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Education rankings EU row threatens Swiss universities’ progress

Swiss universities (such as ETHZ pictured) could be skating on thin ice unless Switzerland's EU row is resolved.

(Keystone)

The ongoing impasse between Switzerland and the European Union could damage the international competitiveness of Swiss universities, warns the author of the prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) university rankingsexternal link.

Switzerland’s two federal institutes in Zurich (ETHZ) and Lausanne (EPFL) both climbed the THE tables this year, cementing their position as two of the top 40 universities in the world. ETHZ rose one place to 13 while EPFL climbed from 37th spot in 2013 to 34th this year.

The report’s editor, Phil Baty, said Swiss universities had every chance of breaking the top ten monopoly of United States and British institutions if they could attract more international talent and funding.

“But their excellent performance must not be taken for granted,” he added. “The continued isolation in Europe could be very dangerous.”

Baty referred to a political row between the EU and Switzerland that has been simmering since a Swiss vote in February to limit immigration. Since this vote is deemed by the EU to violate a bilateral agreement on unrestricted access to EU workers, Switzerland has been frozen out of key Europe-wide educational schemes.

Switzerland has recently been able to negotiate partial and temporary access to the Horizon 2020 research programme and has kept the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme going only by raising extra money to cover lost EU funds.

But both emergency measures are seen as a temporary quick fix until a sustainable diplomatic solution can be found to the impasse.

Foreign interest

In the meantime, Swiss universities have reported decreased interest from foreign students. A survey by Swiss public television SRF’s news programme Tagesschau found that the universities of Lucerne and Lugano were expecting a drop of 20%, and in Fribourg 38%, in this coming academic year.

Only one other Swiss university made it into the top 100 of the THE rankings: Basel dropped one place to 75. The California Institute of Technology was the top-ranked higher education institute, followed by Harvard, Oxford and Stanford.

The rival QS World University Rankingsexternal link last month listed ETHZ in 12th place (and top in mainland Europe), EPFL 17th, Zurich University 57th and Geneva 85th.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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