Swiss universities fall behind US counterparts

Swiss universities still have to catch up with their US counterparts Keystone Archive

Two Swiss universities have been ranked among the top ten best universities in Europe in a new survey.

This content was published on January 21, 2004 - 09:26

But they came well down in the global rankings, which were dominated by the richer and internationally better known universities in the United States.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities 2003 published by China's Shanghai Jiao Tong University last week compared 2,000 universities worldwide.

In the European rankings, the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich was the highest rated Swiss university in fifth place after four British universities. Zurich University was the only other Swiss establishment to make it into the top ten at ninth position.

Olaf Kübler, president of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, said he was a little disappointed that the institute had only gained 25th place on the global scale.

“On the one hand, being in that league is a matter of pride and joy,” Kübler told swissinfo.

“On the other hand, when we have direct interaction with our American counterparts we feel that we are working on the same par, so therefore it will be our aim to improve our status further in future rankings of this sort,” added Kübler.

Only two other Swiss universities made it into the global top 100: Zurich University at number 45 and Basel University in 96th place. The country has ten universities and two Federal Institutes of Technology.

US dominance

The worldwide rankings were dominated by US universities - headed by Harvard and Stanford - which took up 36 of the 50 top spots.

Kübler explained that one of the reasons for this is that the US is willing to pump far more funds into research than is Europe.

This attitude makes the US the current mecca of science and technology, attracting top scientists from all over the world.

Kübler says political support is needed if Switzerland is to compete with its richer US counterparts.

“Provided Switzerland sees its best universities as a matter of national pride and is willing to sustain funding at the level that is needed for us to be competitive [we can compete],” Kübler told swissinfo.

Nobel prizes

Another reason that Swiss and European universities fell behind is that the study was based on the number of Nobel prize winners and the amount of published research, which Kübler says, favours US universities.

“We have started to increase our presence in international publications and conferences over the past 20-25 years, this is 15 to 20 years after American universities started to do the same thing,” said Kübler.

But he adds that the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich can take comfort because since the 1970s it has had three Nobel prize winners - the latest being Kurt Wüthrich for chemistry in 2003 - making the institute unique in Europe.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

In brief

Top ten European universities: 1. Oxford University (GB), 2. Cambridge University (GB), 3. Imperial College London (GB), 4. University College London (GB), 5. Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (Switzerland), 6. Karolinska Institute Stockholm (Sweden), 7. Utrecht University (Netherlands), 8. Edinburgh University (GB), 9. Zurich University (Switzerland), 10. Munich University (Germany).

Top ten world universities: 1.Harvard University (US) 2. Stanford University (US) 3. California Institute of Technology (US), 4.University of California – Berkeley (US), 5. Cambridge University (GB), 6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US), 7. Princeton University (US), 8.Yale University (US), 9. Oxford University (GB), 10. Columbia University (US).

Source: Academic Ranking of World Universities 2003

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Key facts

There are 3 universities in the French-speaking part of Switzerland - Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchâtel.
The German-speaking part of Switzerland has five - Basel, Bern, Zurich, Lucerne and St Gallen.
Fribourg University is bilingual German-French.
Since 1996 there has been a university in Italian-speaking Ticino, mainly based at Lugano.
There are Federal Institutes of Technology in Lausanne and Zurich.

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