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Editorials Annual Report 2021

Together for society

Dr. Silvia Steiner, Government Councillor and President of the ZFH

An often cited political credo has gained great currency in recent times: We can only tackle common problems together. The coronavirus crisis has taught us this the hard way over the past two years or so. While it remains to be hoped that humanity will one day learn to live with the virus, there is another major challenge that is set to impact our lives in the longer term: climate change.

And as has been the case with the coronavirus, we will all have to do our bit here. After all, climate change does not respect national borders – never mind the distinctions made between different university disciplines. In the battle against global warming, it is now not only environmental engineers who are being called on to play their part, but also teachers, economists, designers and communication experts. It takes many creative minds to come up with new ideas together. This is why it is so important that the universities of the canton of Zurich come together to join forces. They combine a wide variety of disciplines that go far beyond technical subject matter.

However, even the best ideas are of no use if nobody knows about them. It is therefore essential that the knowledge generated by universities sits in a researcher’s office drawer, never to be seen again. The academic community needs to enter into dialogue with the realms of society and politics. Universities have a responsibility to inform society about the importance of sustainability and to enable people to live their lives in a sustainable manner.

The Zurich Knowledge Center for Sustainable Development (ZKSD), which was opened in 2021, ticks both of these boxes: Not only does it provide a setting for the linking of research work, but also a platform for making it more visible. As a centre for academia and research, Zurich offers an ideal biotope for such a collaboration.

The digitisation initiative of the Zurich universities (DIZH), which was launched in spring 2020, demonstrates just how fruitful the cooperation between Zurich’s universities can be. The digital transformation is not just limited to technical aspects – it has also made an impact at social, economic, legal and cultural levels. With its large service sector, Zurich is especially affected by this change. The technical transformation provides for a myriad of risks and opportunities. We need to ensure that we enable people to develop the required expertise.

The ZKSD and DIZH are proof that we can achieve more in tackling the current challenges facing our society if we work together. Both initiatives are highly practical in nature and are relevant for the public.

In addition to these successful cooperation projects, I am also pleased to report that as of 2021 all Zurich Universities of Applied Sciences and Arts have successfully acquired institutional accreditation – as required under the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Swiss Higher Education Sector (HEdA). They are thus optimally positioned for the future.

The Zurich Universities of Applied Sciences and Arts once again demonstrated considerable flexibility and great commitment in the pandemic-hit year of 2021. This would not have been possible without the fantastic work carried out by all of our employees! Thank you for playing your part in making research and education possible day after day, even in challenging times such as these.

Responding quickly to labour market needs with new degree programmes

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Andrea Schenker-Wicki, Member of the Council of ZFH, ZHAW consultant

Dr. Matthias Kaiserswerth, Member of the Council of ZFH, ZHAW consultant

Dr. Thomas Ulrich, Member of the Council of ZFH, ZHAW consultant

Social, technological and economic changes mean that labour market needs are constantly evolving. This represents a challenge for education providers, one that the ZHAW is rising to. This was evidenced in 2021 by the ZHAW’s submission of attractive new degree programmes for approval to the Council of the Zurich Universities of Applied Sciences and Arts. The new degree programmes address the need for new specialists owing to the digital transformation, the obligation towards greater sustainability and entrepreneurship as well as the growing importance of legal issues in everyday life and in the areas of business and administration.

The digital transformation, which is increasingly changing all areas of life and work, necessitates the establishment of new degree programmes. For example, the Bachelor's degree programme in “Applied Digital Life Sciences”: The ZHAW is the first university in Switzerland to launch this degree programme, which has a high degree of practical relevance and positions itself where the life sciences and data science meet with digitisation. The interdisciplinary “Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics” Bachelor’s degree programme is also a first for Switzerland. It addresses patient-related medical analytics in the areas of care and research, doing so at the interfaces between health, laboratory diagnostics and digitisation.

