While the faces of chemistry in Zurich are changing with the influx of U.S.-trained recruits, curricula also are in flux as Zurich's academic institutions take steps to achieve the goals of the so-called Bologna Agreement.
This agreement, signed by European ministers of education in 1999, aims to increase the global competitiveness of European higher education. To achieve that goal, European academic institutions are implementing three major changes: creating a system of comparable degrees, establishing a U.S.-type B.S.-M.S.-Ph.D. progression in higher education, and instituting a system of academic credits. All the changes must be in place by 2010.
Traditionally, every country in Europe and even different universities within a country have had incompatible curricula, says Alexander A. Borbély, vice president for research at the University of Zurich (UZ). Furthermore, students take courses prescribed by the curriculum but do not earn credits. This situation makes it difficult for students to move from one university to another. And it is difficult to assess what a degree really means in terms of criteria that can be compared, such as learning outcomes, number of hours of study, level of workload, and competencies acquired. In an era of global scientific collaborations, students from such a system are at a disadvantage.
"It will still be important where you get your degree," Borbély says. "Just like in the U.S., a degree from a well-known university has some weight. Principally, the framework of curricula will be similar, but there will be flexibility within that framework. Institutions will have opportunities to distinguish themselves from the rest."
UZ, for example, will be offering a new master's degree in human biology. The offering is based on UZ's strong research groups in the science and medical faculties, Borbély says. "No other Swiss university is offering that. We think students will come here for that unique opportunity."
François N. Diederich, chairman of the department of chemistry and allied biosciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH), says the changes brought about by the Bologna Agreement will help in international recruiting. "It was always difficult to bring in people to our Ph.D. programs because they were required to take a lot of exams," he tells C&EN. "Now, if they have a good B.S. record, we bring them into the master's program, and if they succeed, they immediately move to the Ph.D."
With increasing internationalization of the student body, English is also becoming the primary language of instruction for chemical education in Zurich. At ETH and UZ, for example, except for freshman-level courses, chemistry classes are conducted mostly in English.