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University funding  Local voters approve St Gallen University expansion plans 

University of St Gallen

Students outside the University of St Gallen

(© Keystone / Christian Beutler)

On Sunday voters in St Gallen gave the go-ahead to grant its university CHF160 million ($164 million) in funding for building a new campus. The university is bursting at the seams. 

Infrastructure at the universityexternal link, which is well known for its businessexternal link specialisation, is set up for around 5,000 students – but there are currently around 8,600 students enrolled. The institution now plans to build a new campus at Platztorexternal link, on the edge of the old town, not far from the World Heritage site of the St Gallen Abbey Library. 

The aim is to have enough space for around 3,000 students by 2027. It is not yet known what the new campus will look like; architects will be invited to submit their ideas following the vote. 

Costs

The whole project will cost CHF207 million, of which the eastern canton will provide CHF160 million, the city CHF2 million and the federal authorities CHF25 million. The university has to stump up CHF20 million.

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Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, it is not unusual for local votersexternal link to have a say on funding major building projects or educational matters (cantons are in charge of education in Switzerland). 

The turnout rate, however, was exceptionally low, at 26%.

Rising numbers 

The vote comes at a time of rising student numbers in Switzerland, as there is a trend towards more and more people taking degrees.  

The University of Bern has already expanded its campus – at a cost of CHF40 million, which was approvedexternal link by the canton.  

+ Read how other university cities are struggling to cope with higher student numbers 

Expenses issue 

The vote was expected to go throughexternal link, especially as there was no opposition raised at cantonal government or parliament level.  

However, it did come after the university was shaken by an expenses scandalexternal link, and with criminal proceedings still pending against a professor, as the university outlined at the start of Mayexternal link. There have also been political debates about professors’ external mandates. 

Some of the previous votes on public funding for the university in 1985 and 2005 were quite close, although they were ultimately accepted. 

Those in favour of the project pointed to the university’s economic importance for the region: it employs 3,000 people and creates an added value of CHF235 million a year, according to the Le Temps newspaper.external link  

Keystone-SDA/Le Temps/ilj

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