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Higher education EPFL reportedly seeks bigger slice of federal funds

Rolex Learning Center at EPFL

The number of EPFL students has risen sharply in recent years to over 11,000. 

(© Keystone / Gaetan Bally)

The Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) is urgently seeking additional federal funds to support its recent expansion, thus pitting it against other federal institutions, according to the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

Every year, the ETH Boardexternal link shares out CHF2.5 billion ($2.5 billion) in federal money. Just over half goes to the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), external linkEPFL external linkreceives a quarter and the remainder goes to four research institutes. The ETH Board itself receives CHF33 million.

However, according to an NZZ am Sonntag report published on Sunday, at a recent meeting EPFL demanded an increase of at least CHF30 million to cover “chronic underfunding”. This should be followed by a further annual increase in the federal contribution. 

Interim ETH Board president, Beth Krasna, confirmed to NZZ that EPFL needs more money in line with recent developments: “We need a structural adjustment of the EPFL’s basic budget.” 

The university near Lake Geneva has grown rapidly since its creation 50 years ago. Over the past 15 years, the number of EPFL professors has increased from 200 to over 320. This has been accompanied by a rise in the number of students from 6,000 to 11,000. 

“The EPFL sees the upcoming debate on an adjustment of the basic funding as an investment in the future of this now internationally established university,” EPFL spokesman Mirko Bischofberger told the newspaper. 

But NZZ am Sonntag said critics believe EPFL deliberately maneuvered itself into this position by increasing the number of assistant professorships and so-called tenure-track professorships - fixed-term contracts that offer the possibility of permanent employment at a higher level after evaluation. These account for almost half of all professorships. Although they are cheap at the beginning, they are often later converted into much more expensive full professorships.

The federal ETH Domain comprises the two Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) and Lausanne (EPFL) - both of which are top-ranked in international surveys - as well as the four research institutes: the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag). 

NZZ am Sonntag/sb

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