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Search for institute president set to begin

Reforming Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology is proving harder than expected (Imagepoint)

The board of Zurich's prestigious Federal Institute of Technology has announced it will start looking for a new president as soon as possible.

The search comes after the resignation on Wednesday of president Ernst Hafen, who threw in the towel because of strong opposition to reforms he wished to introduce.

Hafen, who had been in the job less than a year, stood down because members of the board and most of the faculty didn't agree with his plans. These included abolishing the position of rector and reducing the number of departments.

He also said that personal attacks and news reports led him to fear that the university's reputation would be tarnished.

Rector Konrad Osterwalder will take over in the interim. "I want to lead the institute into the future," he said on Friday, adding that the reforms were still on the cards, but that talks would involve all the concerned parties.

Osterwalder hopes to ensure a smooth transition. He said that the discussions about the institute's leadership had been painful, but he added that he believed it was a sign that the school's culture of dialogue was still intact.

The interim president believes that the institute's reputation as a centre of excellence has not been damaged. "The school is and remains the flagship of education and science in Switzerland," he said.

Selection process

Whether Osterwalder's position will become permanent or not remains unclear. The board decided on Thursday to begin the search for Hafen's successor immediately, but it will also review the selection process to see if it must be improved.

Board president Alexander Zehnder told Zurich's Tages Anzeiger newspaper that the school's new leader would have to be charismatic and also a top-class researcher.

The job would involve convincing faculty, staff and students to take on new challenges according to Zehnder. He added that Hafen's resignation came after a breakdown in communication that led to a leadership crisis.

Interior minister Pascal Couchepin, whose department provides most of the funding for the institute, said on Friday he was convinced the school would be able to overcome the crisis.

Couchepin, who was at the institute for a symposium and met Osterwalder briefly to discuss the situation, added that the board had his full backing.

swissinfo with agencies

Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology

Switzerland has two such institutes – the ETH Zurich, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2005 – and the EPF in Lausanne, western Switzerland.

In brief

Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology is the study, research and workplace of 18,000 people from 80 countries.

About 350 professors in 15 departments teach mainly engineering sciences and architecture, system-oriented sciences, mathematics and natural sciences.

It is part of the Swiss Federal Institutes, which are funded by the central government. Most Swiss universities are generally funded by the cantons.

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