Long-term financial health secured despite COVID-19

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ETH Board

EPFL has annual revenue of over one billion francs, which are used to fund our three core missions of education, research and innovation. Thanks to the unfailing support of the Swiss federal government, we were able to secure the long-term financial health of our activities and serve our community of over 16,000 people throughout 2020 despite the unprecedented challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020 we received the first tranche (MCHF 24) of the structural increase in our basic funding, which the ETH Board approved at end-2019. Our basic funding will increase every year for five years, reaching MCHF 49 in 2024. The additional funds will allow our School to keep making long-term investments in infrastructure (e.g. new buildings for research and education) and to maintain our effective system for promoting professors.

We drew on a diverse range of funding sources again in 2020 and further enhanced our organisational processes and governance. These initiatives amplified our School’s impact on scientific research and society in general, enabling us to launch innovative projects and anchor our international reputation. We moved up four places in the QS World University Ranking in 2020 and now sit at #14, and 18.2% of our researchers’ publications are among the most cited in their fields (#16 in the Leiden world ranking).

« Some of our expenses were reduced in 2020 as a result of measures introduced to stem the spread of COVID-19. »

Funding sources

The federal contribution to EPFL totalled MCHF 713 in 2020 and is our main source of funding. The second-largest source is indirect public funding (MCHF 183 in 2020), which we receive from the Swiss National Science Foundation, Innosuisse, other Swiss federal programmes and EU Framework Programmes. Other funding comes from the private sector, non-profit organisations, services revenue, tuition and donations and bequests; these together amounted to MCHF 167 in 2020 and represent our third-largest source of funding.

The pandemic underscored the importance of diversified funding sources for our School. The volume of new research contracts we entered into with public- and private-sector organisations grew by MCHF 70 and MCHF 10, respectively, in 2020 – despite the high level of uncertainty caused by the public-health crisis. The new private-sector funding includes MCHF 5 in donations and MCHF 4 in grants for research on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

Regarding our EU-funded projects, the final phase of the Human Brain Project (HBP) kicked off in April 2020. This phase will last until 31 March 2023 and has a total of MCHF 162 in funding from the EU, including MCHF 34 for EPFL.


Some of our expenses were reduced in 2020 as a result of measures introduced to stem the spread of COVID-19; for example, researchers scaled back their foreign travel significantly and fewer visitors were brought to campus. These savings were used to cover the following pandemic-related costs:

  1. Direct costs – purchases of masks and hand sanitiser for EPFL staff and students, and support for local and federal efforts through the distribution of nearly 60,000 masks during the shortage in March 2020 and the opening of a COVID-19 testing centre on the Lausanne campus.
  2. Indirect costs – financial support for EPFL community members and for partner businesses and organisations affected by the pandemic.

We also used the savings to bring forward the implementation of certain initiatives, such as the adoption of a sustainability policy for our food services and the modernisation of some IT systems.

« This project is a novel and ambitious initiative that will allow us to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2022. »

Capital investment

In 2020, guided by key values such as diversity and excellence, we stepped up our capital investment programme to modernise our facilities and build a combined data centre/heating plant facility. This latter project is a novel and ambitious initiative that will allow us to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2022.

We made MCHF 63 of capital investment in 2020, mainly on projects to expand our campuses, acquire research equipment and upgrade our IT systems. These investments were only marginally affected by the pandemic.

Projects and support

Switzerland’s partial lockdown, first introduced in March 2020, underscored how important it is for our School to have modern, flexible systems and processes for managing our finances under remote-working conditions. EPFL demonstrated its maturity in this area by switching from a paper-based to a digitalised invoice-management system in just one week. We plan to make our processes even more flexible in 2021 by setting up a fully paperless system for supplier invoices, completing the digitalisation of our entire procurement chain (purchase-to-pay). In 2021 we will launch a comprehensive, ambitious project to modernise the systems and processes we use to manage our finances, purchasing and human resources.

In 2020, EPFL’s upper management announced that one of its priorities for the next four years would be shoring up our academic programmes. To help the School’s units achieve this objective, the Vice Presidency for Finances (VPF) will enhance the support it provides to EPFL’s laboratories, schools and colleges, as well as to the Vice Presidency for Academic Affairs (VPA), the Vice Presidency for Responsible Transformation (VPT) and the Vice Presidency for Innovation (VPI). The VPF will also work closely with the new Vice Presidency for Operations (VPO) to make sure that all EPFL resources – financial, human and material – are managed efficiently and with a long-term view.

Governance | 6 articles