ETH Zurich ranked best uni on continent

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich was named among the world’s top universities in an annual report released on Tuesday.

ETH Zurich ranked best uni on continent
Photo: Roland Fischer

The university, otherwise known as ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) Zürich, ranked as the best in continental Europe and the 13th best on the planet, according to the QS World University Rankings of the best 200 universities for 2012.

This marked an improvement on last year when QS rated the Zurich engineering, science, technology, mathematics and management university 18th in the world.

The list put the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on top, supplanting Cambridge University, ranked first last year.

Cambridge came second, followed by Harvard, University College London and Oxford in a hit parade dominated in the upper echelons by American and British institutions.

The QS rankings are based on assessments of research quality, graduate employability and teaching, as well as how international the faculties and student bodies are.

Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) was the second most highly regarded Swiss university, ranking 29th, up from 35th last year.

The QS report described Switzerland generally as a “powerhouse” for its post-secondary learning institutes.

For a small land-locked Alpine nation, the country “punches well above its weight” both in terms of its economic power and its universities, the report said.

It highlighted the “extremely international” nature of Swiss higher education.

Other Swiss schools on the list included the University of Geneva (ranked 74th, down from 69th a year ago) and the University of Zurich (tied for 90th with China’s Fudan University, up from 106th).

ETH Zurich, which was founded in 1854 with a mission to educate engineers and scientists, is famous for producing 23 Nobel laureates, while its famous former students include renowned physicist Albert Einstein.

With an enrolment of around 17,200 students on two campuses, it offers an extensive number of courses in English in addition to German.

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Zurich’s ETH uni overtakes Cambridge in new global rankings

Zurich’s ETH technical institute has further consolidated its place as one of the world's best universities by leapfrogging the UK’s Cambridge University to take sixth place in the latest QS Quacquarelli Symonds global rankings for 2020.

Zurich's ETH uni overtakes Cambridge in new global rankings
Photo: ETH Zurich

The ranking is the highest yet achieved by ETH Zurich in the ranking for the study of 48 different subjects at the world’s universities.

In coming sixth, ETH is also the top-ranking university on continental Europe. In Europe as a whole, only the UK’s Oxford University scored higher – in fourth place overall.

Read also: 'Switzerland has third best university system in the world'

Meanwhile, the very top of the table was dominated by US universities, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) coming top, followed by Stanford University and Harvard University. In fifth was California Institute of Technology.

In terms of other Swiss universities, Lausanne’s EPFL technical institute also had a good result, moving up from 22nd place last year to 18th, while Zurich University was also in the QS global top 100 – in 76th place.

Europe's strongest research ecosystem

In a statement on Switzerland’s performance, QS analyst Ben Sowter said: “The Swiss higher education has consolidated its position as Europe’s strongest research ecosystem.”

He noted that Switzerland’s success was based on its international perspective and on its recognition of the need to invest in both human capital and research and development.

At the same time, the country’s very high standard of living made it an attractive destination for talent, he added.

Meanwhile, ETH President Joël Mesot on Wednesday reacted positively to the news of the institute’s QS ranking.

'A great result for Switzerland'

“We are very pleased about this great ranking. It provides yet more proof that ETH Zurich is on the right track in teaching, research and technology transfer,” Mesot said in a statement.

The ETH president also noted results of these rankings needed to be taken with caution.

Read also: 'A short-term L permit is almost useless for non-EU graduates of Swiss unis'

“Nevertheless, we can be very proud. Particularly of the fact that the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology – ETH Zurich and EPFL – have placed very highly in all the rankings for years.”

Mesot also warned Switzerland against resting on his laurels.

He said the country needed to “work actively to ensure that the good financial and political framework for the ETH Domain and for Switzerland as a science hub remain in place in the coming years”.

ETH beats Cambridge on citations per faculty

The QS rankings measure six performance indicators: academic reputation (weighted at 40 percent of the total result); employer reputation (10 percent), faculty/student ratio (20 percent), citations per faculty (20 percent) and international faculty ratio/international student ratio (5 percent each).

While ETH Zurich and the University of Cambridge had similar scores for most of these metrics, ETH did substantially better than the UK university in terms of citation per faculty, scoring 98.4 out of 100 against 74.2 for Cambridge.

The citation per faculty indicator is determined by looking at the total number of citations received by all papers produced by an institution across a five-year period by the number of faculty members at that institution.

Papers in different fields are weighted differently to prevent life science papers skewing results. In 2015, the life sciences accounted for nearly half of all academic papers published, according to QS.

In the rival Times Higher Education World University Rankings, ETH Zurich is currently ranked as the 11th best university in the world.