ETH Zurich‘s President, Lino Guzzella, spoke to the Ambrosetti Club Innotech Community about the university’s history and its excellence. The university is part of a national system—Switzerland’s—that the Ambrosetti Innosystem Index has once again placed among the most successful innovation ecosystems on a global level.
A university of excellence that sits high in international rankings (9th in the 2015 THE ranking, 9th in the 2015 QS ranking and 19th in the 2016 ARWU ranking). In addition, on February 1, 2017, the Times Higher Education Rankings (THE) recognized it as the most international university in the world. It was, after all, Albert Einstein’s alma mater.
Its President, Lino Guzzella, with Italian roots but born in Zurich, spoke to the Ambrosetti Club Innotech Community about the university’s history and its excellence. The university is part of a national system—Switzerland’s—that the Ambrosetti Innosystem Index has once again placed among the most successful innovation ecosystems on a global level.
But how is it that Switzerland, a land-locked country without raw materials, became one of the richest countries in the world? The answer is “simple”: it placed all its bets on innovation and research. Today, the Zurich Polytechnic is an example to be emulated, despite the fact that the gap with Italian universities is, unfortunately, blatantly clear.
This is the guiding spirit behind ETH Zurich. President Lino Guzzella discussed with Ambrosetti Club members about innovation, research and entrepreneurship: all fundamental ingredients through which an institute of higher education, such as the Zurich Polytechnic, provides economic stimulus to the country on a daily basis.
With an extremely rigorous selection process to attract only the most talented students and professors in the world, ETH Zurich is able to supply Swiss industry with some of the most advanced global knowledge. Foreign students, especially those in the first years, are relatively few compared with the Swiss. On the other hand, 68% of the professors are from abroad. And 98% of students find a job within just three months of graduating. From 1996 to the present, there have been 355 university spin-offs, most still active. It is no accident that youth unemployment in Switzerland is less than 5%.
Mathematics first, then research and training in how to think critically and creatively, comprise the methodological skills. But the foundation of it all are core values. At ETH Zurich, students are taught first and foremost how to be men and women, and then engineers.
Today, the university is highly-focused on medicine and technology. It is working to make Switzerland an eco-sustainable country and the first with a secure Internet. Guzzella is a firm believer in the importance of technology transfer. In fact, in Zurich, university and industry work together on a daily basis through specific courses and specially-designed labs. The entrepreneurial focus is evident from the very first semester. The technology transfer department includes 40 highly-trained individuals (“technology transfer isn’t a game”) following clear and simple rules for managing intellectual property. This makes it possible to discover new, unexplored horizons and develop extremely innovative solutions.
This has made it possible for Switzerland to boast one of the most innovative ecosystems recognized on an international level. Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, to name just a few, have chosen Zurich as their research base. It is also the home of the largest Google R&D center outside the US, where 2000 researchers develop many of the most famous apps. Excellence attracts excellence.
For Guzzella, the younger generations must be educated (not just taught) to project themselves towards the future, aim to be the best and take more risks. This is the only way universities can play a crucial role in a nation’s development and growth.