Swiss left speechless

February 4, 2005

The Swiss federation is in uproar over plans by the University of Neuchtel to axe its chairs in Italian and ancient Greek.

The university, which is in a French-speaking canton, wants to concentrate resources on more market-friendly "poles of excellence" in the social sciences, including a controversial, and somewhat mysterious, chair of cosmopolitique .

The Neuchâtel announcement came soon after Zurich Polytechnic axed its chair of Italian literature and Basel University cut its Italian studies budget.

Italian is one of Switzerland's official languages and is the first language of 8 per cent of the population. The percentage who speak German and French are 70 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

Students delivered 7,000 signatures against the planned cuts to the university authorities and about 1,000 people took to the streets to protest against the closure of the chair of Italian and the Institute of Italian Studies.

Demonstrators gathered outside the university and marched through the streets of Neuchâtel, singing songs by Verdi, Vivaldi and Rossini - and Italian pop-star Fiorella Mannoia.

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