Interinstitutional cooperation is a must

Axel Marion explains why SWITCH is the most important IT partner of swissuniversities.

Published on 27.05.2016

For decades, Switzerland has been considered as one of the countries at the cutting-edge of research. The thrust of the Swiss Federal Act on the Funding and Coordination of the Higher Education Sector (Higher Education Act, HEdA), which came into effect on January 1, 2015, was that Switzerland could not be among the top group in research and training without coordinating the various institutions of higher education.

It is not always easy to find a common language, the same objectives or even the same program, but I am pleased to note the willingness to find a common path is quite alive and the initial results are in. The different players have perfectly understood that they cannot, on their own, achieve as much as they can together. Or in other words: despite the healthy competition between the various institutions to ensure their growth or find the best researchers, the rectors are driven by a strong sense of cooperation.

Bringing the experts together

But swissuniversities cannot do everything alone. A good example is the SUC P-2 "Scientific information: Accessing, processing and saving" program in which SWITCH is heavily involved. The program is an ambitious project aimed at providing access to a vast range of digital contents with scientific importance as well as appropriate tools for use in all the universities in Switzerland, in particular their libraries. The interesting aspect of P-2 is that it can be regarded as a program aimed at making IT tools available for scientific information but also as a project that considers computers as being an integral part of science, for example in the digital humanities. These are not possible without digitization, without huge databases and without the tools to retrieve the data. These two goals coexist and need each other. Our mandate to define a Swiss strategy for free access to scientific publications is also closely linked to P-2. This is a significant challenge but the idea is precisely the same: involve the best experts in Switzerland and achieve the stated purpose.

Quick action thanks to strong relationships

This year, we also started coordinating our efforts in the area of political communication. That doesn't have a lot to do with IT, but it puts the spotlight on another aspect of the work of the community at swissuniversities. Following acceptance of the referendum "against mass immigration" in 2014, we all saw the significant problems that that created for institutions of higher education. Before the vote, many of the universities thought that they were not in a position to make political statements since they are public institutions. That changed. In January of this year, prior to the enforcement initiative, the members of swissuniversities decided to make a statement on the subject. We wanted to highlight the risks that this vote would represent for us in terms of our relationship with the EU. swissuniversities had to make clear that adoption of the initiative would have consequences for Switzerland in the area of research and training. Due to the fact that swissuniversities encompasses all types of institutions of higher education, we were able to act quickly and in a coordinated manner.

SWITCH as partner and stakeholder

SWITCH plays a crucial role in many of our projects. We consider SWITCH to be our main partner for everything relating to IT services. It is thus very important for us to be part of the Foundation Board and the Committee. When we talk about free access, P-2 or e-infrastructure, SWITCH is crucial. The long-term vision of P-2 is to create a national organization for scientific information, and we cannot achieve any viable solution without SWITCH being not only a partner, but also a stakeholder. This is why it is important for us that SWITCH continues to focus its strategy on institutions of higher education. At the same time, I hope that the universities become more involved with SWITCH, not just financially, but also in the areas of research, contacts, relations and coordination. At the moment, there is a good balance and if this continues, it will be a successful formula for the future.

Summary of an interview with Dr. Axel Marion, Head of the "Higher Education Policy" division, swissuniversities

About swissuniversities

In 2012, the universities, universities of applied sciences and universities for teacher education founded swissuniversities, paving the way for the merging of the rectors' conferences that existed at the time – CRUS, KFH and COHEP. The purpose of the organization, which came into being in January 2015, is to strengthen and expand cooperation between the Swiss institutions of higher education and to promote a joint position on issues of education in Switzerland.

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