Campus - 11.09.2017 - 00:00 

Research at the HSG: for academia and society

University research is not merely intended to satisfy international academic requirements but should also have an impact on society. The University of St.Gallen would like to meet both standards. It has therefore made investments in basic research, in the promotion of young academics, but also in start-up consultancy. By 2019, the HSG will additionally establish five new chairs in order to be able to make a contribution towards meeting the challenges of digitisation.
Source: HSG Newsroom

11 September 2017. The University of St.Gallen does not only want to be perceived as one of Europe’s leading business universities in teaching and executive education, but also in research. It wants to be among the top global players with regard to research in selected fields. It is for this reason that the HSG has invested a great deal in research in the last few years. The insights thus obtained, however, do not only serve academia but constitute a crucial foundation for the education of students, as well as for debates and decision-making in trade and industry and in society, as Kuno Schedler (Vice-President, Research & Faculty) and Monika Kurath (Dean, Research & Faculty) explained on the occasion of the annual media conference.

From basic research to start-ups

Research at the University of St.Gallen is conducted at 41 institutes, research units and centers. The 98 professors, 81 assistant professors, 29 permanent lecturers and 675 doctoral students of the HSG play key roles in research. Thus more than 1,100 research publications appeared on the Alexandria platform in 2016. An amount of CHF 3m p.a. is earmarked for basic research. The University of St.Gallen now runs a Behavioral Lab, in which human behaviour can be explored in an experimental environment.

To receive inspiring food for thought from practice and to be able to make an impact at the national and international levels, the University enters into research partnerships to cooperate with companies such as SB, Hilti and Bosch. Under the Startup@HSG label, start-up consultations have been conducted for HSG members for some years. In 2016, more than 400 took place. In spring 2017, the HSG also launched a spin-off label with the intention of supporting start-ups and established companies that originated from the HSG with their public image. The list of spin-offs is already running to more than 100 firms.

Facilitation of academic careers

For a university which means to maintain and extend its top position in the international expert community, it is indispensable to conduct internationally outstanding research. This is done, for instance, in the Global Center for Customer Insight and the Global Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Excellence is nourished by the diversity of disciplinary cultures and research methods. The HSG unites people who conduct research in the field and at their desks as well as people who publish papers in leading journals and write trail-blazing books. Research culture at the HSG is also characterised by the origin and gender of researchers, as well as by their usually international research careers, as was revealed by Kuno Schedler and Monika Kurath.

To meet today’s demands on research, the HSG set up a new Vice-President’s Board for Research & Faculty, which supports researchers in the production and submission of national and international research fund applications, for instance to the Swiss National Science Foundation and the European Research Council. In addition, a programme for the promotion of young researchers was launched with the aim of supporting young researchers in their academic careers (writing their doctoral thesis, academic publishing). A dedicated team is occupied with the professional appointment of new professors and helps newly appointed international faculty members settle down in Switzerland and in St.Gallen.

Open access and digitisation

In the coming years, the HSG will not only be occupied with the question as to how it can continue to attract excellent research in the international competition, but also with another two central issues: on the one hand, with the open access strategy of Swissuniversities and the Swiss National Science Foundation, which calls for open access to all Swiss research publications by 2024, thus confronting journal-based research with great challenges; while on the other hand, digitisation is also making inroads into research and will require the establishment of competencies in the field of big data research, in particular.

With regard to digitisation, the University of St.Gallen will proceed in three steps. In autumn 2017, a pilot project entitled Data Science Fundamentals will be launched. This certificate programme is intended to enable students to acquire fundamental knowledge in the field of data science, as well as developing "data-driven" projects in companies and organisations. This is intended to equip participants with the competencies they will require on the labour market. From 2018/2019, four new chairs in the field of IT and data science will provide additional methodological competence (software system evolution, data science, interaction and communication in digital systems, as well as artificial learning/machine learning) in research and secure the relevant teaching capacities. If the necessary political decisions are made, the third step would then be a research and teaching focus on IT and management. "And it’s also a function of a university to scrutinise the development of digitisation, which has incisive effects on society," says President Thomas Bieger. For this reason, a chair of technology research is planned to be set up at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS-HSG) from summer 2018 onwards, which will deal with the social and cultural issues and consequences of digital change.

Important decisions concerning campus extension

In his address, Cantonal Education Minister Stefan Kölliker presented three milestones of the past academic year. Thus the structural development of the University of St.Gallen can now be continued. The Canton is planning to establish a new campus at Platztor and to renovate the existing Library Building. Independently of this, the HSG Foundation is planning to realise a Learning Center with private funds.

