882 million francs invested in research in 2021

© Links: Copyright: CC-BY-NC-ND: Fabienne Meier; Rechts: Copyright: CC-BY-NC-ND: Armin Rist and Lukas Munz

Last year, the SNSF selected around 1800 research projects for funding. It also launched new funding measures because Swiss researchers are not able to participate in important areas of the Horizon Europe programme.

Expanding knowledge and solving problems. That is what thousands of SNSF-funded research teams do at Swiss universities and other higher education institutions. Their curiosity and their systematic study of nature, technology and society are key drivers of progress.

In 2021, the SNSF funded around 1800 new research projects with 876 million francs, including 400 fellowships abroad. It also awarded 6 million francs for over 1000 scientific publications, ensuring that they are accessible free of charge. Total funding worth 882 million francs was approved, 55 million less than in 2020. There are different reasons for this. For instance, the government’s annual contribution to the SNSF was slightly lower. In addition, awards in some funding schemes, seen over several years, are not linear but subject to cycles. For example, many infrastructure grants were extended in 2020, which was not the case in 2021.

And this is how the 882 million francs are distributed across the funding categories, research areas and institutions:

  • Funding categories: The SNSF invested more than half the money, 459 million, in project funding, 218 million in career funding, 147 million in programmes, 44 million in infrastructures and 13 million in science communication.
  • Research areas: Their respective shares fluctuate from year to year. In 2021, 339 million went to mathematics, natural and engineering sciences, 318 million to the life sciences and 224 million to the social sciences and humanities.
  • Institutions: For applications from cantonal universities, the SNSF approved 551 million, for the ETH Domain 220 million, for universities of applied sciences and universities of teacher education 41 million, and for other institutions 69 million.

In addition, the higher education institutions receive 117 million francs to cover indirect research costs incurred because of the new projects.

At the end of 2021, 5700 SNSF-funded projects were underway, involving more than 20,000 researchers, 39% of whom were women. The percentage of women leading a research project was 30.7%. This corresponds to an increase of 1.6 percentage points compared to 2020.

Horizon Europe: transitional measures

Switzerland cannot currently participate in important areas of the Horizon Europe research framework programme, which started in 2021. Therefore, starting in October 2021, the SNSF launched three new funding measures for Swiss researchers on behalf of the government, and a fourth at the beginning of 2022. So far, around 1500 applications for the financing of projects have been received. "By agreement with the government, we are offering alternative solutions for Switzerland's top researchers in the short and medium term. But we know that this will not be able to fully compensate for being sidelined by Europe," says Matthias Egger, President of the National Research Council.

Increased international cooperation

Irrespective of Horizon Europe, the SNSF further expanded cross-border funding options for researchers at the end of 2021 and in early 2022. For example, the SNSF agreed to work closely with funding organisations in the US and the UK. And together with the Swiss government's Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC, it launched a new programme (SOR4D) in early 2022 to promote transdisciplinary research in and with developing countries. In general, SNSF-funded research is extremely international in character: in three out of four projects, Swiss researchers collaborate with colleagues abroad.

Additional Covid research programme

The SNSF continued to support research relating to Covid-19 last year. To date, it has approved a total of 107 projects to the tune of 45 million francs. In addition, at the end of 2021, it also launched a National Research Programme (NRP 80) on "Covid-19 in Society," aimed at the social sciences and humanities.

For more information, please refer to the 2021 Annual report. The detailed key figures and all funded projects can be found on the SNSF data portal.

New projects funded by the SNSF - six examples from the project funding scheme

Mathematics, natural sciences and engineering

  • Nina Hartrampf (University of Zurich) is exploring new, automated methods for the chemical synthesis of proteins and protein building blocks.
  • At what speed is the universe expanding? Frédéric Courbin (EPF Lausanne) makes measurements using the so-called gravitational lensing effect.

Life sciences

  • Mirjam Heldner (University Hospital Bern) combines state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging with conventional diagnostics and clinical examination to optimise the treatment for patients with calcified cerebral vessels.
  • Based on images, Achim Walter (ETH Zurich) wants to systematically record the reaction of wheat to environmental influences - and thus predict its growth in a warmer climate.

Social sciences and humanities

  • The Covid-19 pandemic is a threat to public health. Markus Freitag (University of Bern) is investigating the emotional impact of this threat and the resulting political attitudes.
  • The victims of Nazi despotism included Swiss citizens. How did Swiss authorities behave towards them between 1933 and 1965? Christina Späti (University of Fribourg) is investigating this issue.

Strategic priorities 2021-2028

Research and its context are constantly evolving. The SNSF wants to anticipate and help shape these changes. For this purpose, it started implementing a new strategy in January 2021, which it will pursue until 2028. It plans to continue offering optimal conditions for creative research in the future and, together with the higher education institutions, to promote talented researchers according to their needs. "In this way, we are strengthening Switzerland's powers of innovation and increasing well-being in Swiss society. At the same time, we are contributing to the United Nations' Agenda 2030. Its sustainable development goals are very important to us," says Director Angelika Kalt.

The four strategic priorities of the SNSF:

  • We promote diversity in research
  • We shape the future of research
  • We convey the value of research
  • We strengthen the competence of the SNSF