School with 163-year history named top ‘young’ university

Lausanne’s federal technology institute EPFL is once again the world’s top young university, according to the London-based Times Higher Education (THE) rankings, published on Wednesday.

School with 163-year history named top 'young' university
EPFL in Lausanne. Photo: Alain Herzog

The high achieving Swiss institution was ranked first out of 150 universities under 50 years old, the second year in a row it has topped the list.

An institution that welcomes 50 percent Swiss students and 50 percent from all over the world, EPFL scored particularly highly for its ‘international outlook’.

THE said EPFL “held on to pole position in the table despite fierce competition from universities in East Asia” including Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which came second and third respectively.

Now in its fifth year, the ranking was “designed to celebrate the achievements of young institutions that have made a big impact on the world stage in years rather than centuries”, said rankings editor Phil Baty.

However, though founded in its current form in 1968, EPFL’s origins as a centre of learning date back more than 160 years, to 1853.

Speaking to The Local, Lionel Pousaz, a spokesman for EPFL, said although by the 1960s the institution was already a respected engineering school, it was “not playing in the same league” as the federal government-funded technology university ETH Zurich.

Recognizing the “political necessity” of providing French-speaking Switzerland with a similar asset, in 1968 it was decided that developing the canton-funded Ecole polytechnique universitaire de Lausanne (EPUL), as it was then known, would be the best way for the region to get ‘its’ ETH.

“What happened in 1968 was much more than a simple change of name and owner. The school’s missions were redefined, its location changed to a new campus, its ambition set to a much higher aim,” Pousaz said.

“From EPUL to EPFL there is a clear continuity, but from another point of view one can’t deny that today’s EPFL really began in 1968.

“I am afraid we will have to live forever with a double birth certificate!”

Pousaz told The Local that maintaining first place in this year's THE rankings was a reflection of being “focused on our mission, which is providing good education, good science and efficient technology transfer.

“Of course we keep an eye on international rankings like any university, but we have never taken any decision in order to get a higher rank.”

Regularly featuring highly in global university lists, in March EPFL was named the 11th best institution in Europe by THE. It is currently ranked 31st in the world overall.

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Police probe opened after poster campaign against ‘Islamophobic’ lecturers at French university

The French government condemned on Monday a student protest campaign targeting two university professors accused of Islamophobia, saying it could put the lecturers in danger.

Police probe opened after poster campaign against 'Islamophobic' lecturers at French university
Illustration photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

Student groups plastered posters last week on the walls of a leading political science faculty in Grenoble that likened the professors to “fascists” and named them both in a campaign backed by the UNEF student union.

Junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa said the posters and social media comments recalled the online harassment of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty last October, who was beheaded in public after being denounced online for offending Muslims.

“These are really odious acts after what happened with the decapitation of Samuel Paty who was smeared in the same way on social networks,” she said on the BFM news channel. “We can’t put up with this type of thing.”

“When something is viewed as racist or discriminatory, there’s a hierarchy where you can report these types of issues, which will speak to the professor and take action if anything is proven,” Schiappa said.

Sciences Po university, which runs the Institute of Political Studies (IEP) in Grenoble in eastern France, also condemned the campaign on Monday and has filed a criminal complaint.

An investigation has been opened into slander and property damage after the posters saying “Fascists in our lecture halls. Islamophobia kills” were found on the walls of the faculty.

One of the professors is in charge of a course called “Islam and Muslims in contemporary France” while the other is a lecturer in German who has taught at the faculty for 25 years.