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ETH Life - wissen was laeuft ETH Life - wissen was laeuft

ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
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Published: 16.11.2006, 06:00
Modified: 15.11.2006, 22:21
D-MTEC Symposium
A combination of business and science

“Technology and Sustainability” – the young ETH Department of Management, Technology and Economics is committed to these concepts and they formed the title of its Symposium this year. It was attended on Friday 3 November 2006 by prominent figures from politics, business and science. The keynote at the event’s opening and panel discussion: Business and Science must come even closer together.

Christoph Meier

In his speech of welcome to the Symposium, ETH Rector Konrad Osterwalder made it clear that “The D-MTEC’s most important task is to combine economics, technology and society.” (1). He said this also involved carrying these connections into the teaching outside the department. Lucas Bretschger, the Department’s Dean, drew attention to the fact that as economists they had expertise in scarce resources, which could be used in many areas. However, in spite of this expertise and the phenomenon that today more environmental protection is demanded because of economic considerations, in Bretschger’s opinion it was not possible simply to rely on the “the invisible hand”. He said there were still commercial processes that damage non-participants.

Before Federal Council Member Pascal Couchepin turned to the subject of the Symposium, he expressed his confidence on account of the current situation of ETH Zurich. He said the personnel crisis had been resolved by a painful decision in the interests of ETH that demanded respect. The federal councillor recognised an aspect of sustainability in it which brought him back to the subject of the conference.

Elections deflect the long-term view

Regarding sustainability, Couchepin believed he could discern that this is understood today to its full extent, i.e. with its economic and social dimensions rather than just ecologically. The head of the Interior Ministry also thought that only democratic systems were capable of behaving sustainably. The individual incentive for it was absent in totalitarian ones. However, even democracies do not find sustainability easy because for decision-makers the long-term view of the future is influenced by the next election.

When Couchepin looks into the future himself, one of the major imminent problems for him in Switzerland is its demography. Without wanting to make a sweeping condemnation of an age group, it is a fact that older people are less innovative. However, the Federal Councillor says he is confident that Switzerland, which has repeatedly taken the risk of opening up, with a positive attitude, can solve the impending problems. However, he thinks this requires business and science to come even closer together.

Proximity to the institutes of higher education as a competitive advantage

The coming together of these areas also shaped the podium discussion “Where are Switzerland’s competitive advantages?” led by Iwan Rickenbacher. Both Peter Quadri of IBM Switzerland and Pius Baschera of the Hilti AG Company regarded the proximity of their firms to the location of the higher education institutions with correspondingly qualified graduates as an advantage. Konrad Osterwalder added that stable political systems would become even more important for Europe in the future.


Pascal Couchepin expressed the opinion at the D-MTEC Symposium that sustainability is possible only in democratic systems.

However, in spite of these positive assessments, all the panel members also expressed doubts. For example Pius Baschera wondered why even today only seven percent of Swiss companies’ research and development contracts went to Swiss higher education institutions. The analysis by Martin Zollinger of the Zurich Cantonal Bank was that Switzerland had a problem here because many of the Asians who receive a good training here went back to their home countries. Previously highly qualified people remained here or had come here. These problems were less of a priority for Peter Quadri. The decisive factor for him was that there should be a raising of awareness for the important questions and that these should be brought to the attention of people who had the knowledge to solve them.

Hegel as an example for future scientists

This means that science and business come even closer together. According to Osterwalder, this would require people like Johann Gottfried Wilhelm Hegel. In addition to his philosophical work, he had also been a private tutor. A researcher must be willing to think about the application. At ETH the link between practice and theory was also strengthened by following the ideas of the professors of practical experience at the D-MTEC, i.e. giving lectures to business people.

Now that the panel members had stressed the importance to Switzerland of collaboration between business and science, of course the question also arose as to how the costs of this process were to be apportioned. Peter Zollinger stated that as a banking institution they were not able to finance mere ideas. They could give “seed money” only for prototypes. For Quadri and Baschera it was clear that they invested in research from which they expected new knowledge that was of interest to them. However it was often difficult to assess ideas. But where was the money for the corresponding venture businesses to come from? According to Konrad Osterwalder, one idea might be to use a percentage of the pension funds for this purpose. He left open the question of whether this would need a corresponding statutory ruling by the Federal government. However, Peter Quadri detected a task for the Federal government. The state would have to establish social and ecological criteria, since otherwise industry would scarcely do anything of its own volition.

(1) Department of Management, Technology and Economics:

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