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EuroTech Partner Days: How Strategic Alliances Benefit Education

© 2019 EPFL - SPE

© 2019 EPFL - SPE

The first edition of the EuroTech Partner Days was hosted September 22nd and 23rd 2019 by EPFL in the Framework of the 50th anniversary of the school. The event, organized by the Education Outreach Department, brought together the EuroTech Alliance (DTU, EPFL, l’X, Technion, TU/e and TUM), its partners as well as students, and fostered rich discussions on topics such as education and student exchange. 

Prof. Pierre Vandergheynst, Vice President for Education at EPFL and Prof. Philip John Binning, Senior Vice President, Dean of Graduate Studies and International Affairs at DTU talk about the benefits of a strategic alliance for education. 

Prof. Vandergheynst, this year, in the framework of EPFL’s 50th anniversary, the school hosted the EuroTech Alliance’s first Partner Days. How do you see a strategic alliance benefit education?

Prof. Vandergheynst: An alliance is converging and at the same time empowering in nature: At EuroTech, all six institutions have very different strengths and approaches in terms of research and education. At the same time, they are all excellent technical universities that bring a wealth of experience and best practices to the table. Through the alliance’s rich exchanges, committees and working groups, each member institution is empowered to improve and innovate in research and education. EuroTech members strive for the same objective: to bring excellence in science and technology and form the scientists, engineers and architects of tomorrow. 

How can a strategic alliance, such as the EuroTech Alliance, contribute to innovating and improving the education system?

Prof. VandergheynstThe first step on the road to innovation is to identify challenges. At EuroTech, this happens through our regular interactions, including at events like these EuroTech Partner Days, where we shape the future of student mobility. We often face similar challenges such as what the appropriate use of technology is, or how to address ethical questions in science. The alliance also serves as a sounding board, where ideas and solutions are bounced off to generate new approaches. It is in this framework that activities generate innovative solutions. 

Prof. Binning: In terms of improving the education system, I think that as our knowledge of the world around us increases and we pursue more specialized careers, it is becoming clear that a single university faces difficulties delivering the variety of education needed by employers. We are seeing a move towards the ‘extended campus’, where universities work together to deliver specialized education. To respond to these changes, shared specialized equipment, sparring on best practices in education, degrees that are offered between campuses will therefore become more common. Strategic alliances are essential to addressing these changes.

“We are seeing a move towards the ‘extended campus’, where universities work together to deliver specialized education.”

Prof. Philip John Binning, DTU 

The EuroTech Alliance mainly focuses on collaborations in research. How do you see it building a bridge between research, education, industry?

Prof. BinningEngineering is all about the transfer of new technologies into practice. Conversely, real world problems drive new developments in engineering. Our educational programs must therefore be both research based, as well as be closely connected with industry. This allows students to be exposed to the newest ideas while being motivated by practice. The alliance is critical in this regard because industries today are large, multinational and very specialized. Universities must work across national boundaries to access and work with these specialized industries. 

Prof. Vandergheynst: I would also add that we have one thing in common: Innovation is one of the pillars of our institutions that we integrate more and more in our research and education, for instance by promoting entrepreneurship. In fact, how to nurture the appetite for students to create companies is something we often discuss within the alliance. We look at how we can integrate research project into the study curricula or how we can facilitate access to research facilities for students, all with the final core mission of best preparing them to enter the job markets. This keeps the dialogue amongst all parties upright. This is how the alliance through its work builds a bridge between research, education and industry.

“How to nurture the appetite for students to create companies is something we often discuss within the alliance.”

Prof. Pierre Vandergheynst, EPFL

Institutions such as yours form the scientists, engineers and architects of the future. How can an education alliance contribute to a high-class sustainable education that widens their horizons? 

Prof. Binning: All EuroTech partners focus on educational excellence and on creating programs that are relevant for the future global job market. By collaborating in depth and across the whole value chain, from research over education to innovation, we are able to create and mainstream new knowledge for the benefit of our students and the surrounding society. Of course, this requires a high degree of shared ambitions and mutual trust. In my opinion this is precisely what provides EuroTech with a unique position to offer education that can widen the horizons of our students.

Prof. VandergheynstLearning does not only happen in the years we are in school or at university. As the challenges we face evolve, the skills needed in the future’s job market also are in constant evolution. Life-long learning is one of the answers to this phenomenon. I think this is a unique opportunity for our alliance, that is engaged in educating not only responsible scientists or engineers but also citizens, to create a blueprint of how life-long learning in science and engineering could look like.

“All EuroTech partners focus on educational excellence and on creating educational programs that are relevant for the future global job market.”

Prof. Philip John Binning, DTU

You make an interesting link between education and responsibility. Where would you see the biggest potential for such an alliance to make a sustainable change in the future?

Prof. Vandergheynst: Many of society’s challenges have a scientific root cause, on the other hand, the use of science and technology could be a solution to these problems. For this reasons we have to educate our students to realize that they play a key role in facing these challenges. An alliance such as EuroTech can initiate opportunities for its students to move from a local to a more regional or global vision. By integrating this mindset early on in teaching and research activities, we widen the horizons of our future engineers, which will have a sustainable knock-on effect.

Prof. Binning: At EuroTech, we are continuously discussing how we, as excellent technical universities, best take advantage of our unique collaboration to contribute to global sustainability. Through our Brussels office, we seek to make European politicians aware of the importance of technical research and education as well as the boundary conditions we need to have in place. We have agreed on a number of focus areas for the alliance, which include climate change, energy sustainability and other fields where we have special competencies for creating sustainable solutions and change.

“An alliance can initiate opportunities for its students to move from a local to a global vision.

Prof. Pierre Vandergheynst, EPFL

Prof. Binning, you mentioned different focus areas of the EuroTech alliance. What do you wish to highlight in terms of collaboration and ongoing joint initiatives in the coming year? 

Prof. Binning: We have many exciting new initiatives underway within research, innovation and education. As for the latter, I expect we will soon be initiating new collaborations on student innovation and entrepreneurship. All partners have special facilities and excellent track records within this field, and so we look forward to tapping into the expertise of our partners to benefit the students on all six campi. It will be truly exciting!

About the EuroTech Universities Alliance:

The EuroTech Universities Alliance, formally established in 2011, is a strategic partnership of leading universities of science & technology. Its member institutions include: Technical University of Denmark (DTU), École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), École Polytechnique (l’X), The Technion, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and Technical University of Munich (TUM).

The alliance combines the complementary strengths of its partner universities to achieve joint multi-scale initiatives in research and education with high impact on society and industry with focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, health and bioengineering, smart and urban mobility as well as data science and engineering.