Press release

Research and development in Switzerland 2017 CHF 22.6 billion dedicated to research in Switzerland in 2017

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14.05.2019 - Switzerland dedicated CHF 22.6 billion to research and development (R&D) in 2017, 2% more than in 2015, the year of the last survey. Enterprises remained the main producers of research accounting for more than two thirds of expenditure. They nonetheless curbed their expenditure contrary to higher education institutions. These are the main findings from the surveys carried out by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) on research and development.

The various stakeholders in Switzerland dedicated CHF 22.6 billion in 2017 to their own R&D activities. Enterprises invested CHF 15.6 billion, i.e. more than two thirds of the total while higher education institutions spent 6.2 billion, accounting for more than a quarter of the total amount.

Over the past 9 years, growth in R&D expenditure has slowed. Between 2008 and 2012, the annual average rate was 5% and then fell to 3% between 2012 and 2015 before reaching 1% for the period from 2015 to 2017. However, the total expenditure amount has continued to increase over the years, with new records seen in every survey.

Stagnation of enterprises, increase for higher education institutions

For the first time in 20 years, R&D expenditure of enterprises fell slightly ( 11 million, i.e. a decrease of less than 0.1%) compared with the previous survey (2015). The expenditure of large enterprises (100 employees and over) declined (-2%) while that of smaller enterprises rose (between +13% and +16% depending on the size). The pharmaceutical industry alone accounted for one third of R&D expenditure of private enterprises and remains a key player in research in Switzerland.

The increase in the total amount of R&D expenditure in Switzerland can be attributed to the increase in expenditure from the higher education sector which, as in previous periods, continued to increase (+ CHF 332 millions, +6% compared with 2015).

Intensity of R&D still high in Switzerland

Research expenditure represents 3.4% of the gross domestic product in Switzerland. This ratio which measures the intensity of research in the country’s economy is very high in international comparison. Switzerland is in third place, behind South Korea and Israel, according to the figures from the OECD.

Continued increase of basic research

Since 2012, basic research has gained increasing importance in Switzerland. Higher education institutions are traditionally active in this field. For the past five years, however, basic research has been driven by the increase in higher education institution expenditure but in particular by a very substantial increase within private enterprises. Thus in 2017, over 40% of R&D expenditure from the latter was dedicated to basic research. Previously, this type of research only accounted for one quarter of R&D expenditure.

Key role of the state in R&D funding

The state sector – which is made up of the Confederation and the cantons – carries out few research activities. Its expenditure accounted for less than 1% of the total. In contrast, the state assumes a far more important role in terms of funding, particularly for higher education institutions. In 2017, higher education institutions received almost CHF 5 billion from the cantons and the Confederation for their R&D activities.

Cross border financial flows

As with economic flows, the funding of R&D activities also involves a lot of interaction with abroad. In 2017, CHF 1.2 billion from abroad financed R&D activities carried out in Switzerland compared with CHF 2.3 billion in 2015.

Four fifths of this amount benefited enterprises and 20% financed R&D activities in the higher education sector. At the same time, enterprises in Switzerland financed R&D activities (often in the form of contracts) to the amount of almost CHF 7.9 billion, an increase of more than 40% compared with the previous survey.

More researchers and women among R&D personnel

In 2017, R&D personnel in Switzerland remained stable, accounting for approx. 125 000 persons (almost 82 000 jobs in full-time equivalents – FTEs). R&D personnel mainly consisted of researchers (46 000 FTEs) with the number of women gradually increasing. In 2017, 36% of R&D personnel were female compared with 32% in 2008.

You will find further information such as tables and graphs in the following PDF file.


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Press Conference: Research and development in Switzerland 2017