Vice-rector Anne-Christine Fornage, who now heads the External Relations and Scientific Communication department, is a full professor in private law in the Faculty of Law, Criminal Justice and Public Administration. Among other things, she teaches the law of obligations to first-year students. “It’s a discipline that contributes to defining the rights of individuals and their duties towards other people, and therefore serves society," she comments. She is committed to instilling this idea in those arriving at the university and also enjoys offering young people a working method that they will be able to incorporate and use in other areas throughout their studies. “Meeting them again at Master’s level in one of my areas of specialisation, consumer law, is hugely pleasing, as is seeing what they learned during their years in the Faculty of Law."
How does a university communicate? Anne-Christine Fornage is responsible for thinking about the various ways of responding to this question, with the help of three central professional units: Unicom (communications and audiovisual), the SCMS (culture and scientific mediation) and International Relations.
The Unicom unit is very active in all the various parts of UNIL and operates as a “gateway to the outside world", especially the media. The arrival of RTS on the campus in 2025 “promises some fruitful collaborations, including in teaching," explains the vice-rector. The SCMS has two tools at its disposal: L’éprouvette and La Grange. L’éprouvette offers a wide range of educational and practical activities to help the public understand and experiment with science. These allow citizens to gain knowledge interactively and debate the social, economic, political and societal issues associated with academic research. La Grange, on the other hand, designs ways of encouraging ever-more active dialogue between science and culture, scientists, artists and the public. It goes without saying that popularising science today is about finding original ways of communicating and unusual forms of collaboration.
Finally, the International Relations department provides support to researchers looking to instigate or maintain collaborative relationships with colleagues abroad (or who come from other countries themselves) and to students on exchange programmes. The vice-rector is keen to strengthen North-South partnerships by identifying partner institutions and continuing to ensure UNIL participates in outstanding networks. A recent example is a partnership with the University of Padua, via a call for scientific projects that has already been a great success.
Another key area associated with this department is "UNIL philanthropy", which encompasses all funding sources from foundations, other entities and individuals." We embarked on a project in August to track and evaluate each donation, identify the aims of current and potential donors more clearly and help them understand our priorities. It’s about prompting targeted interest, for example in sustainability, which is one of our strengths, and then putting donors in touch with people who sponsor academic projects in that field," she explains. Philanthropic support is nothing new and "the figures are quite impressive" but it is important to “structure it to make it a communications tool that enhances the institution’s reputation."
Dialogue with civil society, politicians and everyone interested in benefiting from academic insights and expertise is a concern supported by Anne-Christine Fornage, who is keen for the institution to reach out and meet people in the canton and beyond, for example through the UNIL hub in Valais, which hosts the Interdisciplinary Centre for Mountain Research. She is delighted to be implementing Frédéric Herman’s vision around promoting the activities and discussions taking place at UNIL.