ETH Zurich and EPFL in Lausanne took first and second place respectively in a new ranking of 150 universities that draws on the ‘international outlook' pillar of the THE World University Rankings.
Published on Wednesday, the new ranking is the first to take into account international reputation and is remarkable in that no US universities – which normally dominate global rankings – feature in the top 20.
The University of Hong Kong, the National University of Singapore and Imperial College London make up the top five, while British institutions – ten in total – dominate the top 20.
The University of Zurich placed 15th in the new ranking.
In a statement, Phil Baty, editor of the THE World University Rankings, said: “A university simply cannot be world class without a global outlook, a global network and a global pool of talent – and this new data released by Times Higher Education today recognizes that.”
Baty used the new ranking to warn that the current anti-immigration climate in some countries could have a major impact on the global movement of talented students and academics.
“Changing attitudes and policies towards immigration across the world have the potential to profoundly change the flow of global talent and shift the world balance of power”.
Restrictions to the mobility of academic talent in the US and UK “will inevitably harm their position, while other countries welcome talented immigrations with open arms, and their universities strengthen,” he said.
Responding to ETH Zurich's success, the institution's president, Lino Guzzella, said: “I know of no top university that does not have a substantial percentage of its faculty, students and workforce that are international. It is simply not possible to achieve high levels of excellence without being open to the world.”
The president of second-ranked EPFL, Martin Vetterli, told The Local that the institution's international character is “crucial” and something they have long considered very important to maintain quality.
“It is possible, even probable, that the attractiveness of the federal technology institutes and Swiss universities is higher today because of the American political context,” he added.
“That can be considered a positive in the short term from Switzerland's point of view, but it certainly isn't in the medium and long term, because science will not come out stronger.”
EPFL does not intend to take advantage of the US situation to step up recruitment, he said.
The ranking comes in a week when the president of the Association of American Universities expressed concern at the shift towards tighter immigration to the US.
“Other countries have set the goal of surpassing the United States as the global leader in higher education, research, and innovation.
“Allowing them to replace this country as the prime destination for the most talented students and researchers would cause irreparable damage, and help them to achieve their goal of global leadership.”
Earlier this week an Iranian researcher at EPFL was refused entry to the US after President Donald Trump imposed a temporary immigration ban on citizens from seven countries including Iran.
Dr Samira Asgari had been due to take up a post at a lab in Boston alongside professors of Harvard Medical School.