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“Our objective is to promote Swiss science and technology excellency”

Conradin Pfaff, Ad interim science and technology counsellor and head of education at the Swiss Embassy in Beijing, explains how Switzerland is developing its scientific cooperation with China and how it relates to innovation.

writer: Beatrice Ferrari


What are the objectives of the Embassy in terms of science and technology?

C. Pfaff: The leading bilateral program for China is the Sino-Swiss Science and Technology Cooperation (SSSTC), which encourages joint research projects between Swiss and Chinese researchers, institutional partnerships and exchanges. Through this program, which is based on a matching funding policy, Switzerland intends to establish a research tradition with China. The first phase of the project is now completed: between 2008 and 2011, 12 million francs have already been invested in 42 institutional partnerships, 119 exchanges and 36 joint research projects mainly in the disciplines of life sciences, biotechnology, materials science, medicine and sustainable urban development. Besides this particular program, there are many other Sino-Swiss research projects that are funded either by the Swiss National Science Foundation or that take place in the framework of the European research program. The Embassy, in collaboration with Swissnex China in Shanghai, also helps research institutes to establish connections in China and to find appropriate partners.

What kind of activities and projects are undertaken in order to meet these objectives?

The activities carried out by the section at the Embassy follow four priorities: informing, promoting, connecting and supporting. The section closely follows the scientific and technologic trends and policies in China and provides regular information about its latest developments.

“We hope to establish a research tradition with China.”

It also maintains connections with China’s major scientific governmental actors such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Promoting Swiss scientific excellence is another of our missions. Switzerland is well known for the quality of its products and yet it still lacks visibility when it comes to the excellence of its education. Besides promoting Swiss schools and universities in educational fairs, different projects have been realized in collaboration with Presence Switzerland, such as the Albert Einstein Exhibition of the Historic Museum Bern, which was shown in four Chinese cities from 2010 to 2012. With over one million visitors, the exhibition has been very successful and has contributed to enhance Switzerland’s image as a top scientific and innovative country.

How does the section support scientific cooperation?

The section of Science, Education and Health at the Embassy is in charge of implementing Switzerland’s international strategy in terms of promotion of research and innovation and its mission is to strengthen scientific cooperation with China. Since 2008, Switzerland has set new objectives for intensifying research networks with priority countries that show a strong scientific and technological potential. Partners include BRICS countries (i.e. Brazil, Russia, India and China), but also Japan and South Korea.

“Opportunities for collaborative innovation are likely to appear in the next years”

What about innovation? Is there any support for companies who wish to establish R&D activities in China?

The Embassy and Swissnex play an important role in representing and promoting Switzerland as an internationally leading place for innovation, in cooperation with the Swiss Business Hub, we follow and support R&D activities of Swiss companies in China. So far, scientific cooperation programs have been available for research institutions only; however, priorities for the second phase of the SSSTC program (2013-2016) will be established this fall and they will probably include new instruments encouraging interactions between research institutes and industries. China is increasingly interested in developing its innovative capabilities and in the next years, it is likely that it will open new partnerships for collaborative innovation to foreign companies. Private sector partners are encouraged to participate in the different stepping stone symposia organized by the SSSTC program management. The symposias’ objectives are to bring scientists and enterprises from both China and Switzerland together in order to discuss research and market issues. Recently, a stepping stone symposium dedicated to the Medtech industry took place in Zurich.

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