UK and Switzerland agree to increase scientific collaboration

11 November 2022 | Muriel Cozier

The two nations want to drive deeper tangible cooperation outside of the EU’s Horizon Programme.

The governments of the UK and Switzerland have signed an agreement whereby the two countries will increase cooperation in ‘deep science, industrial commercialisation, and international standards and regulation’.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two nations outlines the principles of the relationship and specific forms of cooperation including: coordinated or joint initiatives, programmes or projects, and plans for Ministers to convene a regular annual Anglo-Swiss Research Collaboration Council to oversee activities.

Commenting on the agreement, George Freeman, Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation said: ‘Research is fundamentally collaborative, and this will be another key step in realising the UK’s ambitions to deepen international R&D partnerships with leading laboratories, countries and industries around the world. Switzerland is home to world-class research in life science – especially neuroscience and vaccines, quantum, space, fintech, and cleantech, and with longstanding links with the UK, it is a key strategic partner for us.’

Freeman added: ‘This agreement is more than a piece of paper: Swiss Ministers and I are clear we want to drive deeper tangible co-operation in research fellowships, industrial innovation and regulatory standards in new technology sectors.’

Director of Policy at the Russell Group, Jess Cole said of the agreement: ‘Strengthening the partnership between the UK and Switzerland – two countries with proven track records in word-class research – is very welcome. This agreement also underlines the importance of international collaboration and why finalising UK and Swiss association to Horizon Europe will enhance not just this agreement but wider collaboration across Europe with all the benefits it provides.’

The UK’s access to the EU’s research platform, Horizon Europe, has been in question since it left the European Union, with many researchers expressing concern that the lack of access will hinder the essential collaborative aspects of their work.

During this year’s Parliamentary Links Day, held in London, Freeman moved to reassure attendees that the UK Government was intent on ensuring that the UK remained at the forefront of scientific developments. ‘If we are not able to join the European research programme […] we will simply have to do more internationally. There is a wall of appetite to work with us. All around the world nations are saying we would love to work with you. I am hoping we can stay in Horizon, but if not, the work that I am doing with the treasury is to ring fence all that money and commit to a more global programme of science and research,’ Freeman said at the event.

Also speaking at the Parliamentary Links Day, Sir Patrick Vallance added: ‘We have to be extremely careful to think that we can invent something to replace [Horizon Europe] and it will work as well overnight. Throwing away Horizon is an act of mutual self-harm by Europe and the UK if that happens.’

Sir Patrick Vallance will give the Lister Memorial Lecture on Thursday 24 November – stream it here!

The European Commission has come under increasing pressure from the scientific community to move quickly and allow both the UK and Switzerland access to Horizon Europe. One such effort is the Stick to Science campaign, set up as a pan-European effort to speed up the association of the UK and Switzerland to Horizon Europe.

The two nations are home to 10 of Europe’s top 20 research universities – with seven of Europe’s top 10 universities in the UK. Signatories to the campaign include Universities UK, Wellcome, and the Royal Society. The campaign is focused on putting science before politics to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

The UK has been in the process of forming collaborative alliances for some time, with April 2021 seeing sixteen universities from the UK and Singapore join forces to accelerate work in the area of entrepreneurship and innovation.

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