are used when selecting members of the Research Council?
Scientific qualifications and experience as well as the disciplinary suitability for the Research Council mandate continue to be central selection criteria. The Research Council must reflect the diversity of scientific disciplines and subject areas. The members of the Research Council have a sound knowledge of the Swiss Education, Research and Innovation (ERI) system and competences regarding research. Early-career scientists and those with experience of use-inspired research must be duly represented in the Research Council. The requirements for members of the Research Council are set forth in Art. 8 of the Statutes.
Can current Research Council members who have extended their term of office until 31 March 2025 continue to serve on the Research Council beyond that date?
The members of the Research Council are invited to stand for the new Research Council and to extend their term of office beyond 31 March 2025. Given that there is a maximum term of office (eight years), the total length of their previous service as members of the Research Council is taken into account and it is thus conceivable that a minimum remaining period (e.g. two years) will be specified as a condition of eligibility for election.
How and when will the members of the Research Council who take office on 1 April 2025 be elected?
The Research Council Electoral Committee will take up its activity in the fourth quarter of 2024 at the latest and select the candidates for the Research Council who are due to take office on 1 April 2025. The Foundation Council will elect the new members of the Research Council based on proposals from the Electoral Committee.
What are the tasks of the Delegates Assembly?
The Delegates Assembly of stakeholders has explicit rights and is set up to ensure that stakeholders can exert influence effectively. It can, for example, make recommendations on the multi-year plans and can refer the multi-year programme back to the Research Council for revision. It has the right to propose initiatives and put forward requests on matters such as adjustments to the SNSF’s funding schemes. The rights and participation opportunities of the Delegates Assembly are set forth in Art. 14 of the Statutes.
Who will be represented in the new Delegates Assembly?
The composition of the Delegates Assembly is largely similar to that of the present Foundation Council. The Delegates Assembly is composed of a maximum of 40 members. The following scientific organisations are represented in the Delegates Assembly with the number of seats indicated:
- the cantonal universities with one seat each;
- the Federal Institutes of Technology with one seat each;
- the publicly funded universities of applied sciences with one seat each;
- the research institutes of the ETH Domain with one seat collectively;
- the universities of teacher education with two seats collectively;
- the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences with four seats collectively;
- associations of early-career researchers with three seats collectively;
- other scientific organisations, particularly non-commercial research institutes outside the university system and other accredited research institutions and research facilities, with a maximum of five seats collectively.
Who elects the members of the Delegates Assembly?
The universities and other higher education institutions designate their delegates themselves, and the Delegates Assembly elects the members for the categories covering associations of early-career researchers and other scientific organisations.
When does the Delegates Assembly start work?
The constituent meeting of the Delegates Assembly will take place as soon as possible, and no later than during the third quarter of 2024. At the constituent meeting, the Delegates Assembly will elect the representatives according to Article 13 para. 2 letters g and h of the Statutes, decide on the provisional rules of procedure and begin planning its business and meetings.