Since its foundation in 1965, the Swiss Science Council SSC has undergone three name changes and numerous legislative revisions. Its identity has evolved in tandem with that of the Swiss education, research, and innovation system.

In the years following the Second World War, Western countries, Switzerland among them, pursued an internationalist science and research policy with the aim of expanding the scientific understanding of the world and improving the common lot of humankind. A number of universities, research centres, and scientific organisations were founded in Switzerland with this expressed purpose in mind.

This expansion of the ERI landscape formed the backdrop of the Federal Council’s decision to found the SSC in 1965. This not only shaped its obligations but also its identity. “We consider gathering and coordinating fruitful ideas and resources from all parts of our population to be one of our main functions,” the Council wrote in 1967. It was saw itself as a “small militia body” with unique responsibilities and a commitment to the common good.

A good ten years after its foundation, the SSC began to ask itself more existential questions. Was the SSC “simply a think tank or should it draft policy proposals”? Should its remit be sectoral or horizontal? Was it a generalist or a specialist? Together with key stakeholders of the ERI landscape, the Council came to the conclusion that its core obligation was to adopt “a global and future-orientated perspective on a whole range of issues”. The Council’s main functions were to “create mental frameworks” and “initiate political activities” without trying to determine them.

The question how the SSC should act within this framework was formulated more clearly in 1987. Over the course of the 1980s, the SSC’s responsibilities in preparing and setting goals for the Federal Council’s research policy expanded. This lead the SSC to wonder whether it was a “council of expertise” or a “council of negotiation”.

On the one hand, it had to provide stakeholders with “new proposals regarding the preferred structure and character of the higher education and research system”. On the other hand, it had to provide “comprise solutions for the problems at hand” to the relevant authorities. The Council subsequently experimented with different models that tried to combine the best of both worlds in order to fulfil its manifold functions.

In the 1990s, the tasks of the SSC were further expanded to include science and higher education policy, anticipatory research policy, technology policy, and technology assessment. The accumulation of so many tasks led to the Council to perceive itself as the “voice of science” by the turn of the millennium.

However, the political scene as well as the Federal Administration were evolving in another direction. The post-war ideal of long-term planning, which had been the Council’s main approach until that time, gave way to the principle of situational governance. Its recommendations were less heeded in the ensuing years and the problem that these were not legally binding became apparent. In 2008, the SSC lost some of its tasks, such as anticipatory research policy and technology assessment, and thus resources also.

In more recent years, the SSC has managed to positioned itself more prominently within the ERI landscape and has spoken out on a number of pressing issues, such as social selectivity and digitalisation.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the strained relations between Switzerland and the European Union, there is currently a lot of uncertainty in the Swiss ERI system, which entails many challenges and opportunities. The SSC is deeply involved with both of these issues and, as so often in its history, is also influenced by them.