Rector of HES-SO and president of swissuniversities, Dr Luciana Vaccaro, presented her priorities in the evolving higher education landscape and looked at ways of strengthening the collaboration with EHL at this important moment in time. Against the backdrop of global challenges, tech advancements and changing paradigms in teaching and learning, three overarching themes emerge as the critical pillars supporting the strategic trajectory of modern higher education for both HES-SO and EHL: internationalization, digitalization and continued learning - Welcome to the future of higher education!

Dr Luciana Vaccaro’s impressive role in the Swiss higher education system dates back over 10 years. In fact, at her recent conference at EHL Lausanne campus, she was introduced by CEO Markus Venzin as the country’s second highest academic authority after the Swiss minister of Education and Research.

And rightly so. Since 2013, Luciana Vaccaro has been leading the largest University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland (HES-SO), the 3rd largest university in Switzerland with around 21,000 students and 28 institutions active in six fields of teaching and applied research. In her role as Rector, she is responsible for guiding the institution in fulfilling its two fundamental missions: research and education.

Since February 2023, Dr. Vaccaro is President of swissuniversities, as well as member of EHL Board of Directors. Comparing her role to that of a CEO of a large company, Dr. Vaccaro describes herself as “an academic entrepreneur” working to find global, innovative solutions to keep the student experience at the heart of the academic journey in today’s accelerated world.

HES-SO and EHL history

The connection between the two institutions is longstanding. Since 1998, EHL has been a member school of the HES-SO, allowing EHL to be the only hospitality higher education training school in Western Switzerland with recognized programs at national and international level.

Praising the way that HES-SO and EHL work with “collective engagement”, Dr. Vaccaro was proud to state that around 5’800 students graduate each year and are therefore equipped in finding a job and a place in society – “thanks to us giving them a passport to the future.” For this passport to remain valid, a deeper level of flexibility in the process of knowledge-acquisition must be implemented.

Internationalization: A world of opportunities

I believe that every student should have an international experience as part of their learning journey. Dr Luciana Vaccaro

Dr Vaccaro acknowledged EHL’s impressive “natural inclination” towards internationalization with campuses in Passugg and Singapore, a global association of certified schools and VET partnerships. EHL’s hugely mixed student body made up of over 120 nationalities is warmly encouraged to make use of this international perspective, either by studying or doing internships abroad – a feature often cited by EHL students as being one of the most enriching parts of the program, which also adds to EHL graduates seeing the world as their oyster.

Dr Vaccaro’s vision is clear: in her ideal world, each HES-SO student should be exposed to exchanges with international teachers, courses abroad and projects with foreign students - to discover communalities and differences. This should be applicable across the board, whether a HES-SO student nurse, engineer, researcher or teacher. For now, 18% of HES-SO students study abroad, which is slightly below the 20% goal fixed in the Bologna Process. In this regard, Dr Vaccaro is working towards a further extension of international opportunities, notably through the association of Switzerland to Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe programs.

To make this happen, greater links to European and international universities would naturally be the starting point. Dr Vaccaro’s vision comes with budgetary and geopolitical challenges: a) public fundings are under pressure, b) the country has been in “purgatory” within the EU framework which has impacted adhesion to initiatives such as Erasmus+, and, c) the current international climate is extremely complicated.

The UNITA - European University Alliance

With a view to overcoming some of these challenges, Dr Vaccaro championed for HES-SO to join UNITA – “Universitas Montium” - an alliance of twelve universities spread across seven European countries, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Ukraine and Switzerland. The participating universities share several characteristics based on the Romance language, local socio-economic roots, and have as their aim to establish close cooperation in all areas of academic activity: training, research, innovation and services to society.

— Source: EHL— Source: EHL
— Source: EHL

The HES-SO joined UNITA in June 2022 and became an associated member in November 2023. Dr Vaccaro described how the association with UNITA will help to encourage mobility and cooperation, particularly within the research and innovation hubs initiated by UNITA on the themes of renewable energies, circular economy and cultural heritage. Not only will the hubs create a dedicated space for developing new joint research projects, but thanks to the creation of a true inter-university campus, this association will also offer innovative international training opportunities for HES-SO students and, above all, ensure a foothold in Europe.

