Zurich’s pool of specialised talent: how Switzerland fosters learning at some of the best research universities in the world

By Hana Skreta, Principal, Zurich

Disney, Google and IBM (a four-time Nobel winner for research) have all invested in research centres in Switzerland. Novartis, Hoffmann La Roche and Biogen, representing the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields, have also invested in labs there. Zurich is one of the cities companies consider when planning a new research facility in fields such as computer science, material science, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. A key driver in this is the specialised pool of local talent available from the exceptional universities in the country. Switzerland takes education and industry seriously, so universities aim is to attract and generate the talent that the country benefits from to support its buoyant economy.

Switzerland is globally connected and graduates are in high demand. An impressive 75% of all international graduates from Swiss universities are employed within the Swiss economy within a year of their graduation according to THE. For this reason, the Zurich area in particular owes some of it’s economic success to the educational institutions that feed it.

The Swiss education system is built on the ethos that learning is for all, and knowledge and research should be shared. To this end, the public have access to lectures and panel discussions of research findings from the universities as well as to libraries and museums within the university system. This unusual ecosystem encourages international students and international professors alike: four out of the eight Swiss universities rank in the top 100 in the world for percentage of international students and academic staff. These staff and students have access to leading resources in terms of funding and infrastructure, but also the excellent working and living conditions that Switzerland offers, making it a very appealing choice for some.

ETH Zurich is known for it’s forward thinking culture and encourages students to propose and develop projects as well as organise competitive teams. A recent example is the world record breaking AMZ Formula Electric and Driverless Racing team, or the Swissloop team that competed in the finals of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Pod Competition. ETH Zurich is also considered a peer by MIT and the universities collaborate on research.

The University of Zurich, the largest university, is a member of the League of European Research Universities meaning it’s one of Europe’s most prestigious research institutions. It has a particularly strong reputation in the fields of medicine, immunology, biology, genetics, neuroscience and economics. The university also has a long tradition of forward-thinking and progressive policies. It was an early pioneer for women’s rights in education and was the first university in the German-speaking world to award a doctorate to a female student.

In 2008, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva started up and some commentators suggest this has also given the country’s institutions the opportunity to benefit from collaborations with leading universities worldwide. Dramatically magnifying visibility for Switzerland on a global scale, the impact and influence of research in the country continues to benefit from the science and success behind the CERN laboratory.

Corporates and smaller research organisations based in Switzerland are looking to engage people with the right skills and education to essentially help develop our future, and locating near leading technical universities is a great way to support recruiting the best global talent. Most leading edge learning is a still a very academic pursuit, with most research still taking place in university labs. The Swiss universities culture allows for a high degree of autonomy and responsibility at all levels, and such a culture provides the optimal environment for intrinsically motivated people, not only attracting the best of the best but also delivering well rounded individuals to feed the ever growing elite workforce in the country.



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