With the inauguration of USI, in 1996, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland chose to play an active role towards the intellectual and socio-economic growth of the country, and not only – by leveraging at best its convenient cultural position between northern Europe and the Mediterranean.
The failure of CUSI and the legacy of Stefano Franscini
USI saw the light ten years after the failure of the project for a post-graduate continuing education institution in Ticino (CUSI, Centro universitario della Svizzera italiana), by the initiative of a number of concerned citizens and leading intellectuals determined to maintain the essential elements of statesman Stefano Franscini’s vision, a founding father of modern Ticino who as early as 1844 underlined the importance of higher education in Ticino. At the time, the Canton south of the Alps was poor, rural and with high levels of illiteracy, and Franscini saw in education, at not only basic but also advanced levels, a powerful means for emancipation.
Over a century after the original ideas of Stefano Franscini, in the 1990s Ticino had become a wealthy region with an affluent services industry, but was also hit by a major economic crisis. In this context, the founders of USI saw in our university the opportunity for new development and empowerment of a region to be acknowledged for its role within the Federal state and in the world.
Giuseppe Buffi , Councilor of State of the Canton Ticino (1986-2000)
The birth of USI, where those with a purpose will find ways to achieve it
USI is the result of the combination of two projects initiated in the 1990s:
The ‘marriage’ of the two projects is celebrated by Giuseppe Buffi, assisted by Mauro Martinoni and Mauro Dell’Ambrogio, and is enacted on October 3rd, 1995, with the Ticino parliament (Grand Council) approval of the Law on the Università della Svizzera italiana, thus establishing a public university with three faculties, designed to stand out for their novelty within the Swiss university system:
One year later, upon formal approval by the Swiss Science and Innovation Council, on October 21st, 1996 USI opened its doors to the first enrolled students and gave its first classes.
Federal Councilor Ruth Dreifuss, during a speech given at the first Dies academicus on March 8th, 1997, was keen in outlining the events that led to the creation of USI: “those with a purpose will find ways to achieve it”.
From the very beginning, USI was defined by its open, informal and dynamic culture and by the freedom to create, initiate and experiment.
Soon after the first Dies (March 8th, 1997), in the year 2000, the first degrees were awarded and, at the same time, the definite acknowledgement of the Federal Council was announced, certifying Ticino with the status of Cantonal University.
In 2004, the Faculty of Informatics was inaugurated by then President Marco Baggiolini, with the purpose to address the challenges of society’s digital revolution with an educational and research curricula that considers informatics primarily as a new relationship between man and nature.
In 2007, the Institute of Italian Studies is created within the Faculty of Communication Sciences, enhancing USI’s role in promoting multilinguism in Switzerland and forming the ideal venue for combining Swiss identity and Italian civilization.
During his time as President of USI, Piero Martinoli oversaw the creation of the Institute of Computational Science and two important developments in the field of Biomedical sciences. After the affiliation, in 2010, of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), in 2014 the institution of the Faculty in Biomedical Sciences was approved, representing thus the contribution of USI in solving an urgent national problem, the dearth of medical doctors trained in Switzerland. The novelty of the project consists in the joint collaboration with other Swiss universities: ETH Zurich, University of Basel and University of Zurich.
A timeline of events that lead to the creation of a university in southern Switzerland: