EPFL expands its continuing education courses in three key fields
EPFL has decided to further develop its continuing education courses in Digitalization & Technology Design, Industry Transformation & Healthcare, and Sustainability & Green Transition. Its aim is to help fill the scientific and technological skills gap in three fields that are crucial to Switzerland’s economy and society.
Martin Kunz, the Chief Technology and Operations Officer at Pictet Asset Management, saw that there was a disconnect between him and the young, newly hired data scientists on his team. It wasn’t a generation gap, however, but a skills gap – and he was the one who needed to catch up. So he enrolled in a Certificate of Open Studies (COS) program at EPFL, his alma mater, on the topic of Applied Data Science: Machine Learning. The COS program is taught by EPFL’s Extension School and consists of around 450 hours of online classes taken over a period of up to 18 months. “IT is a very fast-moving field,” says Kunz. “Computing power has evolved to such an extent that certain types of neural network, impossible to train in the 90s, are now commonplace. The COS made me realize how risky it can be to simply rest on your laurels.”
Once someone has landed a comfortable position, they aren’t necessarily inclined to take on new challenges and learn new things. But the rapid pace of change today – in not just technology, but also the economy and society – means lifelong learning is a must. Rigas Hadzilacos, who heads the Extension School, agrees: “New technology is changing the way we live and learn. Most jobs today are radically different from before, and companies are struggling to find qualified workers. Continuing education has become more important than ever.”
The Extension School, which runs EPFL’s continuing education programs within the UNIL-EPFL Foundation for Continuing (FCUE), is undergoing a revamp. It will be adding more courses in Digitalization & Technology Design, Industry Transformation & Healthcare, and Sustainability & Green Transition, partly because these are areas in which EPFL has renowned expertise, and partly because they align with the needs identified in an EPFL survey of around 60 businesses. “As a Swiss federal institute of technology, we have a duty to address the issues important to our country’s economy and society,” says Annalisa Buffa, EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Postgraduate Education. “Our role is to give professionals and decision-makers the knowledge they need to make an impact on the international stage.”
New technology is changing the way we live and learn. Most jobs today are radically different from before, and companies are struggling to find qualified workers. Continuing education has become more important than ever.
Five new courses lasting a few days each will be introduced between now and next spring, on topics including cybersecurity and digital trust, enabling innovation with data science, computational methods to design and build with wood, managing new technologies, and 3D printing processes. Four longer continuing education programs will also be rolled out: a COS on urban planning and management of African cities, a Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS) on managing the challenges of sustainable cities, a Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) on sustainable resilient value chains, and a MAS taught jointly with HES-SO Valais-Wallis on sustainable energy systems engineering.
Filling the skills gap
“Many professionals who graduated just ten years ago already have to take refresher classes to update their skills,” says Buffa. “And that’s especially true for engineers and architects, given the shift that’s under way to a low-carbon economy. They need to have a thorough understanding of the associated systems, processes and methods.”
There’s a genuine drive for change, but what’s missing are workers trained on the latest technology, who know how to implement it in an intelligent way, and who can make decisions informed by real-world experience.
François Maréchal, an EPFL professor who’s jointly managing the MAS on sustainable energy systems engineering, works regularly with businesses and sees a real need for people with the right skills to support the energy transition.
“There’s a genuine drive for change, but what’s missing are workers trained on the latest technology, who know how to implement it in an intelligent way, and who can make decisions informed by real-world experience,” he says. “We can no longer afford to make wrong decisions based on guesswork.” Maréchal’s MAS, which consists of four class modules over two years, takes a system-based approach and requires each participant to complete a project.
Micro-credentials on the horizon
EPFL hopes to train a large number of people through these programmes, which are taught by experts renowned worldwide for their research. Even though lengthy continuing education programmes involve a major commitment. Recalling the COS he took, Martin Kunz admits “it was hard and the individual project took up a lot of time. Some participants ended up dropping out. When classes are given online, you have to be really disciplined and motivated to keep up.”
If we want to anchor EPFL as a leading provider of continuing education, we can’t try to do it all on our own. We need to form strategic partnerships with other universities and national and international organizations operating in this space. Collaboration with the University of Lausanne via the UNIL-EPFL Foundation for Continuing Education is a good example.
For people who aren’t able or who don’t want to take a lengthy continuing education course, some Swiss universities are considering offering micro-credential programs. The Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) defines these as condensed programs that certify participants’ knowledge and skills acquisition. Hadzilacos explains: “These could take the form of ‘skills passports’ delivered through short training sessions that include a final exam. Participants could complete several of these sessions to obtain a diploma. This would be of interest to many learners who don't have the time to commit to a lengthy programme.”Micro-credentials already exist but there’s no consensus on exactly what they mean and all that they imply in terms of skills acquisition and ECTS credits, for example. Discussions are ongoing at both the Swiss and European level.
“If we want to anchor EPFL as a leading provider of continuing education, we can’t try to do it all on our own. We need to form strategic partnerships with other universities and national and international organizations operating in this space. Collaboration with the University of Lausanne via the FCUE is a good example. By pooling our efforts in this ecosystem, we can learn from each other, forge synergies, leverage economies of scale and maximize our positive impact,” concludes Buffa.