Events - 26.10.2018 - 00:00 

Digital Day: IT a compulsory subject in HSG degree courses

On the 2018 Digital Day, the University of St.Gallen discussed the introduction of IT into studies at the HSG. Also, the three new IT professors presented their teaching and research activities. Everyone agreed: in-depth knowledge of IT will be indispensable in all majors for graduates to be able to stand their ground in competition.

26 October 2018. Moderator Jacqueline Gasser-Beck, Head of the Teaching Innovation Lab, reminded the audience at the outset of the panel discussion that the St. Gallen-Appenzell Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) had commissioned the HSG to draw up a feasibility study to determine whether the introduction of a new major would make sense.

The conclusion of the study was unequivocal

According to Walter Brenner, Full Professor of Information Management, the result of the study was unequivocal. “Digitalisation will have a great impact on society and the economy. Therefore there is no getting around IT and software knowledge,” he emphasised at the panel discussion and described the IT major as a great opportunity for the University of St.Gallen. The HSG would thus fulfil its obligation to provide students with the necessary toolkit for everyday professional life while ensuring that the HSG would not lose its appeal in an age of increasing digitalisation.

Simon Mayer, one of the three new IT professors, explained the planned course of action. On the one hand, all students should be obliged to acquire a fundamental knowledge of business IT. On the other hand, the establishment of an IT major with an undergraduate and a Master’s programme is in the pipeline. This, however, will be contingent on the IT Education Initiative being approved by the voting public on the occasion of the cantonal ballot in early 2019. In order to save time, autumn 2019 will see the start of the Master’s programme first, with the undergraduate programme following later.

Combining business and IT

Education was the central leverage factor of economic policy in Eastern Switzerland, said Frank Bodmer, Head of IHK Research, which was why it was a great concern of the Chamber of Industry to counteract the shortage of specialists in the IT sector. He was pleased by the fast response to this concern and by how quickly work was taken up. He considered the planned approach to be practice-oriented and sensible.

IT specialist Michèle Mégroz, President of the HSG Alumni Eastern Switzerland Chapter and CEO of CSP AG, also praised the approach. The combination of business and IT was gaining ever greater significance. There were hardly any projects any longer which did not also require IT knowledge. Conversely, it was very difficult to find people with in-depth knowledge of both fields. She was convinced that the University of St.Gallen would profit from a new major in IT.

Student Sebastian Kuhn also welcomed the approach. To date, students who are interested in IT had tried to acquire IT knowledge outside their studies. He felt that the debate about the IT Education Offensive was creating an optimistic mood.

Three IT professors appointed

The initial steps towards the introduction of IT into the HSG’s degree courses were made with the appointment of three IT professors. They took up their posts in late summer. On the Digital Day, they presented the focal points of their teaching and research activities. Siegfried Handschuh is Full Professor of Data Science. His research focuses on a combination of compositional linguistic methods and machine learning techniques. At the University of St.Gallen, he will also deal with the language problem of artificial intelligence and the idea of the automated data scientist. In the area of applied research, he aimed to cooperate with the core disciplines of the University, explained Siegfried Handschuh.

Simon Mayer concentrates his research on the industrial internet of things. His work ranges from issues of the web-based interaction of different cyber-physical systems among each other and with people. Applications in this field can be found in the haulage industry, but primarily also in industrial production and the issues of Industry 4.0. The focus of the employment of the Full Professor of Interaction- and Communication-Based Systems is on the establishment of a business IT department, with an emphasis on teaching and research in the fields of distributed systems, the internet of things and human-machine interaction.

The third IT professor is called Damian Borth and is Full Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. The focus of his employment is on the establishment of the new IT Department and major in IT. He is regarded as one of Europe’s most successful young academics in the field of artificial intelligence. One focus of his work is the analysis of large volumes of unstructured data such as texts, images, videos or time series with the help of deep neural networks. IT had rather a bad image in the German-speaking area, said Damian Borth. This image must urgently be changed in order to counteract the shortage of specialists.

Photo: Fotolia/ Siarhei

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