Strategy: Research with Europe

The ZHAW has adopted a new research strategy that aims to acquire more financial resources from EU funding programmes and to strengthen the research profile. Through stronger cooperation with European partners, the ZHAW is also able to gain valuable experience and establish international contacts.

To prevent the mobile network from collapsing again, as it did on New Year’s Eve, the network software should not be run directly from transmitter masts in future, but instead in computing centres. This would allow the capacity to be increased as necessary. In the SESAME project, ZHAW researchers are therefore collaborating with European partners to reduce the software in mobile-network transmitter masts to a minimum. The aim is to centrally manage, update and, if necessary, dynamically adopt the software at computing centres. This also makes economic sense, as costly software updates on site are avoided.

Promoting Europe-wide research and innovation

The SESAME project is being carried out within the framework of Horizon 2020, the largest transnational programme for research and innovation, which started in 2014 and will continue until 2020. The programme has three objectives: “Excellent Science”, “Industrial Leadership” and “Societal Challenges”, for which approximately 80 billion euros are being granted. With its broad range of research competencies, the ZHAW has great potential to participate in EU research projects. In order to broaden its EU research portfolio, the Executive Board defined an EU research strategy at the beginning of 2016. The ZHAW EU research strategy has already had a positive effect on applications and EU research grants. Since the beginning of 2014, the ZHAW has attained a volume of third-party funding comparable with that of some of the smaller older universities in Switzerland and is now one of the strongest universities of applied sciences in the area of EU research by national and international comparison. Between 2014 and 2016, the ZHAW already submitted the same number of projects as it did during the entire seventh research framework programme (FP7). In total, the ZHAW took part in more than fifty EU projects, twelve of which were carried out under Horizon 2020. The first Horizon 2020 project the ZHAW participated in was ProPAT integrated process control, which aims to make industrial processes more efficient and reliable through real-time control.

Full participation in Horizon 2020

It is not self-evident that Swiss universities such as the ZHAW are able to successfully conduct research with European partners. For only when Switzerland ratified the Croatia protocol extending free movement of persons at the beginning of 2017 were Swiss researchers once again able to participate fully in European research projects. From 2014 to 2016, Switzerland was treated only as a partially associated country by the EU within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme. Especially in 2014, potential partners were very uncertain about starting any research collaboration with the ZHAW, and, during this period, the ZHAW refrained from managing any Horizon 2020 projects, as it was deemed unwise to run the risk of the management not being authorized. In the case of the Horizon 2020 XoSoft project, for instance, the ZHAW refrained from taking on the management role, even though many of the members of the consortium would have liked it to do so, since ZHAW researchers have a great deal of expertise in developing exoskeletons and had already proved this when they managed the FP7 RoboMate project.

Part of the European research area

It is essential for a small country like Switzerland that its universities remain competitive with universities in other countries. Collaborating with European partners enables the ZHAW to develop further and to establish international contacts. The fact that the ZHAW sees itself as a part of the European Higher Education and Research Area is made clear in the “European” strategic goal of the ZHAW strategy 2015-2025. Another decisive factor in the development of the ZHAW EU research strategy is that Horizon 2020 is practically tailor-made for universities of applied sciences, as it mainly funds projects that develop innovative ideas in collaboration with partners from industry and the public sector. The follow-up programme of Horizon 2020 is expected be even more practice-oriented. In the future, the plan is that research at the ZHAW will be supported by funds from European research programmes even more. In addition to the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) and contract research for companies, European funding programmes offer third-party funds for applied research that match the ZHAW’s profile.

A tailor-made strategy

Up until now, most of the European research funds have been divided between two institutes at the School of Engineering and one institute at the School of Life Sciences and Facility Management. The new ZHAW EU research strategy should change this. Since the starting position of the Schools, each with their different subject areas, is not comparable, specific needs will be taken into account. Each School now defines its own position and objectives itself. When preparing for EU projects, researchers and industrial partners are, in addition,  assisted by two Euresearch Contact Points at the ZHAW. These positions were created by the ZHAW with the support of the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) at the beginning of 2014. Integration into the Euresearch network is an essential part of the ZHAW EU research strategy.

Strengthening universities of applied sciences throughout Europe

Research and education at universities of applied sciences too are not restricted by national borders. This can be seen in the “Universities of Applied Sciences for Europe (UAS4EUROPE): Smart Partnerships for Regional Impact” initiative, in which the ZHAW is taking part. This initiative was launched in May 2016 in Brussels by representatives of European universities of applied sciences and aims to increase the commitment to research of universities of applied sciences by strengthening their position vis-à-vis the EU Commission. For Swiss universities of applied sciences, this plays an important role not only in defining the content of future research programmes, but also in shaping new funding tools. A report by SwissCore, the Swiss information and liaison office for European research, on the internationalisation of Swiss universities of applied sciences, was presented and  discussed at the ZHAW at the end of August 2016. The ZHAW had already visited the SwissCore office in Brussels at the beginning of 2016 for the purposes of establishing and maintaining international partnerships.  In order to better pursue its interests in Brussels, the ZHAW aimed to acquire individual membership of the European University Association, EUA, for example. Since 2017, the ZHAW has been a member of the EUA, the largest representative body of higher education in Europe, and has thus gained more visibility and potential influence in the European Higher Education Area.

Read more: Jahresbericht 2016 (in German).