Looking ahead

ETH President Joël Mesot discusses the strategic direction of the university in 2024 and the importance of philanthropic funding and partnerships for its future.

Which areas will ETH be focusing on in particular in 2024?

We are facing a variety of different challenges, but I am confident about the future. Because every day at ETH we discover, develop and put into practice many things that will enable Switzerland and the rest of the world to respond in the best possible way to crises. Two examples of this: In 2023, we founded a coalition for green energy and storage together with the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and in collaboration with the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa). Around 30 companies and 3 cantons have already joined the coalition and others are expected to follow. This will allow us to accelerate the development of the solutions needed for the transition of our energy system. Furthermore, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations with the aim of supporting the UN with the scientific and technical solutions needed to overcome global challenges. The first projects are already underway and include an AI-based analysis tool for predicting the probability of outbreaks of violence.

How important is the commitment of partners and donors in this respect?

To ensure that we remain fit and agile in the future and can respond to the highly complex situations that are developing increasingly quickly, we need the brightest minds and the best possible infrastructure. Knowledge must be transferred into practical applications quickly and research must be driven by curiosity. The support of private individuals, foundations and industry makes an essential contribution to all of this. They initiate new projects, allow scholarships to be awarded and professorships established and provide funding for the entrepreneurs of the future. Their generosity and their confidence in science have made the university what it is today: a highly innovative institution with an outstanding international reputation. It is important to be aware that a lot is needed to ensure that a university remains a world leader.

Over the past year, research and teaching at ETH were given a major boost by the Dieter Schwarz Foundation in Germany. How does society benefit from this partnership?

The key to finding solutions to major challenges, such as cyber attacks, energy crises and climate change, lies in the digital transformation. The fact that our long-term partnership with the Dieter Schwarz Foundation gives us the opportunity to play a more active role in this area is a major benefit. We would not have been able to do this to the same extent with basic ETH funding and structures. The joint knowledge generated and our joint research will benefit Switzerland, Germany, the rest of Europe and ultimately the whole world.

How do students feel the impact of philanthropic funding?

One highlight in this area is the Student Project House. A total of 2,500 students, which is more than 10 per cent of the student body, have worked on their own projects in this ideas workshop over the past year. Focusing in detail on a task that they have set themselves not only helps students to make progress on their academic courses, but is also a very important preparation for their future career. Successful start-ups such as YASAI, Digit Soil and Tethys Robotics began their journey here. This is a prime example of what can be achieved with the generous support of our donors and partners. We would like to expand the Student Project House further in 2024 to open up the opportunities for even more innovations.

ETH Zurich Foundation, Looking ahead

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