The Scholarship Fund Four Academics provide an Insight into the Programme

Article, 01.02.2012

It was back in 2009 that the first of over 450 academicians from the new EU-Member States were accepted into the scholarship programme of the Swiss Enlargement Contribution. The transnational scholarship fund is endowed with an overall budget of CHF 45 million, thus making it possible for young, talented researchers to effectuate a maximum two-year stay in Switzerland on a research fellowship. Four scholars provide an insight into their stay, thereby giving the Programme a concrete face.

participants in the scholarship Programme
On 19 October 2011, more than 100 participants in the scholarship Programme came together for a information and discussion event. Some of the academics also presented their research projects. In addition, the participants took advantage of the event to meet with their peers and to exchange experiences. © DEZA

The scholarship Programme financed by the Swiss Enlargement Contribution, namely the Scientific Exchange Programme between the New Member States and Switzerland, abbreviated as “”, enables doctoral and post-doctoral students from the new EU-Member States to come to Switzerland to conduct their research. The Programme is providing support to some 460 academicians. With a total endowment of CHF 45 million, the Programme is open to young research scientists from Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. The stay in Switzerland is meant to strengthen the individual scientific capacities of the young researchers, to foster academic exchange, and to jointly develop future-oriented approaches to research. Switzerland contributes its expert know-how in the domain of education and research, while simultaneously strengthening its contacts to academic networks in the new EU-Member States.

As opposed to other scholarship programmes, fosters the networking of Swiss universities by means of actively involving foreign institutions in the Programme. was launched in 2009 and will run until 2016. The Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities (CRUS) is responsible for Programme coordination. Implementation takes place by the cooperation between foreign and Swiss universities and between the mentors/professors responsible for the researchers.

Cost of a stay abroad in Switzerland – oftentimes too big of a hurdle to be overcome

Whoever desires to dedicate himself to research following a successful course of studies, decides in the majority of cases, to author a doctoral thesis. Whoever later sets his sights on an academic career or a professorial position cannot get by without a post-doctoral thesis. Experiences collected at different research institutes, including those abroad, often represents for certain academic specialities a necessary step towards a successful habilitation thesis and academic career. Many academicians from the new EU-Member States, however, are unable to realize their dream of advancing or finishing off their research activities in a foreign country due to the excessive costs. Although the fees directly associated with tuition payments are, in international comparison, rather low, the extremely high cost of living quite often represents an insurmountable hurdle for foreign researchers.

A word with the academicians participating in the scholarship fund

But what does the situation really look like in concrete terms for those foreign doctoral and post-doctoral students who have come to Switzerland to conduct their research? Here-below you will find four short examples of research scientists who are receiving support from the Scholarship Fund.

Edvinas Orentas (30) from Vilnius, Lithuania
Edvinas Orentas (30) from Vilnius, Lithuania © SDC

Solar cells – rapid and inexpensive

One such post-doctoral candidate who is currently doing research in Switzerland with the aid of the Swiss Enlargement Contribution is Edvinas Orentas (30) from Lithuania. He has been engaged in research at the University of Geneva for the last 1.5 years. More specifically, Mr. Orentas has been delving into the topic of solar energy and looking into the question of how efficient solar cells can be produced rapidly, inexpensively, and in a consumer-friendly manner. As a former member of the Lithuanian national team at the international Chemistry Olympics, this post-doctoral candidate at the University of Vilnius feels himself quite at home in a chemistry lab. “I have always envisaged a future academic career for myself and continue to work hard to this end. Although one of the aims of a scholarship programme like is to support academicians from poorer countries in reaching a high level of research, the Programme can also be seen as more of a long-term investment in improving the future of society. “Naturally the status of Swiss research is to be rated higher than that of Lithuania, not least thanks to the better infrastructure. Nonetheless, the academic level in Lithuania is on a constant rise and the intellectual potential is high.” Upon his return home, Mr. Orentas will resume his work at the University of Vilnius, taking up where he left off. “There is no doubt that I will remain true to research and Chemistry. My goal is to be able to set up my own research group.”

