New Swiss technology university aims to solve global problems

Schaffhausen Institute of Technology will work closely with industry and focus on interdisciplinary research and education

October 23, 2019
people dressed in boxes with banners as robots
Source: Reuters

A new technology- and innovation-focused university is being established in Switzerland in a bid to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems using “a new model of technical education”.

The private Schaffhausen Institute of Technology (SIT), which has received initial funding from technology company Acronis, will work closely with industry to develop curricula and research in areas including artificial intelligence, advanced materials and cybersecurity and also to create new interdisciplinary areas of research.

It hopes to use technology to address major global problems including war, climate change, poverty and disease, while curricula will be based on “the marketable, profitable and impactful technologies of the future”.

It will include educational programmes at the bachelor’s, master’s and PhD levels, research laboratories and a technology park.

Bertrand Meyer, a former professor of software engineering at ETH Zurich and founder of Eiffel Software, has been recruited as scientific leader and acting provost at the institution, while the university’s board of trustees includes Nobel laureate Sir Konstantin Novoselov, who shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for his role in the discovery of graphene.

The university will use a new learning management system called Alemira, developed in partnership with Acronis, which changes the content and difficulty of tasks based on students’ prior knowledge and real-time performance.

SIT will be the first university in Schaffhausen, a town in northern Switzerland that is home to several innovative start-ups. However, the long-term plan is for the institution to be at the “centre of an international campus network, with satellite campuses and online offerings”. It will mainly be funded privately but expects to receive some public funding for undergraduate education and research.

The university is already offering master’s programmes as part of partnerships with the National University of Singapore and Carnegie Mellon University. Eight students have enrolled to undertake a course at one of the partner institutions during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. They will then be able to join SIT’s main campus, which is scheduled to open for the 2021-22 academic year.

Within 15 years, the university hopes to have more than 30 chairs in advanced areas of research, more than 300 start-ups in its technology park and a ranking position among the world’s top 50 institutions. It also hopes to have at least 2,100 students on the main campus, 21,000 students on other campuses and 210,000 online students, with 8,000 students graduating each year globally.

Christian Wipf, chairman of finance advisory firm GCA Altium (Switzerland) and member of SIT’s board of directors, said “conventional universities will not be able to address the very complex challenges that we have. We need to educate people who can think outside the box.”

Serguei Beloussov, chief executive, founder and chairman of the board of directors of Acronis, added that the current university model has “evolved towards averages”, whereas SIT would focus on education and research for “the exceptional”.

Separately, the United Arab Emirates claims to have opened the world’s first graduate-level university focusing on artificial intelligence.

The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, in Abu Dhabi, will offer MSc and PhD courses in machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing, from September 2020.

It will be led by interim president Sir Michael Brady, emeritus professor of oncological imaging at the University of Oxford. Its board of trustees includes AI experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University and Tsinghua University.

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