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International Students flock to elite Swiss university

in Foreign Correspondents by

While par­ents in coun­tries such as the Unit­ed States are drain­ing their life sav­ings by pay­ing over $75,000 a year for their children’s tuition at pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties such as Har­vard, stu­dents from all over the world will­ing to take an extra step for elite edu­ca­tion are flock­ing to the ETH Zurich in Switzer­land – and pay­ing up to 98% less. The per­cent­age of for­eign stu­dents at the ETH has more than dou­bled since 2004.

The ETH is one of the two fed­er­al­ly fund­ed “tech­ni­cal” uni­ver­si­ties in Switzer­land. It is one of the glob­al lead­ers in fields such as com­put­er sci­ence, biol­o­gy, math, chem­istry and physics. Accord­ing to roundranking.com the ETH Zurich occu­pies the spot of 7th best uni­ver­si­ty world­wide, but com­pared to oth­er elite uni­ver­si­ties it remains very afford­able. For one year stu­dents mere­ly have to find approx­i­mate­ly 1400 Swiss francs (≈$1430) for all cours­es. That com­pares to about $6

9,000 at Cam­bridge in the UK or $53,000 at Stan­ford in the Unit­ed States.

“I first became aware of the ETH Zurich through my Swiss boyfriend”, says Tina Sev­ert, from Cal­i­for­nia who now stud­ies com­put­er sci­ence at the ETH.

“I was real­ly sur­prised when I found out that inter­na­tion­al stu­dents have the same tar­iffs as Swiss stu­dents.” Like Tina, oth­er stu­dents from abroad have dis­cov­ered this val­ue for mon­ey. Uni­ver­si­ties in oth­er coun­tries such as UCLA in the USA or Oxford in the UK charge for­eign stu­dents up to five times more for tuition. At the ETH the rates are equal for every­one study­ing there.

“It‘s not quite as good as it sounds though”, Tina remarks, “Every­thing else here is much more expen­sive than back at home.”

The ETH itself con­firms that liv­ing in Zurich is almost twice as expen­sive as life at British or Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties. It costs approx­i­mate­ly 13‘500 Swiss francs (≈$14,000) in Zurich com­pared to about $8,000 in Los Ange­les.

That dif­fer­ence how­ev­er, is more than off­set by the cheap­er tuition costs. Tina is hap­py to be in Zurich. She is impressed by the stan­dards of the ETH and def­i­nite­ly doesn’t regret going there.

The ETH’s rep­u­ta­tion and its first-rate facil­i­ties attract not only stu­dents but also high­ly regard­ed aca­d­e­mics. Sebas­t­ian Bon­ho­ef­fer, a the­o­ret­i­cal biol­o­gist at the ETH con­firms: “The lab­o­ra­to­ries as well as the office spaces are very well equipped and spa­cious.”  The excel­lent infra­struc­ture is matched by salaries which are very gen­er­ous on an inter­na­tion­al scale.

At the ETH, pro­fes­sors receive a con­sid­er­able bud­get for research with which they can hire co-work­ers as well as direct­ly finance their projects.

“This bud­get enables us pro­fes­sors to be very flex­i­ble when start­ing new projects. In oth­er coun­tries such as the USA we would have to file an appli­ca­tion in order to begin a fresh project. Here we can just start straight away”, says Pro­fes­sor Bon­ho­ef­fer. He sees this as the main advan­tage the ETH has over uni­ver­si­ties abroad for research.

He does also have reser­va­tions about the ETH. The research teams are con­sid­er­ably larg­er than at the uni­ver­si­ties over­seas. As a result there are few­er of the already high­ly con­test­ed pro­fes­sor­ships avail­able, mak­ing the com­pe­ti­tion even tougher. “On the oth­er hand, hav­ing large teams adds pow­er to our projects – we can dig deep­er and with more pre­ci­sion.”

The ETH also takes a dif­fer­ent path when it comes to its selec­tion process. Any stu­dent with a Swiss “Matu­ri­taet” – the Swiss bac­calau­re­ate – has the right to study at the ETH. As a result class­es are much larg­er in the first few terms. Chal­leng­ing first year cours­es sift out a con­sid­er­able pro­por­tion of the stu­dents.

For­eign­ers must take an entrance exam which can be chal­leng­ing due to the exam being exclu­sive­ly in Ger­man.

Zurich itself is known for diver­si­ty with near­ly 40% of its per­ma­nent res­i­dents being for­eign­ers. The ETH is no excep­tion. It’s at num­ber two in the glob­al diver­si­ty rank­ings right beneath anoth­er Swiss uni­ver­si­ty (EPF Lau­sanne).

“All in all it’s a priv­i­lege to study or teach at a Swiss uni­ver­si­ty”, con­cludes Pro­fes­sor Bon­ho­ef­fer.

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