The beginnings of joint sponsorship by the cantons of Basel-City and Basel-Countryside

Financial shortages facing Basel-City, rapidly increasing student numbers, and fears of admission restrictions for Basel-Countryside spurred the two half-cantons to open negations in 1970 on options to expand university funding and other support.

In the 1960s, interest in having Basel-Countryside assume some responsibility for the university was nonexistent. Basel-City was flush with funds amid an economic boom, and the reunification of the cantons appeared to be imminent in any case. Yet after this plan was rejected in 1969 by a majority of 59.2 percent in Basel-Countryside, new solutions had to be found to address challenges affecting both half-cantons in similar or equal ways. “Partnership” was the magic formula enshrined in referendums on both sides of the river Birs – in 1971 in Basel-Countryside, and 1974 in Basel-City. The real difficulty, of course, proved to be translating this formula into actual solutions in a small number of specific cases (such as the public transport ticket, the Rhine navigation office, or the Center for Adult Education).

From the start, Basel-City negotiated to establish joint sponsorship of the university – as was finally achieved more than three decades later, in 2007. This solution, though, would have required legally severing the university from the canton of Basel-City. One option would have been to establish a new legal entity for which both cantons would be jointly responsible, despite several thorny if not insurmountable legal obstacles. The rights of tenured faculty members who were civil servants would have had to be guaranteed, and the infrastructure owned by the city (especially the buildings) would have had to be made available, at least for use, to the new, independent institution. In one limited area, the Center for Adult Education, a solution of this kind could already be seen emerging.

Yet Basel-Countryside’s willingness to contribute was limited at first to funds, albeit in increasing amounts, and this was the arrangement codified in the University Agreement of 1975. The agreement foresaw the possibility of expanding Basel-Countryside’s role in the university after a five-year period, but the canton preferred to extend the existing arrangements for another five years. It was not until 1984 that the next steps were taken toward deepening the relationship, producing an agreement that regulated relations between the cantons and the university from 1986 to 1996.