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Education

     
           
 

Education. Studying at the ETH

Diploma certificate 1877
Diploma certificate 1877
The courses that students at the Polytechnic had to complete were not geared solely to the gaining of a diploma. Following the students through their everyday life reveals a rich and complex history. The first generations of students were actually test subjects for the courses being offered, especially with regard to the technical courses. The experience acquired on a day-to-basis was a major contributory factor in diversifying engineering training into scientific disciplines.

But in addition to specialising in their technical fields, the students worked on their bourgeois attitudes as well. Their efforts were closely watched by industrialists, politicians and by their parents. These demands and pressures were one of the factors in the setting up of collective representational bodies such as the VSETH, the Student Association of the ETH. Within these associations, but also elsewhere, students acquired strategies to help them cope with the demands of their studies and to make the most of student social life before entering the adult world.

   
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Education

     
           
 

Creating syllabuses for the Polytechnic

Gottfried Semperís sketch of a drawing table for the Polytechnic in Zürich.
Gottfried Semperís sketch of a drawing table for the Polytechnic in Zürich.
The actual range of subjects to be offered was decided by a nine-man commission in spring 1854, and it was their job to work out the schoolís regulations. Top priority was given to combining teaching material which had "immediate practical value with such theoretical subjects as were an indispensable requirement for understanding the former". This makes it quite clear that the practical side counted for more than the theoretical one. Still, not all skills can be transmitted didactically. Industry and commerce remained largely detached from the polytechnic and did not fully reap the benefits that the planners had hoped for.
   
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
   
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Education

     
           
 

What society demanded of the students

In the first few decades of the Polytechnic's existence, the diploma was not yet established as a qualification. It is possible that it took a while to become a generally accepted certificate because students at the Polytechnic were taught attitudes and behaviour that in themselves revealed exactly what their training had been.
In their obligation to train "good technicians", the directors of the Polytechnic had to meet conflicting requirements. Industry needed, on the one hand, disciplined graduates: on shop-floors and in laboratories, engineers - high-ranking staff - had to readily subordinate themselves to the principle of the division of labour. But at the same time, engineers and scientists were intended to take up responsible positions in Swiss society and the working elite. This meant that they not only had to acquire technical skills in various subjects but also to increase their social awareness, as well as gain socio-political and leadership skills.
   
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
   
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Education

     
           
 

The student associations

These aforementioned social skills were also practised in the various student associations, which were a cross between menís social clubs and political factions. With the founding of the Students' Association in 1878 the students were able to assert their claims on a collective basis. The 1878 Association is regarded as the forerunner of the present-day VSETH.
It was obviously easier to become a member of one of the various departmental associations, because by definition, students in these associations had much in common. Besides, by mixing with kindred spirits, be they architects, mechanical engineers, foresters or chemists, students were also able to prepare themselves for their future careers.
   
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 

 
 
   
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Education

     
           
 

Rites of passage

Along the path into the professional world, there are certain rites of passage to be gone through. At the ETH, there are specific places where students acquire their skills: at the drawing boards, in the workshops and laboratories, each with their own individual way of imparting not only professional skills but also professional attitudes. Tests and examinations are not just a matter of facts and figures: They can be seen as a way of testing a studentís willingness to accept the rules and regulations of the academic discipline in question.
   
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
   
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Education

     
           
 

Students in the 1960s. Described by themselves and by others

Sense of the provisional. Provisional exchange of roles for the magazine Sie und Er on the subject 'Student marriage', around 1960.
Sense of the provisional. Provisional exchange of roles for the magazine Sie und Er on the subject 'Student marriage', around 1960.
The position of students in the 1960s has been clearly defined. Their social status is still characterised by youthfulness, self-centredness and a sense of impermanence. This lifestyle manifests itself especially in the accommodation situation, which can range from sub-tenancy to student hostel, an apartment of oneís own or life in a commune. One aspect that featured prominently in the clichťs written about students was their sexual dissipation, and here again, traditional and heavily gender biased stereotypes emerge.
   
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
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Education

     
           
 

Moving up the social ladder through education

A survey of students at the ETH in 1966, conducted by its own research centre for industrial psychology, came to the conclusion that "despite all the shortcomings of the various methods of calculating the percentage of students in higher education in the different cantons", there is no getting away from the fact that "in this respect there seem to be considerable differences from canton to canton". The authors cite the different opportunities for continuing education, i.e. the degree of urbanization in the canton, as an obvious reason for this. The sex of the student and his or her family background play a role, as do denominational and financial factors.
On several occasions in university life, topics such as social background and future advancement emerged. At the Polyball, even more personal matters were negotiated regularly.
Courses of study. Staircase in the ETH Hönggerberg, 1973.
Courses of study. Staircase in the ETH Hönggerberg, 1973.