At 9 o’clock in the morning, some 40 representatives of UZH partner universities were in good spirits as they came together in the elegant senate room in the main university building. Many of the visitors had already met the previous evening during the welcome dinner in the UniTurm restaurant, while others already knew each other from the LERU and Universitas 21 networks. With 80 years of shared history, UZH’s longest-standing partnership is with the University of Aberdeen, to which UZH President Michael O. Hengartner drew special attention.
With only one year, UZH’s official partnership with George Washington University in the US isn’t nearly as long. The first exchange student is set to study there this Fall Semester. “I’m sure he’ll find many parallels to UZH,” said Georgette Edmondson-Wright, the US university’s delegate – and with some luck, he might even catch a glimpse of the US president’s limousine one day, since George Washington University is only a stone’s throw from the White House.
The importance of internationalization
UZH Vice President Christian Schwarzenegger welcomed the international guests on what was a beautiful morning. His brief humorous introduction to UZH made the visitors from Australia, China, Taiwan, Chile, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea and the US forget about their jetlag and was a fun way to start the day.
The internationalization strategy of UZH works on several levels. In the medium term, it wants to provide half of UZH students the opportunity to study abroad – “an ambitious goal,” admitted Christian Schwarzenegger, but one worth aiming for: “International experience allows you to broaden your horizon, get a different perspective, and build up new contacts. At the same time, more students from abroad will come to UZH to experience our teaching, research, culture and university as part of attractive summer school and student exchange programs.”
To offer its students the chance to also gain this kind of experience outside of Europe, in 2018 UZH joined the global Universitas 21 network in addition to the European network LERU. For many of the U21 delegates, it was the first time they were at UZH and also their first visit to Switzerland.
In the afternoon, the intercultural workshop led by the International House of Berkeley demonstrated how important it is to gain intercultural skills so as not to misinterpret or pigeonhole the behaviors of people from other cultures – a key aspect of any successful international exchange.
However, UZH would also like to step up collaboration with its strategic partners when it comes to research and junior academics in general. The University is ready to join selected universities in investing to promote joint research work. “These research collaborations bring about new, creative ideas, and the joint research findings also attract more international attention,” said Christian Schwarzenegger.
The short presentations given by Prof. Sara Fabrikant, Prof. Daniel Wyler and Dr. Susanne Tönsmann gave the visitors insights into UZH’s Digital Society Initiative and Participatory Science Academy – both of which are strategic areas that lend themselves to international cooperation in teaching and research.
Spirit of innovation
Another benefit of internationalization is the new vigor it brings to innovation in Switzerland. UZH wants to attract young talents from all over the world and provide them with an environment that enables them to turn their ideas into reality with the support of experts. The best ideas often develop into start-ups. “It’s crucial that we offer attractive programs, for example at the doctoral level,” explained Christian Schwarzenegger. “We can then systematically support doctoral talents through these innovation hubs.”
While Switzerland may be ahead of the field when it comes to innovation, this doesn’t mean that promoting innovation isn’t also a priority elsewhere. The Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico, for example, was founded by inventors – “entrepreneurship is in our genetic make-up, so to speak,” said Patricia Montaño, director of international planning and cooperation. She invited all participants to discover “the brave and inspired side of their soul” – in Mexico.
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