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University of Berne


University of Berne

University of Bern
Universität Bern
Latin: Universitas Bernensis
Established 1834
Type Public (cantonal)
Budget CHF 759.3 million (third-party funds: CHF 217.9 million)
Rector Martin Täuber
Admin. staff 6,483 (professors: 388)
Students 15,976 (female enrolment: 54%; international enrolment: 13%) (all figures as of 31 December 2012)[1]
Location Bern, Switzerland

The University of Bern (German: Universität Bern, French: Université de Berne, Latin: Universitas Bernensis) is a university in the Swiss capital of Bern and was founded in 1834. It is regulated and financed by the Canton of Bern. It is a comprehensive university offering a broad choice of courses and programmes in eight faculties and some 160 institutes. The university is an international leader in certain fields of research, such as space research. Teaching and research activities are conducted on an interdisciplinary basis. For instance, the University of Bern is home to three of the National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South (sustainable development), Trade Regulation (international trade) and TransCure (membrane biology). The NCCR Climate (climate change research) has ended on March 31, 2013. The activities of the NCCR will bei continued by the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research. With around 16,000 students, the University of Bern is a medium-sized Swiss university. Aside from the programmes and courses on offer, the attractions of the university include Bern's central location and quality of life, which is rated as one of the highest in the world.[2]



The University of Bern operates at three levels: university, faculties and institutes. Other organizational units include interfaculty and general university units. The university's highest governing body is the Senate, which is responsible for issuing statutes, rules and regulations. Directly answerable to the Senate is the University Board of Directors, the governing body for university management and coordination. The Board comprises the Rector, the Vice-Rectors and the Administrative Director. The structures and functions of the University Board of Directors and the other organizational units are regulated by the Universities Act. The University of Bern offers about 40 bachelor and 70 master programmes, with enrolments of 8,029 and 3,970, respectively. The university also has 2,416 doctoral students. Around 2,600 degree students and 500 PhD students graduate each year. For some time now, the university has had more female than male students; at the end of 2012, women accounted for 54% of students.


Unlike other universities, the University of Bern does not have a single large campus on the edge of the city, but has consistently pursued the principle of a university in the city. Most institutes and clinics are still in the Länggasse, the traditional university district adjoining the city centre, and within walking distance of one another. The University has won many awards for its intelligent, ecological and sustainable use of old buildings. For instance, the Faculty of Theology and various institutes in the Faculty of Humanities are now housed in an old chocolate factory (the Unitobler), and in 2005 the former women's hospital was refurbished to serve as a university centre for institutes in the Faculty of Law and Department of Economics (the UniS). [3] The vonRoll site, another former factory building, is in the process of being refurbished to house the Faculty of Human Sciences and the Department of Social Sciences.


Early history: Collegiate school and academy (1500–1834)

The roots of the University of Bern go back to the sixteenth century, when, as a consequence of the Reformation, a collegiate school was needed to train new pastors. As part of its reorganization of higher education, the government of Bern transformed the existing theological college into an academy with four faculties in 1805. Henceforth, it was possible to study not only theology in Bern, but also law and medicine.

The old university: New beginning and development (1834–1900)

As in other countries of Europe, nineteenth century politics in Switzerland were dominated by the struggle between conservative and liberal currents. The liberals gained control of the Canton of Bern in 1831 and in 1834 turned the academy into a university, with an academic staff of 45 to teach 167 students. Owing to the political situation, it was not until the promulgation of the federal constitution in 1848 that the university was able to embark on a period of peaceful development. Between 1885 and 1900, the number of students doubled from 500 to 1,000. As a result, at the turn of the twentieth century the University of Bern was the largest university in Switzerland. This rapid growth reflected the university's attraction for foreign students, in particular Germans and Russians, who accounted for half of the total enrolment. It was also Russian female students who in the 1870s won the right for women to study.

The new university: New building and consolidation (1900–1950)

With the growing prosperity of the city of Bern, the university in the Länggasse quarter expanded at the end of the 19th century. In 1903, a new Main Building was inaugurated on the Grosse Schanze and the number of faculties increased. In 1908–09, three prominent persons put the University of Bern in the limelight. In 1908, Albert Einstein taught the first of three semesters of theoretical physics. The following year, Anna Tumarkin, a Russian philosopher, was appointed to an extraordinary professorship and thus became the first female professor at a European university entitled to examine doctoral and post-doctoral theses. Also in 1909, Theodor Kocher, a Bernese surgeon, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. In the following years the university consolidated its position as a small centre of higher learning with a stable enrolment of about 2,000 students.

