Optimisation of the organisation and structure of the ETH Domain
The ETH Board is currently examining the ETH Domain’s organisation and structure so that it is better equipped to manage pressing current and future challenges. A possible new structure should lead to greater flexibility and efficacy in addressing the strategic areas of the ETH Domain. The aim is to create a system in which the outstanding capacities of the ETH Domain’s research institutes can be harnessed to address the big societal challenges of our time, such as climate change, new energy sources, biodiversity, digital transformation and cybersecurity. Moreover, the Federal Council had mandated the ETH Domain to review its structure as part of its strategic objectives for the period 2021–2024. This was also one of the recommendations of the international Expert Committee that evaluated the ETH Domain in 2019 and 2023. The last structural adjustments were made 30 years ago.
Within their remits, the institutions work effectively and to a high scientific standard, but they are reaching their limits when it comes to developing strategic topics outside their current portfolios, or when coordination and cooperation between the institutions are needed. Representatives of the Directorates of the four research institutes and the Executive Boards of the two Federal Institutes of Technology have drafted three options for a future structure of the ETH Domain. The ETH Board has discussed these and is formulating clear criteria based on which the options can be evaluated. Furthermore, it wishes to have the concept of hubs (platforms for cooperative work within and outside the ETH Domain that takes place over a number of years) elaborated further. At the same time, the ETH Board will be holding talks with internal and external stakeholders over the next few months to discuss the various criteria and options. This will be followed by internal consultation that will serve as a basis for a decision on the basic direction of the project in 2024. Detailed information is available on the ETH Board website at (Link).
ETH Board concerned about the 2024 budget
The ETH Domain is especially badly affected by the federal government’s corrective measures. As of 2024, the planned reduction in spending in areas that are not strictly ring-fenced, plus the decision not to compensate for inflation, will leave a shortfall of approx. CHF 80 million p.a. The planned cuts will hit the ETH Domain at a time when it has already forgone some of its international appeal and renown due to Switzerland’s non-association with Horizon Europe – and this trend is set to continue. To relieve the skills shortage and cope with the strong growth in student numbers, additional investment is needed. The ETH Board hopes that the Federal Assembly will continue to accord a high priority to ERI and the ETH Domain and approve the necessary funding.
More professorship appointments for women
The ETH Board continues to attach great importance to increasing the proportion of women in management positions and professorships at ETH Domain institutions. In 2023, the percentage of women among newly appointed professors was increased once again to 48.9%. Over the past five years the percentage of women appointed has consistently been above 30%, which will boost the proportion of female professors in the ETH Domain over the long term.
Changes in pay for ETH Domain staff
The ETH Board has been conducting salary negotiations for 2024 with the social partners. ETH Domain professors and other employees have been awarded an inflation adjustment of 1.0% for 2024. Given that the Confederation is facing a tense financial situation, which is also negatively impacting the ETH Domain, it is not possible to grant a full cost-of-living adjustment. As in previous years, 1.2% of the corresponding wage bill will be available for individual pay awards based on experience and performance.
New appointments to ETH Board Ombuds Office for the ETH Domain as of 2024
Based on the ETH Board’s directive on dealing with reports of illegal and unethical behaviour from ETH Domain employees, the ETH Board has set up an Ombuds Office. The present ETH Board ombudsman, the attorney Dr Res Nyffenegger, has been doing excellent work for over ten years. From 1 January 2024 Dr Michael Daphinoff and Cendrine Rouvinez will take over his mandate. Both individuals work for the Kellerhals-Carrard law firm – among other things in the areas of public and private labour law.
Horizon Europe: ETH Board stresses the need for rapid association
The ETH Board welcomes the developments in Swiss–EU relations that have been communicated by the Federal Council and the European Commission. It is pleased that the exploratory talks have been completed and that the mandates for negotiations can now be prepared. Participation in the EU framework programmes for research and innovation is of crucial importance to the ETH Domain. The milestone in the talks between Switzerland and the EU that has now been reached means that preliminary technical discussions on association with Horizon Europe can begin immediately. The ETH Board warmly welcomes this positive development and calls for association with Horizon Europe to be achieved as quickly and fully as possible. Switzerland’s association with Horizon Europe must be kept separate from the other negotiations between Switzerland and the EU. Only then will rapid implementation be possible.
National initiative for trustworthy artificial intelligence
The ETH Board is pleased to note the launch of the joint Swiss AI initiative of ETH Zurich and EPFL. This provides Swiss research with an open platform for large language models (LLMs) and positions Switzerland as a world-leading location for the development and use of transparent and trustworthy artificial intelligence. The new “Alps” supercomputer at the CSCS with its latest-generation graphics processing units (GPU), along with the Swiss Data Science Center (SDSC), serve as a basis for this. The initiative enables the ETH Domain to continue its top-class AI research in the service of science and society. The initiative aims at bundling the specialist knowledge of Switzerland’s research and innovation landscape.