The launch of the Master’s degree programme in “Preneurship for Regenerative Food Systems” is to be viewed against the backdrop of extensive global challenges such as climate change, the loss of biodiversity and famine. Specialists are now needed who can initiate and implement the transformation of the entire food and nutrition systems towards innovative business models. The introduction of the Bachelor’s degree programme in “Applied Law” is also worthy of note. For the first time, students now have the opportunity to complete basic legal training at a cantonal university of applied sciences that directly qualifies them to work professionally. The ZHAW is thus responding to the growing need for specialists in the legal professions based on increasing regulatory requirements.

This needs-based, agile development of degree programmes would not be possible without the intensive dialogue that the ZHAW maintains with its external partners, be this in the context of innovation projects, continuing education courses, internship programmes or exchanges with professional associations. This means that practical inputs can be incorporated directly into the new degree programmes.

In 2021, the ZHAW received confirmation that it is on the right track with its academic programmes and research upon being recognised as a university of applied sciences by the Federal Council. After the Swiss Accreditation Council approved the institutional accreditation of the ZHAW in December 2020 and the Swiss University Conference (SUC) also expressed its support for the application, the request for eligibility for funding was submitted to the Federal Council. On 25 August 2021, the ZHAW’s entitlement to funding contributions was confirmed when the Federal Council decided to officially recognise the ZHAW as a university of applied sciences in accordance with the Federal Act on Funding and Coordination of the Swiss Higher Education Sector with effect from 1 January 2022. As the individual universities are now accredited independently, the Government Council has initiated the process of adapting the law governing the universities of applied sciences and arts located within the canton with the objective of dissolving the Zurich Universities of Applied Sciences and Arts (ZFH) as the umbrella organisation.

A new understanding of the concept of education

Prof. Dr. Jean Marc Piveteau, President

2021 was once again shaped by the coronavirus pandemic and demanded a great deal from each and every one of us. The changing requirements imposed by the federal government and the canton during the course of the pandemic have seen university operations faced with huge challenges. I was and continue to be impressed by the commitment shown by the ZHAW’s employees during this extraordinary time. With their sense of responsibility, flexibility and creativity, they have made it possible time and again to implement adequate solutions. I would, however, also like to express my gratitude to our students, who have supported us, as well as to our partners for the trust they have continued to show under difficult circumstances.

If there is one lesson that we can take away from this pandemic, it is that an innovative spirit is one of the best lines of defence in tackling such a crisis situation. Innovation is a fundamental factor for the resilience of our society. As a university of applied sciences, strengthening the synergies between education, research and innovation lies at the heart of our mandate. One way in which we can contribute is to promote and stimulate entrepreneurial thinking and action among our students. At the end of 2020, the Executive Board therefore decided to launch a strategic initiative in the area of entrepreneurship – as a first step in developing the ZHAW into an “entrepreneurial university”. By appointing two proven experts as part of a co-leadership team, the strategic initiative was kicked off in autumn 2021.

However, we are also strengthening the synergies between education, research and innovation by launching new Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes as well as continuing education courses with which the ZHAW is responding to changing labour market needs.

This is not just about new offers. The understanding of our educational mandate as universities and the way in which we should fulfil it is undergoing profound change. This is the case irrespective of the current pandemic and can be attributed to two factors. Firstly, there is a new understanding of the concept of education. An individual’s educational phase is no longer limited to their time at school or university. Lifelong learning is the keyword. It is not only new needs that have emerged, but also a new attitude. On the other hand, there is the digital transformation, which comes with both opportunities and constraints. The digital transformation has accelerated considerably as a result of the pandemic. We have started the process of assessing the experiences gained with online formats during the pandemic. The aim of this process is to integrate online teaching and learning in such a way that it generates added value over classroom-only teaching, enhancing both the content and form of the training provided. However, this does not change the principle that ZHAW remains a face-to-face university. Life on campus is not limited to the classroom, and the provision of high-quality education necessitates personal contact between students and lecturers. In addition to the existing structure, we will also examine the strategic priorities and measures defined in the “Lifelong learning” and “Education and digital transformation” strategies so that we can fully exploit the potential offered by the new education formats.