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Education Minister Kölliker, in June 2018, St.Gallen’s voting public gave the green light for the Joint Medical Master in St.Gallen with 86 per cent “yes” votes. Was this the highlight of the 2017/2018 academic year from your perspective?
For me, the highlight year after year is the contact and exchange that I have with members of the University of St.Gallen – from students to the University management. From my perspective as the Chairman of the University’s Board of Governors, the St.Gallen electorate's overwhelming yes to the Joint Medical Master was an extremely great success. The result pleased me very much indeed; it paves the way for the training of young doctors here with us in Eastern Switzerland.
President Bieger, what event gave you particular pleasure in the University year of 2017/2018?
We made great progress in our three strategic large-scale projects – the Joint Medical Master, the IT education offensive and the extension of the campus. The extension of the campus also includes the HSG Learning Center on our existing campus, whose funding is ensured through private donations, and the architectural competition which we brought to a successful conclusion. In parallel with this, we also made significant progress in the core of our activities as a business university. With the new non-tenured faculty concept and the Young Investigator Programme, we created better conditions for our young researchers. We reformed several degree course programmes and introduced the new IT certificate programme. In addition, we were able to enhance the campus of our University as a lively place of exchange and learning overall.
Mr Kölliker, the ballot on the Joint Medical Master was the first of three ballots which are important for St.Gallen as a centre of education. The next one will be on the IT education offensive in February 2019. What do you expect from this offensive?
We want to make teachers and lecturers at all levels of education – and thus primarily also pupils and students – fit for the digital future. We want to make highly qualified professionals available to existing enterprises in the business location of St.Gallen and Eastern Switzerland, as well as to companies which are interested in settling in Eastern Switzerland. Employees’ digital competence is elementary for this.
Professor Bieger, what role does the University play in the cantonal education offensive, and what are the particular opportunities of this offensive for the HSG?
Under our performance agreement, we have already been able to set up an IT department with technical chairs in data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as interaction- and communication-based systems which satisfy the requirement of today's teaching programmes. The IT education offensive will lay the foundations for an actual School of Information Science, which means that the Canton of St.Gallen will create a permanent focal point at its university where IT professionals will be educated and trained. This was also initiated by the feasibility study for a major field of study in IT at the HSG which was commissioned by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Thus we intend to educate annually 50 students at the Master's Level and 100 undergraduates who will be available to the Eastern Swiss labour market.
In early 2019, the vote on the Platztor campus will follow. Professor Bieger, how important is this new building in the town for the University?
The Platztor campus extension is the most important project for the University of St.Gallen, and the project towards which we have worked for the longest period of time. In the age of digitalisation, we want to continue to excel as a university which enables personal encounters. This also includes collaborative forms of learning, which in turn requires space. At present, we have a campus for 5,000 students, but currently 8,500 students are studying with us.
Mr Kölliker, the canton as the funder of the HSG is doing a great deal to ensure that the Platztor campus can be realised. What significance does it have from the cantonal perspective?
The University of St.Gallen will be returning to the town, where from 1898 onwards it had its initial premises in today's Burggraben Cantonal School and later in Notkerstrasse. In symbolical terms, this return into town is highly significant. St.Gallen as a city of education will receive a distinctly better perception through this new campus, as is already the case with the University of Applied Sciences near the railway station. Also, a new building of high quality is intended to be constructed or the town itself in a place that is still rather unattractive, which is conducive to urban development.
Professor Bieger, in a nutshell: what are the HSG's major challenges in teaching, research and executive education?
The HSG as a specialised university can only fulfil its function for students, business and society, but also for St.Gallen as its location, if it continues to be an excellent university. Competition among universities is heating up. This is why all of us as HSG members must make an effort to continue our intensive work on our University's quality in teaching, research and executive education. The solid basic funding provided by the Canton of St.Gallen, for which we are very grateful indeed, is all the more important.
Mr Kölliker, and what goals does the Board of Governors want to attain in the coming years? Where will you set priorities?
The Joint Medical Master is wrapped up, now the next two popular ballots are in the offing. They are certainly priorities. We want to continue to do our utmost to make people understand why these two bills are so important for the Canton of St.Gallen and the University. In the Board of Governors, we are also working on a revision of the University Act, which will keep us occupied for two to three years. And the transition from President Thomas Bieger to his successor in February 2020 will undoubtedly occupy us as well.