ETH Board, 18 May 2017

At its meeting of 17 May 2017, the ETH Board made decisions concerning its financial and investment planning for 2018. Due to the Confederation’s cost-cutting targets, less money will be available to the ETH Domain in 2018 than in the current year. This entails a reduction of services. The ETH Board regards this reduction as a hazard for Switzerland as a centre of innovation.

The ETH Board adopted the target agreements with the institutions, as well as the financial and investment planning. This includes the budget, the investment loan and the construction programme for the coming year. After the Federal Council had resolved to introduce an inflation adjustment, the ETH Board is also being called upon to implement this federal measure. The institutions of the ETH Domain, which include ETH Zurich, EPFL, the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, WSL, Empa and Eawag, will have to accept a cut of 3% in federal resources. Furthermore, the ETH Domain is facing annual retrenchment plans of an additional 20m CHF for 2018–2020. Thus the budget cuts amount to approx. 90m CHF annually in the ETH Domain as a whole.

The latest cost-cutting targets worry the President of the ETH Board, Fritz Schiesser: “There will be less money available to us in 2018 than in 2017. This means that we’ll be unable to make some of the investments we planned. In the future, this will also have a negative impact on the Swiss economy’s innovative power.” For this reason, the ETH Board considers it to be important that the two Federal Institutes of Technology and the four research institutes retain their excellent international reputation.

The ETH Domain: an innovation driver for the Swiss economy

Switzerland has been world innovation champion in the Mercer ranking for nine years. If the two Federal Institutes of Technology should lose ground in the rankings, this will have an impact on the Swiss economy. The ETH Domain educates top-grade employees who transfer the knowledge they have acquired at the universities into industry and SMEs and ensure technological progress and innovation there. Time and again, the environment of the institutions of the ETH Domain attracts big firms which create jobs and generate value creation, among them Google, IBM and Facebook. Moreover, Swiss SMEs and industrial groups are also able to profit from this knowledge thanks to technology transfer. Empa alone is running about 400 cooperation ventures, most of them with Swiss SMEs.

Investments in education are future-oriented

ETH Zurich and EPFL occupy top positions in various rankings, which display the effectiveness of Switzerland as a centre of education, research and innovation, and they remind Fritz Schiesser of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka: “Both the two Federal Institutes of Technology and Federer and Wawrinka show that even a small country like Switzerland is able to go far. We must turn these qualities into economic capital,” says the President of the ETH Board. “Digitalisation is proceeding apace, and only those countries which create the best conditions for an innovative economy will be at the top in a few years’ time. World-class research from the ETH Domain strengthens Switzerland’s industry and labour market. Thus the ETH Domain is an engine of innovation in the digital age, just as it was for the railways, the chemical industry and machine-building in the 19th century.” At that time, politicians instructed the Federal Institute of Technology to educate specialists in the field of chemical industry, for example, thus laying the cornerstones for Basel’s chemical industry. Thanks to liberal legislation and the ETH engineers’ knowledge, Switzerland became the world’s second biggest chemical nation already at the beginning of the 20th century, behind Germany and in front of the UK and France. “Politicians also need this visionary perspective in the era of digitalisation,” says Fritz Schiesser.

Measures for the promotion of equality in the ETH Domain

The ETH Board had set the target that approx. 0.4% of financial resources would have to be expended on measures for the promotion of equality between men and women. In their reports, the six institutions of the ETH Domain reveal the various measures that they implemented. This includes the funding of childcare in cases where women researchers present their work at international conferences. The Universities also offer more crèche places, run workshops on how women can be attracted to research, organise mentoring programmes for young women researchers and much more. All in all, still too few women work in the technical disciplines.

Research projects

The ETH Board took note of the final reports of the CCES Competence Center Environment and Sustainability and CCMX Competence Center for Materials Science and Technology. Both competence centres have made a great contribution towards the launch of new research projects and research cooperation ventures in the ETH Domain, on the one hand in the field of environment and sustainability, and on the other hand in material sciences and technology. The competence centres were set up in 2006 and have resulted in more intensive cooperation within the ETH Domain and in Switzerland’s university landscape as a whole.