Dominique Foray (SWR)

Research institutions of the ETH domain : Issues and challenges – theoretical considerations from an economic perspective

In this blog article SSC member Dominique Foray explores the economical potential of reforming the ETH research institutions.

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Mastering multiple complexities – a rising challenge for Swiss companies

In autumn 2022, the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI commissioned a project to analyse the decline in R&D-performing companies and trends in the innovation activity of Swiss companies. The project leaders – Prof. F. Barjak (FHNW), Prof. D. Foray (EPFL) and Prof. M. Wörter (ETHZ) – conducted several hearings with key company representatives and stakeholder organisations. Those hearings were the basis for a recently published report on “Mastering multiple complexities”. This blog article summarises the findings of the report.

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The New Missions Are Not about Conquering the Moon!

A convincing post concerning the influence of Professor Mazzucato’s work on the agenda of Horizon Europe was published recently on this blog. Of course, as a public intellectual (or perhaps a thought leader)1, she did a very good job. Thanks to her passion, commitment and eloquence, she succeeded in placing the mission message quite high on the agenda of the European Commission as well as of many other public and international institutions and forums. However, the panegyric requires a few nuances.Read more

Switzerland’s other assets in the face of the digital revolution

In the face of the growing technological revolution – digitalisation and artificial intelligence – Switzerland has a number of assets. Some are well known and visible – the quality of its higher education institutions, its research and its entire innovation ecosystem. Two of these assets – although very important – remain however neither very visible nor well understood. These two assets enable Switzerland to effectively resolve a crucial problem – one that all developed countries are today confronted with. This problem concerns – not innovation – but the diffusion of innovation, its absorption and propagation throughout the whole economic system. This is an essential problem. Indeed, it is one thing to promote a system allowing certain companies and entrepreneurs to innovate, but quite another to get these innovations adopted and diffused throughout all the industries and services comprising a country’s economy. And yet this second point is just as important as the first for increasing productivity and creating the right jobs of the future.Read more

An introductory elucidation of open science

The concept of open science is not a new one. It can be traced back to Merton (1957) and then to economists (Dagupta and David, 1994), who describe the working of science as a social institution: science is based on the so-called priority-based reward system. This system gives researchers credit for the prompt and full disclosure of their discoveries (usually in academic journals, but sometimes via other outlets such as databases), accomplishing several interrelated objectives (Cockburn et al., 2011). A priority-based reward system complements academic freedom (an academic scientist has incentives to come up with their own solution to a problem that another is also dealing with – the latter being eager to learn about the solution found by the former), it encourages prompt disclosure, it secures a collective process of quality control and provides a transparent means for access by future scientists to the body of knowledge in a particular area. Open science seems therefore to be a more complex concept than open access. It describes a set of institutions and social norms that are functionally quite well suited to the goal of maximising the long-run growth of the stock of scientific knowledge. (In another paper posted on the SWR blog two years ago, I explained that it is because of the importance of open science for scientific performance that citizen science – which is not necessarily based on open science – is not as straightforward as is generally thought).Read more

The massive funding in COVID-19 research and the “elasticity” of science

The case for investing in research to prevent pandemic outbreaks may have been strong. However, now that that pandemic is upon us, and given the many demands on the public purse, is it wise to invest large amounts in COVID-19 research? Indeed, public funders are multiplying initiatives to fund SARS-CoV-2 research. Strikingly, the NIH has received 1.8 billion dollars to spend in COVID-19 research. On a smaller scale, the EU, Canada, France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, South Africa and other countries - all have launched new initiatives and grant calls to support COVID-19 research. China is now running in excess of 500 clinical trials related to the coronavirus. And more research funding is probably forthcoming.Read more

Boosting technology development through mission-oriented policy mechanisms

Most western countries – including innovation champions such as the USA – have a tradition of mission-oriented policy. These policies pursue the goal of supporting a particular set of new technologies. As such, they involve preferential interventions towards a certain technological domain and can be characterised by a higher degree of intentionality, prioritisation and centralisation than the standard policies focusing on framework conditions.Read more

Patents and innovation – a difficult case for economists!

Economists are sometimes disappointing; they struggle to take sides. It’s the famous story of President Truman’s chief economist who couldn’t give a fixed opinion on most subjects of economic policy. It was always “on the one hand... on the other hand“ to the point that one day, exasperated, Truman exclaimed – “Someone please bring me a one-handed economist!“. Read more

A response to the Avenir Suisse report: Two more points to consider

The Avenir Suisse report on Swiss universities with its reform agenda to increase their efficiency and effectiveness is most interesting and opens up numerous opportunities for discussion. As it’s not possible to comment on all of it, I’ll concentrate on two points: firstly, the problems, extensively discussed in the report, of duplication, waste and scattering of resources, linked with a tendency towards a certain uniformisation of institutions especially via the “academisation” of universities of applied sciences (UASs). And secondly, the problems of innovation to renew this old industry of higher education, which the report, rather strangely, barely mentions. Read more

Entrepreneurship and innovation in the disruption age – the three dimensions of a public policy

Productive entrepreneurship (expression that covers independent inventors and innovators) is an essential factor in productivity growth for reasons that mainly involve its central role in producing radical (as opposed to incremental) innovations. It is thus important to identify the public policy that should be dedicated to it, particularly in the age of digitalisation when so many new technological opportunities present themselves to potential entrepreneurs. We think that an ideal comprehensive policy should have three dimensions. Read more