Public research has developed particularities in the Vaud region

With one of the two Federal Institutes of Technology and the neighbouring University of Lausanne, the canton of Vaud is home to the largest university campus in Switzerland. In addition to the 15,300 students and employees of EPFL, there are 18,880 students and employees of UNIL. The combined budget of the two institutions exceeds one and a half billion francs per year.


"An exceptional density"

Professor Édouard Bugnion, Vice-President Information Systems and Full Professor at EPFL, speaks about research in the Lake Geneva region.

The budget of the canton's research and higher education institutes has doubled since 2010


In addition to this centre, the Centre hospitalier universitaire vaudois (CHUV), the new Agora translational oncology research centre (300 researchers from UNIL, CHUV and EPFL) and the neighbouring Ludwig Institute (250 researchers from UNIL and CHUV) are joined by the network of universities of applied sciences in Western Switzerland, including nine universities, with a total of more than 8,000 students, located in Vaud. Among these UAS, particularly oriented towards practice and applied research and development, we can mention in particular the ECAL/École cantonale d'art de Lausanne, the Haute école d'ingénierie et de gestion du canton de Vaud (HEIG-VD), in Yverdon-les-Bains, the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne or the Hautes écoles de Santé La Source and HESAV.

The result of half a century of effort

This situation is both the result of history and a form of prescience on the part of political decision-makers in the 20th century. Switzerland has largely reinvested its prosperity in its research capacity, whether by facilitating the creation of the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva and the Swiss National Science Foundation in the 1950s, by federalizing the École Polytechnique de l'Université de Lausanne (EPUL), which became EPFL in 1969, or by pooling its forces to reach critical mass in the 1990s by participating fully or even taking a leading role in European research programmes.

Vaud champion of academic market

The academic institutions of the canton of Vaud have also been particularly creative in recent years in attracting the best researchers by pooling their institutions.

For example, a pioneering professor of immuno-oncology such as Greek-born researcher George Coukos is, at the same time, director of the Ludwig Institute, oncologist at the CHUV and professor at the Faculty of Medicine at UNIL. Similarly, a cancer research star like Doug Hanahan from the United States is both Director of the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) and Professor at the Faculty of Life Sciences at EPFL, where he also holds the Merck-Serono Chair in Oncology.

The teaching and research staff of the Vaud universities are very international


In addition to this possibility of hybridizing institutions to create attractive positions, the system of Chairs sponsored by private companies, introduced in the mid-2000s at EPFL, has also made it possible to recruit some 50 professors at EPFL (about 30 are currently active). They are often at the origin of new fields of research, such as Johan Auwerx in nutrition or Sylvie Roke in photomedicine.

Another important innovation, introduced by EPFL in its recruitment procedures for professors in the 2000s, is the "tenure track". This American-inspired mechanism offers a position of provisional assistant professor (usually for four years) with intermediate and final objectives. If they are achieved, the position is permanent. The advantage is that this system is not based on seniority and promotes the rejuvenation of the faculty.

Researchers in the canton of Vaud attract more than their share of competitive research funding


This cocktail of excellence and connectivity, enhanced by the flexibility and creativity in the organization of public research in the canton of Vaud, can be seen, among other things, in its ability to attract research funding such as that of the European Research Council (ERC).

Private R&D in the canton of Vaud, between heritage, creation and network effect

In the canton of Vaud, R&D also benefits from investments by large companies. Nestlé operates two major laboratories in the canton out of the Group's 10 R&D centres in Switzerland (40 worldwide). Most of Nestlé's research is conducted in the Lausanne region, where the Nestlé Research Centre (CRN - 600 employees) and the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS) are located. In addition, several of the canton's leading companies are investing significant amounts in R&D, such as Sicpa, Medtronic and Bobst. Logitech spends approximately 160 million francs per year on R&D, a significant portion of which is spent at its Vaud site. Finally, there are also large SMEs with a strong R&D focus such as Apco Technologies, Leclanché or Debiopharm.

The canton's seven science and technology parks (including EPFL's Innovation Park, Y-Parc in Yverdon and Biopôle in Epalinges) bring together more than 500 companies with more than 5,200 employees (figures:2018). Finally, we must add to this some coworking spaces oriented towards innovation that have recently appeared, such as Gotham in Lausanne or UniverCité in Renens, which hosts the MassChallenge start-up accelerator, or the Payerne aeropole, inaugurated last March.

The canton of Vaud thus has a real network of laboratories and companies investing and carrying out R&D tasks, as well as places where this R&D can materialize into innovative companies.