According to the present plans, the overall costs of the Platztor Campus will amount to CHF 205m. After deduction of federal monies and contributions by the University and the City, the Canton is expected to be left with a borrowing requirement of CHF 158m. The Cantonal Parliament will debate the dispatch in 2018. The public vote is scheduled for 2019. The earliest possible start of construction work is 2023, and the buildings will be operational by 2027. The renovation of the Library Building will be carried out in 2019-2021 and cost CHF 16m. The Cantonal Parliament will debate the issue in the first half of 2018.

In order to meet the demands of digitisation, a Learning Center on the Rosenberg is intended to enable students to pursue new forms of learning. With 500 learning and working stations, the HSG’s spatial requirements for an adequate learning environment will be satisfied. The HSG Foundation intends to fund the project entirely through donations. Overall costs of approx. CHF 40-50m have been budgeted. The Canton of St.Gallen will make the necessary property available through a land lease agreement. Construction work is scheduled to start in 2019/2020 to ensure that the building can be put into operation in 2022.

This project will alleviate the HSG’s shortage of space and provide students, faculty members and staff with an up-to-date infrastructure for teaching and research. And Stefan Kölliker emphasised the importance of these three projects for their location: "They will strengthen the HSG, the City and the Canton of St.Gallen, indeed the whole of Eastern Switzerland. They are necessary because in the coming years, other cantons will make substantially greater investments in their university infrastructure."

Medicine studies for Eastern Switzerland

The Education Minister described the steps in the direction of medical studies in Eastern Switzerland as the second milestone. Zurich and St.Gallen pooled forces and succeeded in paving the way for the Joint Medical Master (JMM) and in obtaining the green light from the Confederation, the two cantonal governments and universities, as well as the two hospitals involved. In Autumn Semester 2017, 40 students of the St.Gallen track are starting their undergraduate studies in medicine at the University of Zurich.

Kölliker underlined that this degree course, which will start at the Master’s Level in St.Gallen in 2020, will create added value for the Cantonal Hospital and the University of St.Gallen and result in new academic and economic options in cooperation with Empa and St.Gallen’s medical establishment. Both Kölliker and President Thomas Bieger expressed their conviction that the JMM would provide the HSG with a foothold in the door to the growth segment of medicine and health research. This would give rise to socially relevant questions in the interface with the HSG’s core disciplines and its strong points in economic, legal and social sciences.

Research and teaching focusing on IT and management

The third milestone mentioned by Kölliker was the education offensive launched by the Cantonal Government in order to counter the shortage of specialists in the field of IT. Besides projects at the Pädagogische Hochschule and the Canton’s Fachhochschulen, the University of St.Gallen is also expected to take a further step in the direction of the digital age. A study funded by the St.Gallen-Appenzell Chamber of Industry and Commerce came to the conclusion in spring 2017 that a research and degree course focus at the HSG which combines IT and management is feasible and makes sense.

Permanent development of the University

In his address, the President emphasised that in addition to the large-scale projects, the HSG was able to continue its development thanks to the great commitment of everyone involved. The number of students increased within the planned growth bandwidth of 1-2 per cent. All in all, 813 Bachelor’s, 957 Master’s and 136 Doctor’s degrees were awarded in 2016, and eight habilitations were granted. New teaching formats were developed in the Teaching Innovation Lab. Reforms such as that of the Master’s programme in Business Innovation also showed that faculty members were committed to the improvement of their programmes. In the field of research, the third global center – International Economic Analysis – is currently being established. Finally, he was always pleased with the students’ creative drive. By way of example, he mentioned the Start Summit Conference, which attracted more than 2,300 founders from all over the world to St.Gallen. The President was further gratified by the inauguration of the new teaching and research building with 350 workstations in Müller-Friedberg-Strasse. Approx. 600 people took part in the open day in May 2017 and were given an insight into the topics that are researched in this building.

Integrative, responsible and entrepreneurial

According to the Vision 2025, the HSG wanted to be characterised by the three qualities integrative, responsible and entrepreneurial. For this reason, a new concept for contextual studies with eight focal points is being introduced for Autumn Semester 2018. As before, contextual studies would be compulsory for all students as an important element for the schooling of integrative thinking and for the identification of economic and social interconnections, said Thomas Bieger.

In financial terms, the HSG attained its goal within the framework of the performance agreement and reported a small balance of CHF 1.7m for 2016. This will enable the University to cover the still growing student numbers in the coming year, too, as well as raising its equity to the stipulated level of 40 per cent of the cantonal funding contribution (about CHF 19m).

Drawing: Corinne Bromundt