How St. Gallen Conference Became a Success
ST. GALLEN, SWITZERLAND — WHEN it comes to European integration, the University of St. Gallen probably sets the standard. Although the university is a relatively small school of 4,000 undergraduates and 450 graduate students, 25 percent of the students are non-Swiss - a very high percentage of foreigners compared to other European universities.
This tradition goes back to World War II, when the university enrolled Norwegian students after Adolf Hitler occupied their country. Today Scandinavian students still make up a significant percentage of the non-Swiss student body. The Norwegian government, which pays tuition and other costs for Norwegian students at St. Gallen, requires them to pay back 60,000 Swiss francs after they join the work force.
Competition to get into St. Gallen is stiff. For example, West German students must pass rigorous exams to qualify for admission. In most European countries, taxpayers pick up the cost of higher education. St. Gallen asks students to pay an annual fee of 400 Swiss francs.
``It creates an atmosphere of commitment and teaches the students that there is no free lunch,'' says Wolfgang Sch"urer, a member of the faculty.
In yet another sign of the serious nature of the students, they run an annual symposium, themselves inviting politicians and leading businessmen as speakers.
The genesis of the conferences goes back to 1969, when Mr. Sch"urer was a student. He saw student riots taking place all over Europe and decided to try to find an alternative to the violent confrontations. Sch"urer wrote a letter inviting Gerrit Wagner, then a manager at Royal Dutch Shell, to meet with the students. Once Mr. Wagner determined Sch"urer was serious, he came.
Businessmen have been coming to the conference ever since. The students limit participation to 400 business leaders. And Sch"urer says there is a waiting list for another 400 businessmen.