Swiss knowledge society

​As a country with few natural resources and an early industrialisation, Switzerland developed a high-performing knowledge society in three waves:

  1. ​In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, (cantonal) universities or schools were established in Basel (1460), Zurich (1525), Lausa​nne​ (1537), Geneva (1559) and Fribourg (1582).
  2. In the nineteenth century, (cantonal) universities established in Berne (1834), Neuchâtel (1938) and Sankt Gallen (1898). The Swiss knowledge society experienced a big boost with the involvement of the federal level through the establishment of the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) in 1854, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in 1869, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) in 1880 and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) in 1885
  3. In the twentieth century, the current knowledge society was completed with the establishment of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology​ (EAWAG) in 1936, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) in 1952, the Paul Scherrer Institute​ (PSI) in 1960, the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM) in 1984, the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) in 1996, the University of Lucerne in 2000 and ten universities of applied sciences​ in the second half of the twentieth century.

The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation​ from 1848 essentially shaped the Swiss knowledge society by laying down the academic freedom (article 20), making both the cantonal and the federal levels responsible for education (article 61) and making the federal level responsible for research and innovation (article 64). The federal funding and policy from 2013 to 2016 is described in the Education, Research and Innovation Dispatch 2013-2016.

All Swiss agencies and institutions involved in education, research and innovation share the following three values and principles:

  1. ​ensure autonomy of higher education institutions and researchers
  2. foster competition and quality when allocating public funds
  3. encourage openness towards the world

The following particularities describe the Swiss knowledge society​:

  • Knowledge (i.e. education, research and innovation) is at the core of modernity as laid down it the constitution from 1848.
  • The investments into knowledge have grown steadily as of the mid-nineteenth century and are high in the international comparison, particularly through the high investments from the private sector.
  • Public funds are exclusively invested into publicly oriented knowledge, never into private.
  • The Swiss society and government highly respect the institutional autonomy and never politically programmes knowledge.
  • Switzerland allows for only few higher education students and highly esteems (dual) Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Professional Education and Training (PET).

The Swiss knowledge society is strongly embedded within the Europe of knowledge:

Switzerland has expressed its interest to be associated to Horizon 202​​​0 and to Erasmus+ in 2012 and passed the EU Research Dispatch 2014-2020 and the EU Education Dispatch 2014-2020 essentially allowing for funds to get associated. However, negotiation with the EU with regards to association to both programmes were suspended following the adoption of the initiative against mass immigration on 9 February 2014. Pending an association, Switzerland will have the status of third country in both programmes. Up-to-date and detailed information on that matter can be found on the website of the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation​SERI has confirmed that it will draw up an interim solution for the direct financing of researchers in Switzerland in partnerships and individual projects under Horizon 2020 and an interim solution along the lines of Switzerland's earlier indirect participation so that Swiss people will still be able to take part indirectly in Erasmus+. ​