As EPFL’s new Vice President for Academic Affairs, Jan S. Hesthaven became de facto the School’s representative on EuroTech’s Governing Board. His appointment to this position was confirmed on Monday 8 February by the presidents of the six partner universities.
“EuroTech still has to unlock its full potential”
Prof. Hesthaven, what advantages does being part of an alliance like EuroTech bring to EPFL?
Generally speaking, European universities such as ours are rather small in size when compared to large international institutions in the US or Asia. Networking and active collaborations opens up a wide range of new opportunities for creativity and innovation in education and research.
You just had your first meeting with the EuroTech Governing Board. Did you already present some new ideas?
I was a bit surprised to learn that, because of the way EuroTech is structured, it relies on the knowledge and availability of individual people to be efficient, and operates through top-down procedures. When thinking about what researchers might need when it comes to finding partners for specific projects or new opportunities, an efficient, searchable database connecting researchers directly with colleagues at partner universities would be a powerful tool and could enable the formation of new and innovative teams.
You also mentioned that education could benefit from the EuroTech network.
Yes, definitely. I know that some education-related projects were put forth in the past, but did not receive the attention they deserved. However, the pandemic has demonstrated to us that the technology is there to explore novel models for teaching and learning through online or hybrid learning models. Indeed, the world has changed and it is a good time to introduce strong collaborative initiatives in education. For instance, we could put together a portfolio of shared digital classes and teaching materials that give students based at one EuroTech university the opportunity to attend classes at a partner institution and receive the earned credit. This could certainly be a model to explore at both the Master’s and PhD level, leading to a substantial expansion of offerings while ensuring that advanced material is taught by leading experts, where ever they are located. The EuroTeQ Engineering University is one such high-potential initiative that the EuroTech members have launched in this area and we are exploring how EPFL can participate in this to the benefit of our students.
EuroTech is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2021. Do you have any particular goals for the next 10 years?
I hope EuroTech will use the opportunity of its anniversary to demonstrate how efficiently it can connect researchers in its network, thereby building teams that are able to address the big societal problems we have in front of us. We have a larger number of high-profile and extremely talented people at our six universities – if we can help them work together, they’ll be able to tackle huge challenges. And I hope that we will have a real impact on education by building an expansive, reputed network of digital classes, effectively resulting in a virtual size that allows us compete with the world’s biggest universities. EuroTech still has to unlock its full potential, and the time has come to seize this opportunity.