Rector’s message

Executive Board of the University of Bern

Knowledge creates future

2022 was marked by historic upheaval for Europe as a whole. For the first time since the Balkan conflict, a European country found itself at war. This affects us all, not only in concrete terms with the energy crisis – which was able to be averted this winter – but also on a human and philosophical level: What was once considered unimaginable has become a shocking reality.


By Prof. Dr. Christian Leumann, Rector

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has caused unthinkable levels of suffering. As a result, a large number of academics fleeing the country ended up at the University of Bern. Thanks to the Scholars at Risk program, we were able to take in guest students and lecturers from Ukraine quickly and with relatively few complications. Due to the prolonged conflict, we established an integration year for student refugees in the summer, which began with the start of the fall semester. Core elements of the integration year include an introduction to learning methods, teaching methods and academic work, plus an introduction to the different academic fields and the improvement of German language skills. Completing this preparatory year successfully entitles the student to be admitted to a bachelor’s degree program anywhere where a numerus clausus is not required.

With two years of experience in crisis management due to the coronavirus pandemic, we had to deal with the energy crisis in 2022. In addition to the energy-saving measures on federal and cantonal level that the University is committed to, we have also defined our own in-house measures to minimize the impact on the University’s operations in the event of power outages. In particular, these measures are intended to safeguard the system-relevant research and IT infrastructures.

Important areas of research at the University of Bern are increasingly focusing on the relationships between climate change, extreme weather events, health and food security. Through its eight faculties and ten interdisciplinary research centers, the University of Bern continues to make an important contribution to solving these problem areas, which could well be exacerbated by global conflict situations and pandemics in the coming years.

The new Strategy 2030 is based on the previous strategy and has adopted its basic principles. We are a comprehensive university and focus on the five key areas sustainability, health and medicine, matter and the universe, intercultural knowledge, and politics and administration. The addition of digital transformation and the building situation as sub-strategies is important, as these will play a significant role in the future success of the University. In the future, the faculties will also work on developing their own strategies based on the overarching strategy. As a result, the overall strategy will be projected in all areas and units of the University.

In 2022, we were able to offer a new master’s degree program in precision engineering together with the Bern University of Applied Sciences. The budding engineers learn how to put projects into action independently in a state-of-the-art Creative Engineering Lab. This year also saw the first 24 students complete their master’s degree program in pharmacy. This has resulted in 22 new pharmacists, meaning we have also made an active contribution toward increasing capacities in primary care medicine.

The three Interfaculty Research Cooperations (IRCs) started in 2018 were completed after four years: “One Health”, “Religious Conflicts and Coping Strategies” and “Decoding Sleep”. The IRC “One Health” linked the topic of sustainability with health and medicine, and explored the impact that environmental chemicals have on plants, animals and people. To do this, groups from natural sciences, Vetsuisse and medicine carried out joint research. In the IRC “Religious Conflicts and Coping Strategies”, researchers from the Faculties of Theology, Law, Humanities, Science, and Business, Economics and Social Sciences, plus the Interdisciplinary Center for Gender Studies at the University of Bern, all came together to develop a model for exploring the religious dimension of conflicts. Finally, the IRC “Decoding Sleep” brought together 13 research groups from the Faculties of Science, Medicine and Human Sciences – and thus the fields of medicine, psychology, psychiatry and computer science. As a result, further knowledge of the complex mechanisms of sleep and cognition was gained and new approaches for the individual treatment of sleep disorders were developed.

In brief

"Unfortunately, our having to leave Horizon Europe has continued to bother us. Replacement measures alone cannot compensate for the fact that we can no longer participate in the world’s largest research network. "

Prof. Dr. Christian Leumann, Rector

In addition to teaching and research, 2022 was also time for some major celebrations. The School of Dental Medicine (ZMK) – which is among the ten best in the world – celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Institute of Astronomy at the University of Bern (AIUB) also marked its centenary, plus 200 years of the “Alte Sternwarte Bern”. The Center of Competence for Public Management (KPM) celebrated its 20th anniversary. The University of Bern itself also had reason to celebrate. 2022 saw it listed for the first time among the world’s best 100 universities in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. The fourth Night of Research also saw us welcome more than 10,000 interested visitors. At the end of the year, we were also able to host a Dies academicus properly for the first time in two years.

Unfortunately, we continue to have to deal with the departure from Horizon Europe. Despite the best efforts of the Swiss and British scientific community – who launched the Stick to Science initiative and were able to convince European colleagues in research that the exclusion of Switzerland and Great Britain would have a negative impact on all parties – we have still been unable to prompt those in politics to take action. Although the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) have promised replacement measures, these cannot compensate for the loss of participation in the world’s largest research network. To counteract this at least in part, we have now joined the ENLIGHT European research alliance. This will help us to create better exchange opportunities for students and researchers with nine research-intensive European universities.

Underfunding by the Canton is another issue that has recently become apparent. As our financial plan shows, our budget grows 1% per year. However, at the same time we also have to cover annual salary increases of around 2% per year, for example. In the longer term, this will lead to a structural deficit in basic funding. As a result, our balance sheet shows a negative result for the second year running. For us to be able to continue to fulfill our service mandate in full and contribute toward reaching the strategic goals of the cantonal government in line with the government guidelines for 2030, we are dependent on the adjustment of the financing key and the ability to rectify this structural deficit.

With such a challenging financial outlook, I take great delight in seeing modern, innovative entrepreneurship being encouraged. At the start of 2022, the University of Bern awarded its UniBE Venture Fellowships for the first time to support four young entrepreneurial talents and their promising innovation projects in the field of research. Two of these projects focus on the fight against antibiotic resistance and one on treating liver diseases, while the fourth aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of psychotherapies. Amounting to CHF 100,000 each, the fellowships are jointly financed by the Innovation Office, the ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research, and Bern University Hospital. They allow the four young researchers to continue their translational research over a one-year period in order to check the technical feasibility of their projects (proof of concept) and prepare the corresponding marketing activities. The Innovation Office at the University of Bern supports them here with advice, mentoring and networking in cooperation with be-advanced, the start-up coaching platform of the Canton of Bern.

At the University of Bern, knowledge is generated, passed on and harnessed for the benefit of people in concrete projects, fully in line with our motto of “Knowledge creates value”. Society continues to develop and new knowledge – for example, in the field of digitalization – will be essential in order to play an active role in shaping how we live together in a democratic Europe. 2022 has shown just how necessary this still is.