Switzerland: Small Country—Big Science


Swiss Universities Attract Top Talent from All Over the World
Switzerland is among the countries with the highest spending on R&D in relation to their gross domestic product. The investment pays off. For years, Switzerland has received  high rankings in various competiveness and innovation indexes.

When Emily Raubach of College Park, Maryland, was six years old, the girl next door lost her hearing. Emily´s mother organized a sign language course to help the family and children in the neighborhood continue communicating with her. That inspired Emily’s studies and research in linguistics, which eventually took her to Switzerland on a ThinkSwiss scholarship. As a ThinkSwiss scholar, she spent three months researching at the University of Zurich´s Institute of Computational Linguistics to pursue her interest in one of the most competitive programs.

Thirty percent of students studying in Switzerland come from abroad each year. The fact that Switzerland is an attractive location for studies and research is well established not only among students, but also among Ph.D. candidates (50%), and teaching and administrative staff (45%). Why do they come to Switzerland? Switzerland is among the countries with the highest spending on R&D in relation to their gross domestic product. The private sector bears the cost of over two-thirds of Swiss R&D expenditure, which currently amounts to nearly 3 percent of GDP, or around USD 16 billion.  Both the private and the public sectors contribute to R&D spending, which is incentivized by seed money from private sources for startups. Switzerland’s investment in education and research is among the highest of all OECD countries, according to Studying In Switzerland, an Internet portal for the 12 Swiss public universities and federal institutes of technology. The investment pays off. For years, Switzerland has received high rankings in various competiveness and innovation indexes. Switzerland can boast of having the highest number of registered patents in all European countries and of having one of the highest numbers of Nobel Prizes per capita in the world, and the country ranks 17 with respect to all scientific papers published worldwide. As a result of those numbers, Switzerland has ranked first in the World Economic Forum’s  Global Competitiveness Report for five years in a row.

The three months also paid off for Emily. After her return, she applied to the University of Zurich to enter a master’s degree program and was able to earn her master’s degree in education with a major in General Linguistics and  a minor in Eastern European History. “The opportunity has opened a lot of doors for me for my professional career and gave me the chance to see what computational linguistics actually was.”


This summer, more than 40 U.S. and Canadian students are pursuing their research interests at several Swiss universities under the ThinkSwiss program. Switzerland has welcomed them and the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C., is making sure that everything is going smoothly. “Besides the scientific experience, we want the students to take home a piece of Switzerland in their hearts. We want them to experience the richness and diversity of Switzerland’s university and research landscape firsthand. After all, Switzerland is more than chocolate and cheese,” says Andy Ledergerber, Counselor for Science and Technology with the Office of Science, Technology and Higher Education. The Swiss federal government considers education, research and innovation to be a priority policy sector. As Ledergerber explains: “As a knowledge-based society, Switzerland wants to develop and attract the best talent to maintain and further consolidate its very competitive and world-class position in science and research.”

Maybe one day Emily will go back to Switzerland for a postdoc or to work at a large research facility at one of Switzerland’s research based companies?

Find out if a ThinkSwiss scholarship or participating in a ThinkSwiss-supported summer school is for you or someone you know.

Find out more about studying in Switzerland

Read more about Switzerland’s approach in research and innovation

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