Swiss institutes among ‘world’s top 20 unis’

Switzerland’s two federal institutes of technology, ETH Zurich and EPFL in Lausanne, are among the top 20 universities in the world, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Swiss institutes among 'world's top 20 unis'
EPFL's Rolex Learning Centre: the Lausanne institute jumps into the QS world's top 20. Photo: Alain Herzog

ETH ranked 12th, while EPFL came 19th in the QS World University Rankings for 2013, dominated — as in other evaluations — by American and British institutions.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is ranked first, followed by Harvard University, the University of Cambridge, the University College of London and Imperial College London.

Six of the top ten universities are American, while four are British.

The Anglo-American hegemony is only broken by the Swiss institutes and Canada's University of Toronto, which is tied with EPFL for the 19th place ranking.

ETH Zurich moved up from 13th place in the QS rankings last year and from 18th place in 2011.

EPFL jumped from 29th position last year and 35th in 2011.

The two Swiss universities headed the list of institutions in continental Europe, followed by Paris’s Ecole normale supérieure, which came 28th.

The rankings of other Swiss universities included University of Geneva (71st), University of Zurich (78th), University of Basel (110th), University of Lausanne (111th), University of Bern (154th) and the University of St. Gallen (411th).

The QS list is an annual “league table” of the top 600 universities in the world, produced by London-based consultants Quacquarelli Symonds. 

For more on the QS rankings, check here.

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EXPLAINED: How will the post-lockdown tracing system work in Switzerland?

Given there is no Covid-19 vaccine at the present time, contact tracing is believed to be an effective, though complex, strategy for breaking transmission chains and controlling the spread of disease. How will it work in Switzerland?

EXPLAINED: How will the post-lockdown tracing system work in Switzerland?
Research at EPFL will help establish a tracing system. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

How does the tracking work?

The process involves identifying contaminated people, so that measures can be taken to prevent the spread of infection on to others.

It is all the more important in cases when the sick person has no symptoms and may not even know they are sick.

Once the infected person is identified, efforts are made to locate and test the people they have been in contact with within the past two weeks. If one of those contacts is found to be infected, the investigation starts again.

Trying to find chains of contamination could be a long process.

What are some of the challenges of contact tracing?

In Switzerland, as in many other countries, the challenge is to establish an effective tracking system, while respecting data protection.

Since mobile phones would be used, various technical and legal questions could arise, particularly on the collection and use of data.

In Switzerland, to process this information in the context of the pandemic, either the consent of the individual or an anonymisation of the data is required.

READ MORE: Swiss scientists launch a new app to collect Covid-19 data 

What tools will Switzerland be using for post-confinement contact tracing?

One possibility would be the tracking by GPS of mobile phones, as already implemented in a partnership between the federal government and Swisscom. This method allowed the authorities to monitor the public to see if they complied with the restrictions related to going out and traveling during the Easter holidays. 

But the government is now supporting a brand new project at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and its sister institution, Zurich’s Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETHZ).

Both are working on the so-called D3-PT project, a free downloadable application for mobile phones, which will run on Google’s Android operating system and on Apple’s iOS.

Its goal, according to Edouard Bugnion, professor of computer science at EPFL, is to “break the chain of virus transmission” by identifying new cases and isolating them. If a person is found positive for coronavirus, all the people he has encountered in the previous days will be alerted, so that they can go into quarantine and be tested. 

No exact details or launch date have been released yet, but the Federal Council thinks the D3-PT tracing would work well in Switzerland.

Will this system guarantee privacy?

Until very recently, the two institutions participated in the European research project Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, bringing together 130 organisations from eight countries.

But EPFL and ETHZ distanced themselves from this project after realising that user data would not be protected, and went on launch the D3-PT system which, they said, would be more “decentralised and transparent”.