The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Why Switzerland remains a major research hub

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 20 June 2023
Switzerland invested around CHF 24.6 billion in research in 2021, making it one of the international leaders in this field.
Why Switzerland remains a major research hub
The small Alpine nation has long drawn innovators from around the world (Credit: SwissTech).

(SwissTech) Compared to the last survey in 2019 by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, this represents an increase of 4%. Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has not changed this upward trend. 

Switzerland’s high research and development strength is no coincidence. According to the OECD, Switzerland spent USD 2,551 per inhabitant on research and development in 2021, almost twice as much as the OECD average. In terms of GDP, Switzerland invested a new high of 3.4% in 2021, showing the importance Switzerland attributes to R&D activities.

Private companies with the largest contributions

Universities and private companies make the largest contributions to research in Switzerland. 96% of the R&D activities carried out domestically are attributable to these two sectors. In 2021, universities spent slightly more than CHF 6.9 billion on R&D. This corresponds to 28% of the total.

The private sector spent CHF 16.8 billion on R&D in the same year, which corresponds to 68% of the total. In all, almost CHF 25 billion was invested in R&D in Switzerland in 2021.

With the pharmaceutical manufacturers Roche and Novartis, two Swiss companies rank among the world’s top 20 companies in terms of R&D expenditure. According to the European Union’s Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard, Roche invested around EUR 13.3 billion in R&D in 2021, an increase of almost 13% compared to the previous year.

Of the 2,500 companies with the largest R&D expenditures worldwide, no fewer than 55 Swiss firms are represented. The global ranking is led by the three US heavyweights Meta (Facebook), Alphabet (Google) and Microsoft.

Why Switzerland remains a major research hub
(Credit: SwissTech)
140,000 employees work in R&D

In 2021, almost 140,000 people were involved in R&D activities in Switzerland. Their number has increased by an average of 2% per year since 2019. While most of them work far away from the public eye, the many Swiss Nobel Prize winners and internationally recognised researchers are a regular feature on the world map. In the last six years, three Swiss researchers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry (2017, Jaques Dubochet) and physics (2019, Michel Mayor, Didier Queloz).

One of the most influential scientific leaders in the world is considered to be Thomas Zurbuchen, who was NASA science director from 2016 to 2022 and will head a new ETH Zurich Space initiative from this year.

This article was reprinted with permission from SwissTech.

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