The modern university: Expansion and reorganization (1950–2000)

After World War II, a growing number of voices called for the expansion of tertiary education in Switzerland. Rapid growth in the 1950s and 1960s – enrolment at the University of Bern had already reached 5,000 in 1968 – generated pressure to adapt to the changed circumstances. The modern, completely revised University Act of 1996 transformed the University of Bern from an administrative division of the Department of Education of the Canton of Bern into an autonomous institution that was a legal entity in its own right. In addition, the Act clearly defined the competencies of the university and of the state. The university passed another milestone in 1992, when its enrolment reached 10,000.

The university today: Bologna Reform and restructuring (since 2000)

The Bologna Declaration ushered in the era of ECTS credits and the bachelor and master's degree structure. The university set strategic research priorities, such as climate research, and promoted inter-university cooperation. At the same time, the university reorganized its faculties. With the amendment to the University Act in summer 2010, the University Board of Directors acquired the right to choose its own ordinary professors and keep its own accounts separate from the state.



The University of Bern has eight faculties:

  • Theology
  • Law
  • Business, Economics and Social Sciences
  • Medicine
  • Veterinary Medicine (Vetsuisse)
  • Humanities
  • Science
  • Human Sciences

The medical faculties of the Universities of Bern and Basel have formed a strategic alliance in the fields of cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, pathology and microbiology. The Vetsuisse Faculty was created in 2006 through the merger of the Faculties of veterinary medicine of the Universities of Bern and Zurich. The Humanities Faculty is comparable to the arts and sciences departments of American universities and offers majors in the three areas of art and culture, archaeology and history, and languages and literature. The Faculty of Science focuses on the natural and life sciences. The Human Sciences Faculty was founded in 2005 and offers study programmes in education, sports and psychology.

General university institutions

There are four general institutions associated with the University of Bern:

  • Collegium generale (CG)
  • Forum for University and Society (Forum für Universität und Gesellschaft, FUG)
  • Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies (Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für Geschlechterforschung, IZFG)
  • Centre for Continuing University Education (Zentrum für universitäre Weiterbildung, ZUW)

The function of these general university institutions is to promote dialogue between students in different disciplines and faculties through interdisciplinary events for academic staff and students. The Centre for Continuing University Education (ZUW) focuses on scientific further education. The selection of topics in the ZUW programmes ranges from public administration through dentistry to spiritual guidance. In addition, the University of Bern has also taken the lead in the German-speaking world in creating a number of novel study programmes, for instance Evaluation.[4]

Interdisciplinary centres

There are 12 interdisciplinary centres at the University of Berne:

  • Albert Einstein Center for Fundamental Physics (AEC)
  • ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research
  • Center for Cognition, Learning and Memory (CCLM)
  • Center for Cultural Studies (CCS)
  • Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)
  • Center for Global Studies (CGS)
  • Center for Regional Economic Development (CRED)
  • Center for Space and Habitability (CSH)
  • Center for the Study of Language and Society (CSLS)
  • Center of Competence for Public Management (CCPM)
  • Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
  • World Trade Institute (WTI)

The University of Bern has made a name for itself in fields as diverse as climate research, biomedicine and sustainable development research. The university has defined specific focuses of research as strategic and has established interdisciplinary centres of competence for these that pursue an interdisciplinary approach to research and teaching. The centres of competence also offer specialized masters programmes, for example the biomedical engineering programmes of the Artificial Organ (ARTORG) Center for Biomedical Engineering Research and the Public Management and Policy programme of the Center of Competence for Public Management (CCPM).

The Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) carries on the University of Bern's long tradition in sustainable development research. The CDE also manages the NCCR North-South, Switzerland's leading research programme in the fields of global change and sustainable development, focusing on its particular areas of expertise in integrated regional development and natural resource management. The related field of international trade is the focus of the NCCR Trade Regulation, which is housed at the World Trade Institute (WTI) of the University of Bern. The WTI is a global leader among academic institutes focused on the legal, economic and political aspects of international trade regulation.

Study programmes and other fields of specialization

As a comprehensive university, Bern covers the full range of classical university courses in some 40 bachelor and 70 master programmes. In certain fields, for example space research, the University of Bern is an international leader. The Physics Institute contributed to the first flight to the moon and still carries out experiments and provides apparatus for NASA and ESA space missions on a regular basis.[5][6] Dentistry, veterinary medicine and the renowned Inselspital (Bern University Hospital) also enjoy worldwide recognition.