Plato and the Sophists

Kosztasz Rosta (30) too has moved his domicile from Hungary to Switzerland for a year. Since March 2011, Mr. Rosta has been doing research at the University of Fribourg for his doctoral thesis on Plato and the Sophists. He likes Fribourg a lot due to the fact that in comparison with his hometown of Budapest, the city of Fribourg is small, and therefore rather calm and quiet. His objective is to be able to teach Philosophy at a Hungarian university once he has returned home and finished his doctoral thesis. “In Budapest, however, university chairs of Philosophy are few and far between. The scholarship Programme can help me to reach my objective since you are obliged to have studied abroad for a certain time if you want to pursue an academic career in Hungary.” Mr. Rosta lives in a small apartment together with his girlfriend who is also studying at the University of Fribourg. “Looking for an apartment while still in Hungary was not easy. Luckily, I had the support of the CRUS and the University of Fribourg.” In his spare time, Mr. Rosta likes to read, play poker with other students, or go out for a hike.

Safeguarding biodiversity in the Czech Republic and Switzerland

Petr Dostal (37) has already earned a doctorate in Biology and spent a year at the Institute for Biology in Bern within the scope of his post-doctoral activities. Mr Dostal is a native of the Czech capital of Prague and as of October 2011 had already returned to his hometown. His theme of study involved the combining of the Swiss and Czech databases on invasive species of plants and serves both countries as a basis for research. “In Switzerland, for instance, the Canton of Ticino has registered an intense proliferation of the palm, which must not necessarily be something considered as undesirable”, replies he with a smile on his face when questioned as to which non-native plants could represent a threat for Switzerland. “In essence, the challenge posed by our research is the preservation of biodiversity. We focus on discovering which of the plants that have ended up in Switzerland and/or the Czech Republic from foreign countries may represent a danger for the local nature. In end effect, our research serves to protect the health of the population.” Mr. Dostal can clearly imagine himself pursuing his research in this domain even after his return to Prague, or even becoming a professor at the University. “Whenever people in the Czech Republic think about Switzerland, the first things that come to mind are the mountains, chocolate, watches, and banks, i.e., the popular stereotypes. And of course, that the natural environment is said to be very beautiful, something that I can confirm. For instance, in the summer I used to go swimming in the Aare River in Bern.”

From the Polish to the Swiss mountains

Still another academician who has benefitted from the scholarship Programme is Katarzyna Michalkiewicz. This 28-year-old Pole comes from a town not far from Cracow in southern Poland. From her very childhood, Katarzyna has been fascinated by the mountains. has made it possible for her to work on her doctoral thesis in Switzerland for a two year period that began in November 2010. In so doing, she has undertaken to compare the influence that the mountains have on the population’s national identity in Poland and in Switzerland. “Switzerland enjoys a very good reputation in Poland”. She was thrilled when she was accepted into the Programme, adding that “In Poland, there is very little money available to students for these kinds of cultural concerns”. Ms. Michalkiewicz lives in an apartment with other students in Neuchatel, and she was given an office at the Institute of Languages and Social Sciences at the University. The stay in Neuchatel also provides her with an opportunity to practice and improve her French. “I had already begun studying French back in Poland, where it’s quite normal for secondary school students to begin learning a foreign language. As a rule, they can choose either English, German, or French.” One of the things that Ms. Michalkiewicz particularly likes is the lake, where she often goes to eat her lunch. When she returns home, she would like to work at the University of Cracow. For the time being, she says, “In winter I plan to go skiing for once”.

The Human-Capital factor of production: cooperation between Swiss and foreign universities

All in all, the Programme is providing support to some 460 academics from the new EU-Member States © SDC

The Programme provides academics and scholars from the new EU-Member States with research fellowships enabling them to conduct research at a Swiss university for a period of from 6 to 24 months. These guest researchers advance their work in Switzerland, while making new contacts. In the end, the partner countries and Swiss universities also benefit from an increase in the pivotal factor of production known as human capital. In addition, major networks are created, expanded, and consolidated for the long term in numerous domains of research. This also signifies a benefit for the Swiss research community. The maximum duration of a stay at a Swiss university has been limited to two years. This maximum limit was imposed so as to incite the researchers to return to the university in their homeland. For indeed, the scholarship Programme is meant to support the transfer of knowledge into the countries participating, and not to contribute to the so-called brain-drain or exodus of knowledge.