Cost-cutting measures at WSL

The reduced growth rates envisaged in the 2025-2028 ERI Dispatch require drastic cost-cutting measures at WSL. These will not come without losses in research and services.

Thanks to its high-quality research, WSL is one of the world’s leading research institutes in the fields of forest, snow and landscape and is highly valued in Switzerland by the authorities, the private sector and by individuals for its services (see Annual Report 2023 ).

However, despite forward-looking and careful financial planning, it is now facing a difficult financial outlook: The Confederation is demanding savings, as it too is under great financial pressure; employees must be compensated for the increase in prices, but this is not compensated for in the basic funding from the federal government for the ETH Domain; and the growth rates envisaged in the 2025-2028 ERI Dispatch are much lower than originally forecast. Without countermeasures, WSL would hence annually spend on average about five million francs more than the basic funding it receives from the federal government.

WSL has therefore decided to take the following far-reaching cost-cutting measures to reduce the structural deficit within around five years:
  • Extensive hiring freeze: retirements and other departures of employees paid from the basic federal contribution will not be refilled. Exceptions are only made for tasks that are required by law, obligated by long-term obligations, or operationally unavoidable and that cannot be taken on by a person already employed. A reduction of around thirty positions is necessary.
  • Saving on construction and renovation : the planned replacement of a building in poor energy and overall condition in Birmensdorf will not be realised. WSL is also postponing cyclical renovations for several years. Only necessary repairs and safety-related refurbishments will be carried out.
  • The operating budgets of the research and support units have already been reduced by 5% in both 2023 and 2024.

The accruals for the replacement building, which have now been released, and the free reserves that are currently still available allow the necessary staff reduction to be spread over several years in a socially responsible manner. Christoph Hegg, Acting Director of the WSL, emphasises: "We are relieved that we will be able to reduce the structural deficit in good time according to current federal forecasts on financial development. But the loss of so many scientific, technical and administrative positions hurts". A reduction in services is conceivable, and it may no longer be possible to tackle important research topics. In particular, it is currently still unclear whether and how new tasks can be tackled, whether due to new mandates or the recently approved "WSL Strategy 2035" research strategy. "Our researchers are excellent at acquiring research funding," says Hegg with cautious optimism, "WSL will therefore remain scientifically successful in its research fields and continue to generate practical findings for Switzerland and to provide services such as the avalanche bulletin. But it will not be possible without painful cutbacks".