The UNIL in the 21st century


The Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 took place from 9 to 22 January and UNIL was closely involved as an institutional partner. One of the legacies it inherited was the Vortex building, the site of the Olympic Village, which became a student accommodation centre in September 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic was managed by the Rectorate and its “coronacell” unit starting in early March. The unit brought together the full range of skills needed to ensure constant, long-term monitoring of the situation along with the Vice Rectors, the General Secretary and the head of Unisep, which is responsible for security and occupational health. In spite of people being present on campus, UNIL never became an infection cluster.

The decision to close the campus was taken on 13 March. This presented three challenges: how to keep UNIL running effectively in remote and later, hybrid mode; the safety of those who had remained on campus or returned; and managing the consequences of the uncertainties associated with the pandemic for a community of 20,000 people. Remote teaching began on 15 March and while some students were able to return to campus at the start of the new academic year, distance learning was reinstated in late October. Examinations were run both in person and remotely as the health restrictions dictated.

June marked the start of work on the Unithèque building, a project of almost 80 million francs designed to double the amount of working space in the library and storage areas. The Dies Academicus took place online on 18 June, and included the award of four honorary doctorates, as well as the Prix de l'Université de Lausanne and the Prix de l'Etat de Berne.

In November, Professor Frédéric Herman was appointed as the new Rector of UNIL from August 2021 to July 2026. The Vaud State Council has ratified the decision by the University Council. Despite the uncertainties of this year (the theme of the Dies Academicus and the annual report 2020), UNIL has continued to work successfully.


In agreement with the Council of State and according to the strategic plan 2017-2022, the University Rectorate has adopted several measures to accelerate the digital revolution in teaching, research and the very functioning of the institution.

In teaching, two axes assert themselves: on the one hand, teaching and learning digital and on the other hand, teaching and learning with digital. The acceleration of this form of learning has given rise in the creation of a multimedia support unit. Faculties are asked to appropriate in a proper UNIL way this transition by identifying their teaching goals regarding to digital in the bachelor's degree courses.

As to research, support to scientists with digital tools enabling high performance computing has given rise to the creation of a computing and research support division located in the centre for computer science. Digital means also providing online and publications (open access) and primary research data (open data). The creation of the Research Ethics Commissions (CER-UNIL) recognized at European level offers to scientists the opportunity to be evaluted about ethical conformity of their research projects.

Beside the digital, the Rectorate has progressed in the promotion of interdisciplinarity, with the creation of centres dedicated to problems identified by scientists and society requiring to cross different approaches and competencies. These structures are financed for a given period and will be replaced if the probleme has been exhausted. Interdisciplinariy promotes interactions at UNIL, with its entire environment and with other scientific institutions, to make research more visible to the public and to meet the challenges of the time.


This year has provided an opportunity to increase interactions between UNIL and its environment, in particular the local community in Vaud. Numerous relationships have been built with the public authorities, the justice system, businesses and specialists in areas ranging from urban issues to mountains, social relationships, health and culture. One of these initiatives, the Interact project, has been designed as a coordinated collaboration between the city and the University of Lausanne.

As a result, UNIL is enhancing the opportunities available to its students to work on concrete projects from an academic perspective, and is committed to making academic knowledge available to anyone with an interest in the field concerned.

Accordingly, the Rectorate has created several interdisciplinary centres to stimulate cross-disciplinary research in areas that are directly relevant to societal concerns, from LIVES on life courses and vulnerabilities, to the Centre on Sustainability (which is continuing the work of the Volteface platform) to the Centre for Mountain Research, at the UNIL site in Bramois (Valais). These are enhanced by two existing platforms, now known respectively as the Interdisciplinary Centre for Sports Research and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Ethics Research.

Now more than ever, UNIL is asserting its commitment to the region in the broad sense of the term, and its capacity to provide academic expertise to support public debate and actions.


The Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded to Professor Jacques Dubochet undoubtedly set the tone for a year characterised by excellence. Other prizes were added to UNIL’s record of achievements, for example, the Kurt Lewin Medal of the European Association of Social Psychology, which recognised the career of Professor Fabrizio Butera.

Another highlight was the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Anthropole building (previously known as BFSH2), which was the venue for the 12th Mystères de l'UNIL event, on the theme of memory. Numerous developments and events were associated with the celebration throughout the year.

A number of now unmissable events were run again this year, including the Printemps de la Poésie spring poetry event created in 2016 by Professor Antonio Rodriguez, and the Lausanne final of the competition "Ma thèse en 180 secondes” (“My thesis in 180 seconds”), which was won this year by archaeologist Pauline Maillard. The need for energy transition was reflected in the 12 action-research projects presented as part of the Volteface platform, which has been dedicated to the social aspects of transition since its creation in 2014.

Inaugurated in 2017, in response to the specific needs of young researchers and demand from employers, the "Graduate Campus" has helped to strengthen the support offered by UNIL to its PhD students and post-doctoral researchers.


One of this year's key events was the appointment of Nouria Hernandez to the post of Rector by the Council of State. The new Rectorate's first few months were taken up by drafting the new strategic plan for the five-year period 2017-2021. The document was drafted by the Rectorate team, in consultation with UNIL's faculties, departments and Council.

The strategic plan (in french) sets out six issues for UNIL:

  1. the specific nature of university teaching
  2. international-level research in all academic fields
  3. the development of Lausanne's academic community
  4. UNIL's position in the Swiss academic landscape
  5. UNIL's social integration
  6. developing and transforming the campus

In 2016, UNIL launched the first Spring of Poetry in Dorigny, at CHUV and elsewhere in French-speaking Switzerland, following several similar events around the world. It also named the second winner in the history of its Sculpture Triennale, Lausanne resident Victor Auslander. The theme of the 11th Mystères de l'UNIL open day was the city and involved over 300 researchers in examining the physical, historical, psychic and virtual realities of city life.

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UNIL in the 21st century

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