Three universities on the shores of Lake Geneva have agreed to a restructuring that will enable cooperative research and teaching programmes.
The universities of Geneva and Lausanne and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), a federal institute of technology, are taking part in Sciences , Vie , Société , SVS (sciences, life, society).
The institutions are noted for their expertise in biology, medicine, nuclear physics, bio-information technology and micro-technology.
A 1998 European study ranked them third after Cambridge and Oxford universities for the highest per capita ratio of published research.
Restructuring will bring about streamlining of departments, a change that Swiss politicians will welcome. The country has a high density of tertiary institutions. According to the rector's office at Geneva, there are five universities for a population of about 1 million in French-speaking west Switzerland.
Claus Haessig, the Geneva-based project manager of SVS, said that the three institutions had experienced a reduction in financial resources, despite an increase in student numbers. "At the same time, the costs of cutting-edge research are increasing steadily," he said.
"By contrast, the expenditure for research has increased over the past few years in countries such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark."
The coalition also has a plan, called Iris, for the humanities and social sciences, the focus of which is on social integration, regulation and innovation.
The interdisciplinary research project at Lausanne, Geneva and the EPFL will centre on the "integration of the individual in a continually changing technological environment in the age of globalisation".
Under Iris, a particular emphasis will be placed on the complexities of bio-ethics. The reform will receive SFr22 million (£9 million) over the next three years.
The costs of restructuring are being covered by the three institutions and the federal authorities of the Swiss confederation. The EPFL is taking over chemistry, maths and physics from Lausanne and will receive SFr63 million from the confederation for the transition stage from 2001 to 2003.
The canton of Vaud will redistribute funding gained by the loss of departments at Lausanne, where humanities and social sciences will receive a third of the newly created financial resources.
The canton of Geneva has agreed to provide funding for planned reforms at the regional pharmaceutical institute.
The functional genomics research profile will receive SFr44 million to be provided by the confederation and the universities of Geneva and Lausanne over the next three years.
The Geneva-Lausanne coalition's decision to concentrate on the highly specialised area of functional genomics has led to cooperation with regional hospitals and other research institutes.