Reputation of top Swiss universities rises: survey

Switzerland’s top two universities have boosted their global reputation in the eyes of academics, according to a new survey.

Reputation of top Swiss universities rises: survey
Photo: ETH Zurich

The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings for 2014 ranks ETH Zurich, the Federal School for Technology, in 16th place, up from 20th a year earlier.

The rankings, issued on Wednesday, put the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) among the top 50 universities in 49th place, after previously rating among the top 60 institutions.

The survey involves what the THE claims is the world’s largest opinion survey of invited academics “to provide the definitive list of the top 100 most powerful global university brands”.

The rankings are a spinoff of the publication’s annual university rankings, which typically face charges of an Anglo-Saxon bias.

“The reputation league table is based on nothing more than subjective judgment of senior, published academics — the people best placed to know the most about excellence in our universities,” the THE says.

The list is dominated by American and British universities, with Harvard ranked at the top, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford.

ETH Zurich is the top-ranked university outside of the US or Britain with the exception of the 11th placed University of Tokyo.

You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to study at the Zurich university because every Swiss citizen who has sat the Matura (matriculation) is eligible to attend, the THE says.

“But it doesn’t hurt.”

Established in 1855, the university teaches around 15,000 students in 16 faculties.

Einstein received his diploma from the school in 1901.

For more on the survey, 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”.