Digitalization: Dive into the future of education

Undeniably the biggest trigger of new opportunities in education, Dr Vaccaro described the advent of digitalization as “good for the futurologists” but advised against being ‘techno’ just for the sake of it; where there is potential there are also limitations.

Using technology wisely to enhance the learning process is essential since education must match today’s students’ new methods of sourcing information. What remains intact is the transmissional role of the teacher – a key element that students are still looking for today according to Dr Vaccaro. Also, promoting more active project-based work that is evaluated at the same level as theoretical work is important for keeping the dual system of practical vs. theoretical in balance in a heavily digital environment.

HES-SO’s approach toward digitalization is to integrate digital tools in an accurate pedagogical scenario. It is used to revisit lessons, develop hybrid learning styles, personalize the learning pace, implement immersive and interactive teaching techniques.

When asked about how the HES-SO could take a more active role in helping scale the use of digitalization, Dr Vaccaro’s reply was ‘communities of practice’ - in other words, creating collaborative learning environments to share knowledge, build expertise, and collectively drive the adoption and implementation of digital technologies to enhance student learning experiences. An example of this is currently underway with a collaborative effort between an HES-SO and EHL taskforce to devise ChatGPT guidelines for teachers and students.

6 emerging e-learning trends you should be watching out for in 2024 Top 10 Trends in the Hospitality Industry in 2024

Taking inspiration from EHL where digitalization has been used as a main strategic axis, Dr Vaccaro applauded the blended Master program, as well as a large portfolio of EHL short courses available online, successful asynchronous classes and the prize-winning use of augmented reality in the preparatory year. All this while still promoting regular teamwork and hands-on projects. The balance between practical and theoretical ordigital and human-facing learning remains one of EHL’s strongest fortes that can be considered as a source of inspiration.

Continued learning: Evolving with excellence

A concept that has long been shared by EHL and HES-SO is that of lifelong learning (LLL). Linked to the need for flexibilization in this increasingly competitive and changing environment where upskilling and professional growth are becoming part of our longer working lives, continued learning must today feature as an intrinsic aspect of the educational portfolio.

Dr Vaccaro explained that innovation in education and lifelong learning go hand in hand, indeed, flexible practices are dependent on digitalized delivery styles. For example, the use of gamification, VR, blended and hybrid learning, (all successfully implemented at EHL since the pandemic) should be matched alongside new styles of micro-certification based on short courses and specific modules. Using a decidedly Swiss metaphor, Dr Vaccaro suggested a ‘carte à points’ option where micro-certifications are likened a ski lift pass where skiers pay a small amount each time they use the lift instead of buying a pass for the full season. Equally, work experience should be valued and accredited as a form of knowledge and skills acquisition.

Executive education is especially ripe for expansion into LLL, with benefits for both professionals and their employers in terms of productivity, personal growth and company loyalty. A good example is EHL’s tailor-made executive programs which include offers such as the Executive Fellowship Teaching Program with a blend of online and on-campus learning, tailored feedback, and hands-on practice delivered on a part time basis over 13 weeks.

Flexibilization and the future

For Dr Vaccaro, higher education is no longer bound by processes linked to a fixed time, space or even enrollment. Today’s methods of knowledge and skills acquisition have been extended to a much wider playing field and must be catered to. Internationalization, digitalization and lifelong learning are deeply interconnected axes that impact the quantity and quality of offers geared to a modern-day student experience increasingly based on flexibility.

Within UNITA’s framework, the student journey is made up of various moveable and stackable elements: asynchronous learning, mobility offers, blended intensive programs (BIPs), internship opportunities, and student involvement in joint participatory bodies such as student assemblies. Currently, micro-certifications (notably to develop language skills) are under construction, along with ideas for possible double diplomas and à la carte modules, enabling students to follow part of their curriculum by distance learning or face-to-face.

Dr Vaccaro's wish for Europe's academic future? To one day have a recognized European degree. Even if it happens after my tenure, HES-SO must join this train and contribute to its construction! she stated with great enthusiasm. Even though the European constitution has not yet accepted such a proposal, it remains an inspiring North Star worth following as the academic universe becomes ever more connected.

EHL Hospitality Business School
Communications Department
+41 21 785 1354

View source