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ZHAW digital celebrates its fifth anniversary

The strategic initiative has existed for five years and will continue for another five years. Under the motto “Five years of future”, ZHAW digital celebrated with workshops, an exhibition and an evening event.

Around 170 participants celebrated the fifth anniversary of the strategic initiative ZHAW digital at the end of May. With its program, the mid-term celebration took up everything that the initiative has achieved in recent years. In addition to an exhibition on digitalisation projects and various workshops for young people and experts, participants had plenty of opportunity to exchange ideas and make new plans in the evening. “We are delighted that so many ZHAW employees took part in the event. The digital transformation can be felt everywhere at the ZHAW and the positive feedback from the evening gives us great support and motivation for the coming years as a strategic initiative”, says Rebecca Brauchli, Head of ZHAW digital, about the successful event.

A temporary initiative

ZHAW digital was launched in spring 2019. Linked to the Digitalization Initiative of the Zurich Higher Education Institutions (DIZH), ZHAW digital has the task of driving forward research and innovation in digitalisation and university operations within ten years. However, the structures created should also be able to have an impact beyond this.

The digital transformation shaped the entire ZHAW in 2020. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, ZHAW digital has supported 27 projects with a total of CHF 500,000 as part of the Digital Futures Fund (DFF) funding program, which provide overarching benefits during the pandemic and deal with digital transformation within and outside the ZHAW.

Since 2019, ZHAW digital has supported a total of 120 DFF projects and 54 people as part of the DIZH Fellowships. The ZHAW is also strongly represented in the DIZH Innovation Program: ZHAW employees are involved in 50 of 79 funded DIZH projects. From 2024, the successful DFF funding program will be realigned: In future, educational projects can be funded under the “Transformative Education Fund” and research projects under the “Digital Futures Fund for Research”.


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Internal digital transformation at the ZHAW

While ZHAW digital has focused on promoting research and education over the past five years, the initiative will also look inwards from 2024. Participants at the mid-term event voted live on new projects that will drive forward the university's internal digital transformation. A total of three projects will now be funded with CHF 20,000 each.

  • Thomas Schläpfer from the President’s Office will develop a chatbot that provides information on all Bachelor's degree programmes at the ZHAW.
  • Karin Jakob Grob and Mark Cieliebak from the School of Engineering and Christian Rapp from the School of Management and Law are planning a ZHAW-wide marketplace for AI topics where expertise can be stored, found and booked. This will give ZHAW employees easy access to existing expertise, while also supporting internal ZHAW continuing education.
  • And Zaniyar Jahany from the School of Engineering has the ambitious goal of mapping the ZHAW in the metaverse, as a "metaversity" so to speak.

“The three funded projects all have one thing in common: they want to reach as many ZHAW employees as possible in order to make the university even more digital. It is important to us that our measures appeal to all employees - in the areas of research, education and also in everyday university life itself”, says Brauchli.

ZHAW digital has always seen itself as a bottom-up initiative. For this reason, a community of digital shapers was created in summer 2020 to drive forward the digital transformation at the ZHAW - in their respective departments and, above all, among themselves. Around 350 members are now part of this “Digital Futures Lab”.

What's next until and after 2029?

ZHAW digital will continue to have an impact over the next five years and beyond 2029. ZHAW digital has initiated long-term projects in various areas at the ZHAW, such as the establishment of a Digital Skills Academy to strengthen the digital skills of ZHAW employees.

At the beginning of the initiative, the then co-head Thilo Stadelmann emphasised that the digital culture should become part of the DNA of ZHAW employees. This is precisely why ZHAW digital is creating a framework to navigate this change in the long term. “You could almost say that the ultimate goal is to abolish ZHAW digital again”, said Stadelmann.

How ZHAW digital came about

In order to respond to the fundamental changes brought about by digitalisation in society, the Zurich Cantonal Parliament applied for a framework credit in March 2019, which was unanimously approved in January 2020. A total of CHF 300 million is available to Zurich's universities for the years 2020 - 2029 as part of a joint digitalization initiative (DIZH). Over a third of this, CHF 108.3 million, will be financed by the canton.

This gave rise to the ZHAW digital strategic initiative at the ZHAW, which was launched at a kick-off workshop in spring 2019. Together with the DIZH partner universities UZH, ZHdK and PHZH, the ZHAW aims to drive forward research and innovation in the field of digitalisation and thus boost the research and business sector. The ZHAW achieves this with various funding programs for projects and researchers, a committed community and many other measures within the university. More information at