In addition to the classical disciplines, the University of Bern has also established a reputation in newer ones such as sports science and theatre studies. It is the only institution in Switzerland with a theatre studies course that enables students to major in dance in their master programme. Bern is also the world’s only university to offer Christian Catholic Theology as a major in the theology course. The Graduate Schools for doctoral candidates offer further-reaching programmes that are closely linked to the University's successful research priorities in the fields of climate science, health care and penal law and criminology.

Notable people


A number of professors at the University of Bern were pioneers in their field. The Russian-born Anna Tumarkin was the first female professor in Europe with the right to examine doctoral and post-doctoral students. The physician Gabriel Gustav Valentin was the first Jewish professor to be elected to a chair at a German-speaking university. Theodor Oskar Rubeli was co-responsible for founding the first faculty of veterinary medicine in the world. Finally, the ice core analyses of physicist Hans Oeschger played a pioneering role in the development of climate research. Other notable academics at the University of Bern include (by faculty):


Eduard Herzog, Ulrich Luz, Adolf Schlatter, Lukas Vischer, Eduard Zeller


Carl Hilty, Eugen Huber


Jakob Klaesi, Emil Theodor Kocher, Hugo Kronecker, Theodor Langhans, Ludwig Lichtheim, Maurice Edmond Müller, Fritz de Quervain, Hermann Sahli, Gabriel Gustav Valentin


Andreas Alföldi, Carl Heinrich Wilhelm Hagen, Julius Pokorny, Ignaz Paul Vitalis Troxler, Anna Tumarkin, Hermann Usener

Natural sciences

Albert Einstein, Heinrich Greinacher, Hans Oeschger, Ludwig Schläfli, Bernhard Studer, Hugo von Mohl, Heinrich von Wild


Alfred Amonn, Max Weber


Theodor Oskar Rubeli


The following prominent persons studied at the University of Bern (occupation in parentheses):

Honorary doctorates

In the course of its history, the University of Bern has awarded honorary doctorates to outstanding people for contributions in different fields of society.[7][8][9]


Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer, Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, César Roux, SIr Alan Lloyd Hodgkin, Georg von Békésy, Stephen W. Kuffler, George Emil Palade, Willy Burgdorfer, Iván Böszörményi-Nagy, David Sackett

Natural sciences

Johann Büttikofer, Hans von Euler-Chelpin, Gerold Schwarzenbach, Richard R. Ernst, David Southwood

Economics and business

Ernst Karl Abbe, Auguste and Louis Lumière, Jean-Daniel Gerber, Thomas J. Sargent, Maureen O'Hara (professor)


Albert Samuel Gatschet, Erwin Heinz Ackerknecht


Joseph Simon Volmar, Albert Anker, Cuno Amiet, Rudolf Münger, Alberto Giacometti, Walter Linsenmaier, Ilya Kabakov


Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, René Gardi, Kurt Marti, Stefan Heym, John Edgar Wideman, John le Carré, Eveline Hasler


Charles Albert Gobat, Rudolf Minger, Annemarie Huber-Hotz, Adolf Ogi, Angela Merkel


Hermann Müller-Thurgau, Eduard Herzog, Mathis Wackernagel, Heidi Tagliavini, Hannah Cotton, Stephen Kosslyn


Today the University of Bern is one of the top 200 universities in the world. In the QS World University Rankings 2013 it ranked 154th.[10] The Shanghai Ranking (ARWU) 2012 ranked the University of Bern 151st–200th in the world.[11] In the Leiden Ranking 2013 it ranked 177th in the world and 77th in Europe.[12]

Notes and references


  • Im Hof, Ulrich et al. (ed.). Hochschulgeschichte Berns 1528–1984. Zur 150-Jahr-Feier der Universität Bern 1984. Bern: Universität Bern, 1984.
  • Im Hof, Ulrich et al. (ed.). Die Dozenten der bernischen Hochschule. Ergänzungsband zu: Hochschulgeschichte Berns 1528–1984. Bern: Universität Bern, 1984.
  • Rogger, Franziska. "Die Universität Bern und ihre gesammelte(n) Geschichte(n)", UniPress, 139 (December 2008), pp. 12–31.
  • Rogger, Franziska, and Bankowski, Monika. Ganz Europa blickt auf uns! Das schweizerische Frauenstudium und seine russischen Pionierinnen. Baden: Hier + jetzt Verlag für Kultur und Geschichte GmbH, 2010. ISBN 978-3-03919-146-8

See also

External links

  • University of Bern (English)
  • University of Bern (German)
  • University of Bern (French)
  • History of the University of Bern (German)
  • Website of the Swiss National Science Foundation (English)

Template:Universities in Switzerland

Coordinates: 46°57′02″N 7°26′17″E / 46.950519°N 7.438109°E / 46.950519; 7.438109

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