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International Geneva gets academic powerhouse

The Graduate Institute of International Studies is one of the two schools involved in the merger. HEI

Geneva's graduate institutes of international and development studies will merge to create an academic centre at the planned Peace House, which should open in 2012.

The merger, announced on Friday, is intended by the Swiss government to create a research and educational hub and boost the city’s profile.

The Graduate Institute of International Studies (GIIS) has often served as a training ground for public servants, while the Graduate Institute of Development Studies (GIDS) has concentrated on North-South relations and advising developing nations.

For years, the two institutions have – rightly or wrongly – been perceived as competing with each other. And neither was particularly interested in the merger when the project was mooted over a year ago.The two schools however slowly came to accept a plan that calls for more than joining forces.

“The new institution will have to offer more teaching, research and services, and contribute to the reputations of Swiss science, international Geneva and the whole country,” said Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin.

For the federal and local authorities as well as Geneva University, the aim is to reinforce the city’s international reputation. As it stands, only New York is home to more international institutions.

To back up this ambitious goal, extra public funding has already been promised, doubling current levels that stand at around SFr10 million ($8.2 million).

But Couchepin has already warned this will mean recruiting more staff and carrying out more fundraising for the new institute.

According to the interior minister, the merger is also a part of the federal government’s plans to rationalise the piecemeal Swiss academic landscape.

Peace House

The new institute, which should start operations in 2008, will be overseen by a foundation and a partner of the local university. The project is already six months behind schedule and its statutes are slated for approval by the end of the year.

Three local government-backed institutes, the Centre for Security Policy, the International Centre for Humanitarian Demining and the Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, will also join the academic pole centred on the new institution.

All of these research and educations centres should set up shop in Geneva’s planned Peace House by 2012.

Estimates put the investment at around SFr100 million ($82 million) for the house, canton Geneva paying SFr37 million and the federal government another SFr30 million, while the remainder will be raised via a loan.

Local and federal parliaments still have to approve the funding within the next 12 months.


Through the merger and the opening of the Peace House, Geneva will reinforce its profile in international and development studies.

Other Swiss institutions have strong reputations in this field, including Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology as well as Basel and Bern universities.

Geneva is home to 22 international organisations, as well as 170 non-governmental organisations, employing a total of 38,000 people.

The international sector is worth an estimated SFr5 billion per year for the canton.

Created in 1927, the GIIS has 1,100 students, and besides conducting research and preparing students for international service, also provides expertise.
Among its graduates is the current Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.
The GIDS, founded in 1961, is much smaller and only has 250 students.
Among its specialities is advising governments of developing nations.

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