The University of Bern on the move

Research at the University of Bern is being intensified: Innovative joint projects from different subject areas are being supported with the new Interfaculty Research Cooperations IRC. In teaching, the study of pharmacy is being expanded to a full-time course. The number of students is stabilising at a high level: Around 17,550 students will be newly enrolled in Bern.

Rector Christian Leumann focussed on important developments and highlights from the past few months at the annual media conference. For example, the University of Bern has been accepted into the circle of Europe’s most research-intensive universities, which are combined in the association "The Guild". The ARTORG Centre for Biomedical Engineering Research and the University Hospital of Bern (Inselspital), among others, have announced a breakthrough in research: After a decade of work, medics and engineers have developed an extremely precise assistant robot for operations on the inner ear. This has been used to perform the world’s first robot-assisted cochlear implantation, which can give deaf patients their hearing back. Research in Bern has also been acknowledged by the awarding of the Prix Marcel Benoist, Switzerland’s highest scientific prize, to the climate researcher Thomas Stocker. Research in the field of climate and sustainability was also the basis of the travelling exhibition “Container3”, in which the University and City of Bern together invited the population to find out about and discuss climate, mobility and renewable energy.

New Interfaculty Research Cooperations IRC

The University of Bern strikes a new path in research funding: With the Interfaculty Research Cooperations IRC it is launching joint projects, each of which involves 8 to 12 research groups and which are being specifically funded. "With this instrument, we are strengthening the scientific quality and currentness of research in Bern and enhancing our profile as a research-intensive university", explained Christian Leumann. The IRC are based on the subject focuses of the National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR or NFS, Nationale Forschungsschwerpunkte) of the Swiss National Science Foundation. They are oriented towards the thematic priorities of the University of Bern, as set out in the Strategy 2021. At least two faculties must be involved in each IRC. Each IRC is funded by the University of Bern for four years with 1.5 million francs per year. One project has already been approved, and two more have been identified. "If we enter new areas of research, it is entirely conceivable that this will yield applications for further National Centres of Competence in Research and thus new strategic research centres", explained Leumann.

"One Health": From the soil to plants and ruminants to humans

Vice-Rector for Research Daniel Candinas presented the already approved Interfaculty Research Cooperation. It deals with "One Health", an increasingly important area of research, in which connections between the health of the environment, animals and humans are investigated. The project unites 10 research groups with expertise in microbiology, environmental sciences, plant and animal health, human medicine and bioinformatics, from three faculties: Science, Medicine and Vetsuisse. The Interfaculty Research Cooperation is investigating in particular the influence of environmental changes on food chain systems – from soil to plants to ruminants and finally mice as a model organism for human health. For example, it is possible for the first time to carry out comparative analyses of how microbial communities react at various interfaces of the food chain to factors such as temperature, heavy metals and vegetable secondary materials, and what influence these changes have on the health of the individual links of the food chain and the whole system. By combining their specialist expertise the research groups can, among other things, observe health-related cascade effects within the food chain, which would otherwise not be possible for them. "This is an exciting new approach within the One Health concept. We expect that it will be possible to transfer the gained knowledge to other systems and to contribute to the understanding and remedying of negative environmental influences in global food chains", said Candinas.

Pharmacy becomes full course

In addition to the 100 extra places per year in Human Medicine, the study of pharmacy is also being expanded, from the autumn semester of 2019 if possible: from a two-year foundation course to a research-oriented full course with BA and MA for around 50 beginning students per year. Pharmacy forms the bridge between natural sciences and medicine in that it deals exclusively with matters between chemical structure and efficacy of new medicinal substances and their ideal ‘packaging’ in the sense of delivery systems. According to Rector Leumann, this produces two particularly great advantages: The training in pharmacy fits seamlessly into the initiatives to strengthen Bern as a site of biomedical research and makes a contribution to securing the existence of pharmacists in Switzerland. The costs of around 3 million francs per year are divided between the faculties of Science and Medicine and new funding to be obtained.

Student figures remain constant

Bruno Moretti, Vice-Rector for Teaching, presented the current student figures. According to projections, around 17,550 students will be enrolled at the University of Bern in the autumn semester of 2017. This means only a slight increase in the total number of students compared with 2016. "As was already the case last year, the reasons for this stabilising at a high level are largely of a demographic nature – especially because of the school leaving qualification figures, which are now remaining constant after years of growth", said Moretti. Around 3,500 people have applied for a course of studies in Bern. As in the previous years, scientific courses are the most in demand. The biggest faculty is once again the Faculty of Medicine, followed by the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Science. The proportion of foreign students in the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate courses continues to be around thirteen percent. Foreign applications were received from 80 countries. Nine applications were submitted by people with refugee status; three of which have been accepted, two dossiers are still being examined.