The Swiss Prize for educational research to Benedetto Lepori


Institutional Communication Service

22 October 2019

The Swiss Prize for Educational Research - Schweizer Preis für Bildungsforschung/Prix suisse de la recherche en éducation - is awarded every two years to an innovative project that contributes significantly to the management of the Swiss education system. The 2019 Award has been assigned to Prof. Benedetto Lepori of Università della Svizzera italiana and to the co-authors Marco Seeber of the University of Ghent and Andrea Bonaccorsi of the University of Pisa. Selected by a scientific jury, the research - published in the journal Research Policy under the title "Competition for talent. Country and organizational-level effects in the internationalization of European higher educational institutions" - deals with the competition between European universities to attract talented researchers.

The ability to attract qualified staff is a key aspect in the analysis of competition between universities. But what drives an academic to choose his destination?  "For the first time, research takes into account two factors that regulate competition between universities: the university factor and the country factor," explains Prof. Lepori. "The surveys conducted, thanks to data obtained from a European register containing more than 3000 higher education institutions, show that the framework conditions of the country system - in particular geographical location, economic well-being and level of development of the national research system - weigh more than the characteristics of individual universities in influencing the decision". As a result, in countries that are less attractive in this respect, even reputable institutions are not able to attract a significant number of academics at the international level. Switzerland is very attractive thanks to its multilingualism and universities generally have a high percentage of foreign academics.

 Regarding future developments in the field of his study, Prof. Lepori makes a few assumptions. The European Commission has further expanded the information available on European universities, with particular emphasis on organising the data and increasing the number of countries involved. This would allow an interesting comparison between the United States and Europe in order to deepen the modalities and the functioning of the competition between universities and to investigate the type of impact that this phenomenon has on the results at system level. According to Prof. Lepori, a further research angle is represented by a potential comparison between statistical data on universities and the documents produced by the universities themselves, such as strategic documents. This would make it possible to verify, through an analysis of the content and the involvement of computer scientists, linguists and theorists of the organization, if there is an alignment between the desired positioning and the actual strategic location of the university in the real world.

Investment in research by universities plays an important role in attracting academics from abroad. USI is well placed in this and the trio of award-winning authors shows how important a solid international network is for the growth of research at USI.

The idea of collecting data on individual universities was born in 2004 by Andrea Bonaccorsi, who identified USI as a valid Swiss partner with experience in data. Prof. Lepori, head of the Research and Knowledge Transfer Service (SRIT), began his career at USI in 1997 first as a collaborator and then continued with a PhD on Swiss research policy and the subsequent involvement in various European projects. The doctorate course, which, as Lepori admits, has proved difficult at times but always involving, has given rise to his passion for research work, and in particular for in-depth study in the scientific field. His studies led him to become a full professor and to create his own research group active at international level. It was in this context that Marco Seeber was trained. Seeber, after working in Prof. Lepori's research group as a post-doctor, recently won a position as a professor in Norway.