Explanatory notes on the ZHAW strategy
With its mission statement and university strategy 2015‒2025, the ZHAW is stimulating dialogue and thus laying a basis for action in the next ten years. The mission statement and university strategy identify where the ZHAW will be directing its attention in the future. They do not constitute a closed programme, but rather a process, a work in progress. There are also university areas and goals which are not at the strategic level.
The three goals and the concepts used are explained below. These explanations form a starting point and basis for further internal discussions and for dialogue with our external partners.
Competence means the way in which a person is able to apply his or her knowledge, experience, abilities, accomplishments and interests under the conditions and in view of the requirements of a particular context of activity. The ZHAW has to enable its students to process scientific knowledge and put it into practice within the context of demanding activities. This transformation of knowledge is complex and demands a well-trained ability to reflect. The ZHAW, as an institution of higher education, can therefore not only convey knowledge, but can also link the development of knowledge and competence.
Higher education that is knowledge-based and competence-oriented is based on various theoretical (societal, professional, educational and those related to action and learning) principles, and on empirical principles that are relevant to the specific subject. At the same time, higher education must be oriented towards societal requirements, the demands of the job market and the expectations of the students. These demands are often contradictory and they need to be negotiated. Such contradictions are characteristic of a university of applied sciences and cannot be avoided.
Graduates and employees of the ZHAW work in demanding areas of activity in which ever fewer model solutions and standard processes can be applied. They need to be able to transform their knowledge and know-how responsibly into decisions and actions, in uncertain situations, with conflicting norms, under high-risk conditions and under time pressure. This demands much more than just specialist knowledge.
Knowledge-based and competence-oriented higher education thus aims at the balanced development of professional, personal, social, communicative and cooperative competence, all against a background of the humanist ideal of education held by society at large. The ZHAW sees its students as jointly responsible and actively involved in their educational process. Furthermore, the ZHAW makes possible individualised knowledge and competence development, insofar as this is tenable in view of subject-specific disciplinary requirements and available resources. The ZHAW supports this process through a targeted and systematic application of technology. Students thus also gain the ability to organise themselves and to qualify themselves further independently.
The concept of «transformative science» is an umbrella term for various cultural, ecological, economic, legal, social, technical and scientific developments which aim at sustainable development and a sustainable society. Such an understanding of knowledge necessitates a permanent discussion of values and a comprehensive understanding of innovation. This places new demands on the ZHAW, as an institution of both higher education and research.
Transformative education will enable students to understand transformation processes, and then later to promote these actively in the working world. Transformative research and development, which supports the sustainability of our society, has a specific profile as regards content and scientific methods.
Where content is concerned, key societal challenges and issues are the main focus, with a view to finding innovative, safe solutions in areas such as energy, the environment and resources, health, climate, agriculture and food, social and living spaces, human-technology cooperation, mobility, and in access to knowledge and information.
Where methodology is concerned, transformative research and development means that subjects are frequently worked upon interdisciplinarily and transdisciplinarily. «Interdisciplinary» is understood to be scientific cooperation between people from at least two disciplines. «Transdisciplinary» means not only going beyond disciplinary limits, but also transcending the knowledge system, i.e. that users of knowledge are also included in the execution of research projects. One challenge of transdisciplinary procedure is taking into account the diverse perspectives of science and society.
Transformative knowledge therefore integrates societal partners into the process of knowledge development more fully than has been the case, i.e. both in the definition of the research and development design («co-design») and also in the research and development process («co-production»). With transformative research and development, comprehensive knowledge is thus created, which is useful and useable for various societal stakeholders and institutions.
Ever since the ZHAW was founded, internationalism has been a strategically important goal – and this continues to be the case. Education, as well as research and development, have to develop within the context of international exchange, and to be oriented towards international standards. The «European» direction for the next ten years does not, however, mean limiting international activities to Europe, but indicates rather the ZHAW’s self-perception. «European» means that the ZHAW, as a Swiss university, also sees itself as an active part of the European higher education area and participates in it. Switzerland belongs to Europe historically, culturally, economically, and where educational history is concerned, and it is integrated into this area. The history and institutions of Switzerland are inconceivable without Europe.
Future key challenges affect Switzerland and Europe to the same extent and cannot be solved by either of them going it alone. To overcome these challenges, education plays an important role, along with research and development. This applies to subjects such as the employment market and migration in Europe, care systems in the health and social sectors, nutrition, the ageing society, mobility and regional development questions, how we treat the environment and resources, as well as issues of social cohesion.
But the European focus of the ZHAW is significant in its cooperation with its business partners too, since the European Union is Switzerland’s most important trade partner, and every second job in industry depends on Europe. With its strong European and global partnerships, the ZHAW also supports the positioning of its local, regional and national business partners in Europe and throughout the world.
In the higher education and research context, the developments in the European Union are the most important system of reference for Switzerland. Within the framework of its «Europe 2020» strategy, the European Union is focusing intensively on the significance of education and research for the future of society and the prosperity of European societies. Through various initiatives, programmes and projects, combined under the EHEA (European Higher Education Area) and ERA (European Research Area), European universities, institutions and associations are advancing knowledge of complex questions regarding development and the future. The ZHAW is therefore actively participating at various levels in the further development of the European higher education area and is taking part in European education and research initiatives. Through this participation, the ZHAW is strengthening its European partnerships and thus also its worldwide networks and international focus.