The ETH Domain, an essential component of the Swiss model for success
With its two Federal Institutes of Technology and four research institutions, the ETH Domain contributes to Switzerland’s prosperity and ensures the country’s place among the major scientific nations. The inadequate financial resources allocated by the Confederation for the period 2025-2028 jeopardise this model for success.
Switzerland’s prosperity and achievements are based on the excellence of our education system and our strength as a centre for research and innovation. The ETH Domain has a key role to play in this respect.
However, the budget envisaged by the Confederation in its ERI Dispatch 2025-2028 (see below) will limit the ETH Domain’s ability to perform its functions of driving innovation and educating the specialist workforce Switzerland so badly needs. Such weak growth in its financial resources will damage not only the ETH Domain but also the economy as a whole, including the innovation sector.
Every four years, in coordination with the legislative programme, the Federal Council submits a Dispatch on Education, Research and Innovation to the Swiss Parliament. The Dispatch has been submitted for consultation for the first time, and is being considered by the various key actors in the ERI ecosystem between June and September 2023.
The ETH Domain: driver of innovation in Switzerland
Through its close collaboration with industry and public authorities, and its creation of start-ups (54 spin-offs in 2022), the ETH Domain makes a substantial contribution to the country’s economic development. In 2022, the private sector invested some CHF 1.7 billion in ETH Domain spin-offs. Several studies have shown that each franc invested in the ETH Domain generates five times as much value for Switzerland.
Video on the value creation study of the ETH Domain based on the BiGGAR study from 2017.
Furthermore, the 6,000 or so individuals who obtain a degree (Master’s or PhD) from an ETH Domain institution each year help alleviate Switzerland’s severe shortage of skilled specialists, especially in IT and engineering. Additional investments will need to be made in teaching and infrastructure if the ETH Domain is to cope with the rapid expansion of the student population while continuing to provide top-quality education.
The results of the research carried out by scientists in the ETH Domain institutions extend far beyond their laboratories. Around 60 start-ups, as well as numerous discoveries, emerge from the ETH Domain each year, thus transferring knowledge and technology to wider society.
The ETH Domain’s activities benefit Switzerland as a whole
With sites in half of Switzerland’s cantons, the ETH Domain creates local employment and contributes to value creation at regional level. It performs numerous tasks on behalf of the entire country, such as avalanche warnings, the Swiss Seismological Service and the work of the Center for Security Studies. It also operates state-of-the-art scientific installations and makes them available to the research community in Switzerland and abroad, as well as to industrial partners.
The ETH Domain is represented in 13 cantons and in all language regions of the country.
Budget cuts jeopardise the locomotive of Swiss innovation
A real annual increase of 2.5% is vital
In the ETH Board’s view, there is no doubt that a real annual increase of 2.5% is necessary to enable the ETH Domain not only to carry out its numerous tasks, thereby benefiting Switzerland’s economy and society, but also to provide the global solutions that will help our country confront the challenges ahead, such as the energy transition, digitalisation and cybersecurity. However, the ERI Dispatch proposes a nominal increase of only 1.6% per year, which is not even as much as the average for the ERI system overall (2.0%).
In figures: + 115%
This is the percentage by which the number of students studying computer science in the ETH Domain has increased in the past 10 years.
Total student numbers rose by 30% over the same period.
The shortage of qualified workers and the strong demand for ETH graduates on the jobs market show that this expansion benefits Switzerland as a whole. However, the ETH Domain will not be able to manage this level of growth unless it has the appropriate financial resources.
The ETH Domain needs strengthening, not weakening further
In February 2023, the Federal Council decided to make cuts to the budget for 2024 and for the years 2025–2028. This will hit the ETH Domain in several ways: firstly, because there is no budget for the mandatory contribution to Horizon Europe; next, because there will be cuts of more than 2%; and lastly, because the adjustment for inflation has been dropped. The nominal increase of 1.6% currently proposed in the ERI Dispatch can only weaken the ETH Domain further. In order to preserve the excellence of its research, teaching and innovative capacity, the ETH Domain needs a real annual increase of 2.5%.
The ETH Domain’s reserves, which the Federal Council wants to see reduced, are steadily diminishing. These reserves give the ETH Domain the necessary financial flexibility, allow it to plan more securely and enable it to invest in new scientific fields. In addition, they help cover the shortfalls caused by the rise in personnel, material and energy costs. Against a backdrop of increasing student numbers, the reserves are in any case insufficient to make up for the cuts and the low increase in funding – which fails to make any adjustment for inflation – for the years 2024–2028.