An Aberrant Proposal – An Impartial Political Chronicle

“According to a project by the State Council of Neuchâtel, the semester study fee would increase from 425 to 720 francs for Swiss students. For foreigners, the total would increase from 790 to 970 francs. As a reminder, the government of Neuchâtel announced in mid-December the proposal to the Grand Council to pay 50 million a year, out of an annual budget of 140 million. »

This emptying of the budget of student families is, first of all, pointless: 4,500 students would bring in a few tens of thousands of francs, less than a thousandth of the university’s annual budget. But subtracting two hundred francs from a student budget is significant. This is in accordance with an old cynical rule: it is necessary, above all, to tax the poor, even if they have no money because they are the most numerous.

This tax increase is in contradiction with a situation of crisis of qualified personnel at all levels: doctors, engineers, IT, salespeople, catering or hotel staff… Unless we agree with the Neuchâtel State Council that their university does not form personnel, that is, it produces luxury graduates, there is an obvious contradiction here.

The strength of an economy lies in the availability of qualified personnel, whether trained within the national framework or imported from abroad. As such, the higher tax for foreign students is a financial aberration. It is usually justified by the fact that the parents of these students do not pay taxes in Switzerland and therefore do not fund Swiss universities through their contributions. This is to forget that Switzerland has not had to finance its primary and secondary studies and that it benefits from a free, considerable and much needed human contribution.

We often hear the refrain in Bern that Switzerland has so many top-level scientists that it can do without foreign support, in particular the participation in the €100 billion Horizon Europe and the creation of synergies between research groups at an international level. Neuchâtel’s proposal is part of a long campaign of distrust of science.

It is therefore worth remembering and clarifying what international science means today in the country’s economy. Conditions innovation in established companies and through the emergence of young shoots (known as start in globish). It thus maintains the competitiveness of a country like Switzerland, characterized by high wages and a highly qualified workforce. If Swiss science declined, the economy would suffer. Not immediately, but on the scale of a generation by which the dynamism acquired by research in Switzerland will have weakened. It took time to bring it to its current level, from which it will only slowly descend, to the point where it goes unnoticed until it’s too late.

It is not enough to finance research as if it were a manufacturing activity whose productivity is necessarily improved by the renovation of technical equipment. There is an intangible dimension in science, as in culture or religion. It requires minds trained in fundamental disciplines, but also spurred on by a tendency to question the best-established facts. This is not measured, it is gained and lost without anyone knowing.

There is no national science that can survive without informal and official contact with the rest of the planet. The best counterexample is Russia. During the Cold War, Russian scientists did not participate in international conferences, simply because the Soviet authorities feared not seeing them return if they could cross the Iron Curtain, that vast fence destined to confine their slaves.

During a symposium, many works are presented on the podium. It is true that the texts are published and available to everyone, even to researchers based in Russia. But they lack informal contacts with their counterparts in free countries. Likewise, they will not be invited to foreign universities. However, what is most precious in research, which allows some to progress where others stagnate, is under the fabrication secrets of science. This is not said in certain forums because it is obvious that everyone knows this, which is so obvious that it is not worth sharing in a post. The only way to find out is to stay in this foreign laboratory and stay in close contact with its researchers.

These were the functions performed by Erasmus and Horizon. Therefore, funding activities at Swiss universities is not enough to compensate for the loss of Horizon. Likewise, students will no longer travel as easily as with Erasmus because each Swiss university will have to negotiate with foreign countries for this exchange. And finally, foreign students will be less likely to spend a year at a Swiss university, especially if they are stigmatized by higher taxes, as if they are only reluctantly accepted.

Federal parliamentarians have understood that science is increasingly influencing policy because it establishes facts that can no longer be ignored when establishing policy. So it’s a growing loss of your powers. It has become impossible to deny global warming. It has become foolish to claim that the epidemic cannot be controlled by mass vaccination. It became absurd to refuse to sell weapons to Ukraine. However, the facts are stubborn and the right and left ideologies serve less and less to hide them. Former Baron Louis, Minister of Finance of France, declared his doctrine “Make me good politics and I will make you good finances”. Today it can be added: “Make me a good policy and I will make you a good science”.

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