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ETH Zurich considering drastic cost-cutting measures 

The grand grey stone facade of ETH Zurich, as seen from a low angle looking up
If funding levels remain unchanged, cost-cutting measures may become necessary, the university says. Keystone / Walter Bieri

Federal technology institute ETH Zurich’s high placing in global university rankings could be under threat as its budget struggles to keep pace with increasing student numbers, it says.

The university believes government funding will be insufficient for the coming years. And if funding levels remain unchanged, cost-cutting measures may become necessary, it said on Thursday as it presented its 2023 annual report.  

+ Read about why the Universtiy of Zurich recently stopped participating in one prestigious international ranking

Among other things, a restriction on student numbers or a hiring freeze in research and teaching are being considered. The discontinuation of entire fields of research and degree programmes were also floated as a possibility. 

The institute was already facing major financial challenges last year, and the sharp rise in student numbers, compensation not keeping pace with inflation and planned government cuts have come as additional strains.  

Despite this, a surplus of CHF50 million ($55 million) was achieved last year, compared to a deficit of CHF73 million in 2022, although this was largely thanks to budgetary discipline, an increase in donations and a positive financial result. 

Reserves soon depleted  

However, the institute’s liquidity has steadily decreased since 2020, according to a press release, and liquidity requirements for investments and operations could not be fully covered by government contributions and other income streams. 

“We are currently living off freely available reserves, which will be completely depleted by the end of 2025,” said Stefan Spiegel, the institute’s vice president for finance. Spiegel added that reserves were urgently needed to be able to make major investments and compensate for fluctuations in the future.  

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While student numbers at the institute have more than doubled over the past 20 years, government financial contributions have only increased by around 50%. According to management, the government’s forthcoming dispatch on the promotion of education, research and innovation (the ERI Dispatch) for the years 2025-2028 will further exacerbate the situation. 

Translated from German by DeepL/kp 

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