ETH Board, 08 July 2011

In view of increasing student numbers and strategic projects of the ETH Domain, the ETH Board requires substantially more resources for the ETH Domain. It continues to adhere to its strategic plan for 2012-2016 and the large-scale projects that are part of it, namely High-Performance Computing and Networking (HPCN), Switzerland’s X-ray free electron laser SwissFEL and the Blue Brain (neuroinformatics project).

As far as the two performance mandate periods of 2012 and 2013-2016 are concerned, the ETH Board had already specified its plans in autumn 2010 and demanded an annual growth rate of 6% in the basic funding provided by the Confederation. Now the ETH Board devoted its meeting of 6/7 July 2011 in Zurich to the detailed preparation of the performance mandate period 2013-2016 and dealt with the ETH Domain’s financial perspectives. “Since the adoption of its strategic plan for 2012-2016, the ETH Board has learnt about additional successes and large-scale projects of the two Federal Institutes of Technology with financial consequences. At the same time, there are indications according to which the Confederation will not be able to satisfy the ETH Domain’s financial expectations. The ETH Board is concerned about this and demands that the basic mandate and the strategic projects that are so important for this country are financially honoured,” said Dr. Fritz Schiesser, President of the ETH Board.
 

Top priority: strong teaching
In its discussion, the ETH Board confirmed research-based and research-related teaching of highly qualified students as the ETH Domain’s top priority. Student numbers have been growing for years, particularly also in the engineering and IT disciplines, which are important for the economy. In order to avoid any reductions in the quality of teaching nonetheless, the ETH Board intends to pursue its fundamental academic mission by investing in education, in particular. At the same time, the ETH Board is aware of limits to the growth in student numbers, which it will further discuss on the basis of the development plans of the ETH Zurich and the EPFL in autumn 2011.
 

Additional resources demanded for the implementation of the strategic plan
As to the large-scale projects, the ETH Board intends to implement the projects stipulated in its strategic plan for 2013-2016, provided that it receives adequate funds for that period. This includes High-Performance Computing and Networking (HPCN) at the ETH Zurich, the X-ray free electron laser Swiss-FEL at the PSI and the neuroinformatics project Blue Brain at the EPFL.

In particular, the ETH Board resolved to continue the national HPCN strategy with the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) at the ETH Zurich in the Ticino for the years 2012-2016. The focus will be on further investments in a high-performance computer as a flagship machine and the clear establishment of the CSCS as a user laboratory for the education and research landscape and its most demanding projects.

The ETH Board further confirmed that it intends to realise the national large-scale research facility Swiss FEL at the PSI expeditiously as demanded by the Confederation; the Canton of Aargau will contribute a total of CHF 30m to this project. Now the ETH Board has decided to formally reserve the federal funds required by the large-scale and nationally significant research facility for 2013-2016.

In addition, the ETH Board continues to adhere to the neuroinformatics project Blue Brain of the EPFL as a strategic priority and has resolved to support it with an amount of CHF 5m in 2012, too, and it was with satisfaction that the ETH Board learnt that possible synergies with the Swiss Center for Scientific Computing (CSCS) had been examined and ways of cooperation had been shown.

Finally, the ETH Board intends to continue the operation of the successful competence centres as decided earlier on and to continue to be in charge of the support granted to the funding initiatives SystemsX.ch and NanoTera.ch. Since the Swiss University Conference (SUC) has slightly reduced its contribution to NanoTera.ch, the ETH Board will reduce its resources proportionately. The ETH Domain will continue to participate in further SUC programmes and projects with a reduced amount.

The large-scale infrastructure projects cannot exclusively be defrayed from the operating budgets of the institutions of the ETH Domain alone. This also applies to the additional efforts that political circles expect in the field of energy research, where the ETH Domain’s Competence Center Energy and Mobility (CCEM) may well become even more important. “In the course of the last few years, teaching and research in the ETH Domain have been extremely successful when measured against international yardsticks, too, and Swiss society and trade and industry have greatly profited from this. If Switzerland as a centre of innovation does not want to fall behind our competitors in Europe and Asia, we will have to invest even more in education and research,” says Hans Hess, a member of the ETH Board and President of the Swiss association of MEM industries, Swissmem.

Participation in EU flagship projects calls for additional federal funds
In early May 2011, the EU invited six of 26 submitted projects to draw up a full project for qualification as an EU flagship initiative in the field of future and emerging technologies. Out of the six successful projects, three came into existence with substantial involvement on the part of the ETH Domain. One of the three is the Human Brain project, which benefits from the EPFL’s Blue Brain neuroinformatics project. The main objective of the Blue Brain project is the simulation of the human brain, which is intended to revolutionise not only neuroscience, medicine and the social sciences, but also computer science and robotics. A second project, whose scientific lead was taken by the ETH Zurich, is FuturICT, a computer-assisted, interactive knowledge platform for the simulation and visualisation of processes, decisions and crises of the Earth. Finally, the Guardian Angels for a Smarter Life project, which is headed by the ETH Zurich and the EPFL, was also successful in the EU competition. It aims to develop smart sensors powered by energy from the environment into digital health assistants. If one or more of these large-scale projects should be selected as a flagship initiative by the EU, a substantial national contribution to their costs will be necessary.
 

Appointments at the ETH Zurich and the EPFL
On application of the President of the ETH Zurich, the ETH Board then appointed four full professors, three associate professors, an assistant professor with tenure track and an assistant professor without tenure track. Moreover, the ETH Board conferred the title of adjunct professor on two researchers. The ETH Board then took cognisance of the resignation of the new Director General of the Federal Office for Agriculture from his full professorship and thanked him for services rendered.

On application of the President of the EPFL, the ETH Board promoted two associate professors to full professors and appointed two associate professors. Furthermore, the ETH Board appointed two assistant professors with tenure track and reappointed five assistant professors with tenure track. Finally, the ETH Board conferred the title of adjunct professor on three researchers and converted the temporary employment under private law of an associate professor into a permanent public position (for the names of the appointees, cf. separate media release).