50 years of the Swiss Science and Innovation Council: Plea for quality over quantity

Berne, 05.10.2015 - Although a prerequisite for top-notch performance in science and innovation, quality is not something that can be measured with quantitative indicators: this is the conclusion reached by the Swiss Science and Innovation Council (SSIC) in a study conducted on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Supporting young researchers is one of the main challenges for education, research and innovation in Switzerland.

The Swiss Science and Innovation Council (SSIC) is an independent advisory body to the Federal Council for all matters pertaining to science policy. To commemorate its 50th anniversary, the SSIC conducted a study entitled “The Constellation of Actors in the Swiss Higher Education, Research, and Innovation (HERI) Sector”. This study’s focus is on which conditions are most conducive to scientific progress and innovation. 

Firmly embedded basic research and a high degree of internationalisation are considered among Switzerland’s assets

The SSIC considers the firm embedding of basic research and the joint national and cantonal support provided to education and research to be the two main strengths of the Swiss HERI sector. They help ensure the stable, long-term conditions that are essential for Swiss innovation. Additional assets of the Swiss research landscape include diversity, a high degree of internationalisation, reliable funding, and a reluctance by political authorities to interfere in the decision-making autonomy of higher education institutions. 

However, the Swiss HERI sector provides inadequate support for young researchers, including in helping to reconcile family and work obligations. The HERI sector also relies too much on attracting young researchers from abroad. Although higher education institutions continue to depend on recruiting top-notch researchers from around the world, they should not lose their roots in the region. For this reason, the SSIC recommends creating tenure-track assistant professorships and long-term positions for PhD holders, thereby enlarging career possibilities. 

Mental processes should not be reduced to what can be measured or counted

In its report, the SSIC draws attention to developments which harm the Swiss research and innovation landscape. In recent years, systems of performance measurement and incentive enhancement have been introduced with the aim of increasing “efficiency” in research. New indicators of success in research include the amount of external funding, the number of publications and the number of citations. These indicators create false incentives, since they create the impression that mental processes can be reduced to what can be measured or counted. This is the antithesis of how research functions. The drive to produce quality research is replaced by measuring the quantity that is produced, placing a damper on the creativity of researchers. 

The SSIC therefore argues for a new approach to the evaluation of research that is based on trust. Quality assurance procedures should be kept as light and unobtrusive as possible. The overarching goal should be to reinforce researcher motivation by extending and showing trust. Research successes come about through trust and dialogue, not by trying to totally control the research process. 

The SSIC will discuss its conclusions and recommendations with national and international policymakers on October 5th and 6th in Bern. The SSIC report can be found on its website (www.swir.ch). 

Address for enquiries

Marco Vencato
Secretariat SSIC
Einsteinstrasse 2
CH- 3003 Berne
+41 58 462 75 78


Swiss Science and Innovation Council

Last modification 03.10.2018

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