Record values despite a difficult environment

Zurich, Press releases, 04.05.2015

In spite of the difficult environment in the wake of the adoption of the immigration initiative, the ETH Domain was able to successfully fulfil the mandate of the Federal Council and Parliament. The attraction of the two Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich and Lausanne continues unabated: with more than 28,500 students and doctoral students, a new record value was reached in 2014. In terms of knowledge and technology transfer, the ETH Domain with ETH Zurich, EPFL and the four research institutes PSI, WSL, Empa and Eawag also climbed record heights. However, if the ETH Domain is expected to be able to fulfil its mandate for the benefit of Switzerland as a centre of knowledge and industry, it is absolutely dependent on optimal parameters. These include planning security, stable basic funding and international openness.

According to the Annual Report of the ETH Board on the ETH Domain, which is published today, 28,537 students and doctoral students are enrolled at the two Federal Institutes of Technology (2013: 28,046). This represents a new record value and confirms the ETH Domain’s attractiveness. Within ten years, the number of students and doctoral students has increased by more than 50 per cent. At 1.8 per cent, however, the 2014 increase was lower than in the preceding years.

In 2014, the ETH Domain continued to extend its expertise and its strong position in the field of energy research. Thus institutions of the ETH Domain took over the leadership or co-leadership of seven out of the total of eight national competence centres for energy research. The competence centres became operational in 2014. It is part of their task to concertedly intensify energy research in Switzerland with a view to the energy turnaround, and to safeguard the transfer of their research results into the market.

Record year for knowledge and technology transfer

Switzerland is among the world’s most innovative countries. The two Federal Institutes of Technology and the research institutes PSI, WSL, Empa and Eawag make crucial contributions to this innovative power. They educate and train young researchers, conduct top-notch research and promote knowledge and technology transfer (KTT).

With regard to knowledge and technology transfer, the ETH Domain can look back on a record year. Never before had so many patent applications been filed (211), licence agreements been concluded (270) and spin-offs been founded (49) by the two Institutes of Technology and the four research institutes. However, these indicators only cover part of the ETH Domain’s KTT activities. A crucial contribution towards KTT is also made by the more than 28,000 students and doctoral students of ETH Zurich and EPFL, who after their graduation disseminate their knowledge and the latest research results in industry, public administration and society.

Key role in the Swiss Innovation Park

The ETH Board is convinced that the Swiss Innovation Park is able to strengthen Switzerland’s innovative power and to improve network relations between academia and trade and industry. For this reason, the ETH Domain wants to join the cantons and trade and industry by making an important contribution towards a successful Innovation Park. It will become involved in the two hub locations in the environment of ETH Zurich and EPFL, as well as in the network locations in the Canton of Aargau, where PSI plays a central role, and in North Western Switzerland, where ETH Zurich is a participant.

International top position reinforced

In the core mandates of teaching and research, in particular, the 2014 track record of the four research institutes and the two Federal Institutes of Technology provides a highly gratifying picture. According to an independent analysis of their publications, which was conducted in 2014, the research done by the six institutions satisfied the highest international standards, and the impact of their scientific publications is above average. In the global rankings, ETH Zurich and EPFL were able to improve their places in almost all categories or to retain their excellent positions. Thus ETH Zurich occupies an excellent 13th place (2013: 14) in the worldwide THE university ranking, while EPFL is in 34th place (2013: 37). According to the THE ranking, ETH Zurich is thus the best university in continental Europe, with EPFL in third place.

Uncertain prospects for Switzerland as a centre of education and research

Internationality and openness are imperative conditions for the Swiss research and university landscape to be able to continue its development and to hold its ground in international competition. The consequences of the immigration initiative therefore confront the ETH Domain with the greatest challenges. “Our research institutes and the two Federal Institutes of Technology depend to a particularly great extent on highly specialised and optimally qualified staff from both home and abroad,” says Fritz Schiesser, President of the ETH Board. “Thus the members of staff of the Paul Scherrer Institute come from 64 countries, those of Empa from more than 50 nations. The operation of these research institutes without international specialists is hardly conceivable any longer.”

What is still highly uncertain is whether Switzerland will be able to rejoin the EU research framework programme Horizon 2020 without any restrictions in 2017. For the ETH Board, however, full association with Horizon 2020 is central – only this association enables Swiss researchers to exert an influence on these programmes, to coordinate Europewide projects unrestrictedly and to fully profit from EU funds. In view of these uncertainties, which are also financial in nature, the ETH Board considers continued long-term stable basic funding assured by the Confederation to be indispensable.

ETH Board to define strategic planning for 2017-2020

In its strategic planning, the ETH Board formulates the ETH Domain’s strategy for a performance period every four years. These plans are therefore the central instrument for the determination of focal points in teaching, research and knowledge transfer, as well as in academic objectives, and for the prioritisation of the ETH Domain’s large-scale projects. In the strategic planning for 2017-2020, which is also published today, the ETH Board has designed four strategic fields of research, among others, which it wants to advance with the institutions in the longer term: energy, personalised medicine and medical technologies, big data and digital sciences, as well as advanced manufacturing. The ETH Board is convinced that with the concerted promotion of these fields of research, the ETH Domain will be able to provide important innovative impulses for the benefit of society and the competitiveness of Switzerland as a centre of research and industry.

Further information:

Annual Report 2014 of the ETH Board on the ETH Domain
Strategic planning 2017-2020 (in German and French)

Address for enquiries:

Alex Biscaro
Head of Communication of the ETH Board
CH-8092 Zürich
+41 44 632 20 03


Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research