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Pooling research forces with elite universities

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Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology says an alliance with other leading universities worldwide will add a new dimension to cooperation.

This content was published on February 2, 2006 - 17:18

The deal includes plans to exchange students and researchers and carry out joint studies.

Gerhard Schmitt, vice-president for Planning and Logistics at the institute, also known as the ETH Zurich, has hailed the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) as a logical step beyond existing bilateral agreements.

"It will help the ETH Zurich to gain more recognition worldwide," Schmitt said. "We can build on very good bilateral contacts and the experience with the Idea League, a network of five leading European universities."

He added that the IARU would allow the federal institute to increase its presence in Asia in particular.

Schmitt said he was convinced that the institute can also learn from other top educational and research institutions in terms of governance.

"Cooperation with alliance partners will go beyond regular cooperation between professors at different universities," he stressed.

Students can study at another elite institution and the academic experience is recognised mutually.

Singapore launch

Schmitt took part in a ceremony in Singapore last month, signing a memorandum of understanding with a number of international universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley, Yale, Tokyo, Beijing and Singapore.

Ian Chubb, vice-chancellor of Australia's National University, was named as the first IARU chairman.

Under the deal, ten universities are planning to exchange students and researchers at all levels and pool their academic forces for scientific studies.

Scientists from the ETH Zurich put forward the theme of sustainability and are cooperating with Tokyo, Singapore and Cambridge on a preliminary study.

Others focus on topics ranging from ageing and health to terror and security.

Sustainability

"It is a recognition of the ETH Zurich's long-standing experience and competence in this field," Schmitt told swissinfo.

At a meeting next year in Australia, members of the group of ten will decide which projects to pursue.

Alison Richard, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, hopes that a global group of universities is more likely to make an impact with some of the programmes.

The British Guardian newspaper quoted her as saying: "If we really want to influence policy and be heard, it will be more likely to happen."

The alliance aims to persuade governments and international organisations to fund research projects.

Jörgen Örström Möller, a Danish social science professor, told the Guardian that universities, which are excluded from strategic alliances, could soon find themselves without the necessary means for research and development.

But the cooperation agreement will not stop competition between the universities, according to Schmitt.

"Competition is very tough. We will still try to attract the best researchers to the ETH Zurich, just as other universities are doing," Schmitt said.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

Key facts

International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) comprises:
Australian National University of Canberra
National University of Singapore
Beijing University, China
University of Tokyo, Japan
Berkeley University of California, US
Yale University, US
University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Oxford University, Britain
Cambridge University, Britain
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich

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In brief

The institute, which is known as the ETH Zurich, is one of 12 universities and top educational institutions in Switzerland.

Twenty-one Nobel Prize winners are listed as researchers or former researchers of the ETH Zurich.

It was founded in 1855 and has about 360 professors and 20,000 staff and students from 80 different countries.

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