Swiss Perspectives On The Success Of Its National Innovation Model

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Swiss innovation is internationally recognised for its high quality, and the reasons may derive from its fiscal system, labour market, research and development (R&D) model and education policy, a senior Swiss official has said.

Swiss Secretary of State Mauro Dell’Ambrogio, who is in charge of educational training, research and innovation, spoke about the issue at a press conference in Geneva on 5 March.

Relying on a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to which “Switzerland’s innovation performance is among the best in the world,” he developed what he thinks are reasons for this success.

In addition to the favourable fiscal system and the regulation of the labour market in Switzerland, he offered the Swiss approach to R&D and academic policy choices in the country as explanations for its success in innovation.

He put forward the particularity of the Swiss R&D model, which relies for the major part on the involvement of the private sector. Some two-thirds of R&D in Switzerland is carried out by companies like those in the pharmaceutical sector, but also small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This rate of involvement of the private sector – both large companies and SMEs – is among the highest in the world.

He took the example of the energy research area. There, 200 million Swiss francs are invested by the federal government, while the private sector invests each year 800 million Swiss francs.

For Dell’Ambrogio, the second characteristic of the Swiss R&D model is that Swiss companies massively invest in R&D abroad. He gave the example of the research centres of Swiss companies located in foreign countries, like Novartis in California, Roche in Singapore and Shanghai, and Nestlé in Brazil.

According to Dell’Ambrogio, the role the federal government plays while investing in higher education and research is also crucial.

He explained that there is a dichotomy of responsibilities in education in Switzerland. Both the cantons – i.e., the federated Swiss provinces – and the federal government deal with education. However, the federal government is only financing high-profile research and the most prestigious universities, mainly the ones training engineers like the Swiss federal institutes of technology based in Lausanne and Zurich. He highlighted that a third of the Swiss government funding is allocated to the training of engineers and students working in the area of technologies.

Dell’Ambrogio said this government strategy highlights the importance of scientific and academic research for the economic development of a region. He gave the example of the chemical industry and said that the federal institutes of technologies were the reason of the success of this industry which then strongly contributed to the economic development of the country.

Finally, the Secretary of State described the international character of research in Switzerland, a country where much research is carried out partially or integrally by foreigners (like at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN). He also reminded the audience of the main partners of Switzerland in the area of education, like the European Union and North American countries, and described the quest for new partnerships with emerging countries in the area of education.

Tiphaine Nunzia Caulier recently graduated with a Master in International Law from the Graduate Institute in Geneva and UCLA School of Law. Through her work experience and academic interests she has specialised in international trade, intellectual property, and public health.

Tiphaine Nunzia Caulier may be reached at

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