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2. Starting Points

ICT Strategy

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2.1 Institutional Setting for the Use of ICT at ETH Zurich

2.1.1 ICT Infrastructure and Services

ETH Zurich also enjoys international recognition for its outstanding infrastructure [1]. The ICT infrastructure had its origins in scientific computing. Over the past few decades, it has developed rapidly, growing in an organic fashion. Today, ICT is used in all areas of the university as a matter of course.

At the end of 2004, ETH Zurich had approximately 9,000 personal computers (PCs, laptops and workstations) for its more than 8,000 staff members, several hundred central and decentralized servers and computers, plus high-capacity data storage facilities. The use of this infrastructure, and also people's dependence on it, is growing steadily.

Workplace computers (from laptops and PCs through to workstations) are maintained primarily by the Departments, laboratories and research groups, often with technical support from the central ICT Services (ID). The central installations – high-performance computers and clusters, central file and backup systems, output stations, and also the installations for the operational information systems – plus the entire computer network, are maintained centrally by ICT Services.

The computer systems in use at ETH Zurich are connected to each other via a high-performance network infrastructure (universal building wiring, switches, routers). ETH Zurich's network is connected via a 10 Gbit/s link to the Swiss Education and Research Network (SWITCH) and is thus also integrated in the international research networks (Geant, GTRN).

Wireless access to the network (Wireless LAN) has been developed since 2000 and currently covers a large portion of the lecture rooms, meeting rooms and public spaces.

Since 2001, ETH Zurich has been promoting the private ownership of laptop computers by students through its "Neptun" project. Since autumn 2004, ETH Zurich has recommended ist students to have their own personal laptop by the beginning of the second year of their studies at the latest. In the summer semester of 2005, an estimated 75% of all students had their own laptop. In addition, some 1,000 computers and workstations are provided for students in the form of fixed installations.

In recent years, computer-based simulation and modelling have emerged as a third pillar for science, complementing the two classical pillars of "theory" and "experiment". ETH Zurich invests substantial sums in the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) in Manno for the provision of computing power and the storage capacity required for huge data collections and high-performance applications in various disciplines. These are used by researchers both within and outside the university. The basic infrastructure for accessing the CSCS and also other equally important research resources, such as CERN and further large-scale research facilities, is the SWITCH scientific network. This is complemented in functional and organization terms by Grid infrastructures, which are currently under development.

2.1.2 ICT in Teaching and Learning

The use of ICT in teaching and learning was first promoted at an institutional level from 1986-1991 with the "Information Technology Serves Everyone" project ("Informatik Dient Allen, IDA"). Support for faculty was then institutionalized in 1996 with the creation of the Network for Educational Technology (NET). A permanent funding instrument was created in 2000 with "FILEP" - the fund for innovative educational projects.

A wide variety of individual e-learning initiatives has been implemented thanks to these initiatives. Apart from a few exceptions, however, these have remained isolated efforts. The current status of the use of e-learning at ETH Zurich is described in a separate report by the Academic Committee [2].

Although no institution-wide system has become established to date, e-learning is currently a broadly accepted component of education at ETH Zurich. The use of ICT in teaching and learning thus has an important role to play in this strategy.

2.1.3 Promoting Innovation in the ICT field

ETH Zurich offers different means of funding that are also available for suitable ICT projects. Funding can be provided for research projects ("TH" Research Fund, Innovation Initiative INIT), educational projects (FILEP Fund, cf. 2.1.2) and ICT infrastructure projects (ETH World). The funds are allocated on a competitive basis. This threefold division has now become established and appears to be working in a satisfactory manner.

ETH World was initiated in 2000 in order to advance the use of ICT in teaching and learning, in research and services. This initiative supports and promotes the development and introduction of technologies for communication and cooperation, independently of time and place. The project funding for ETH World runs up until the end of 2005.

In spite of the many sources of funding and support – or perhaps precisely because of these – the use of ICT at ETH Zurich has developed on a strongly fragmented basis. Committed developers conduct excellent work in individual projects but they do this acting as "lone rangers". Perhaps typically for a technical university, most ICT development is strongly technology-driven and pays too little consideration to social aspects. A coherent strategy is lacking.

2.1.4 ICT in the Administration

In 1997, SAP R/3 was introduced as the standard software for finance and controlling, human resources and real estate. Many other applications are still in use in other administrative domains throughout ETH Zurich.

The administrative processes involved in education are supported by applications that have been developed in-house. A range of applications has been developed for the Rector's Office and the departmental secretariats, complemented by web-based applications for students and faculty. The "IT Support for the Administration of Education" project has led to fundamental changes in the educational administration processes. The restructuring of the degree programmes in line with the "Bologna Declaration" could not have been mastered in administrative terms without these applications.

2.2 Global Trends

Information and communication technologies are strongly characterized by global developments. Some of the most important trends can be set out as follows:

• New technologies are developing rapidly, and the pace of development is not set to slow down in future. Just keeping up with developments calls for a constant effort. Institutions that are aiming to achieve a leading position must recognize new technologies early on, assess their relevance and, where necessary, make strategic investments in their introduction.

• Even though the "New Economy" bubble has burst, the digital revolution and the development of the Internet are continuing unabated. Web-based applications are penetrating all the different areas of life.

• Information and communication technologies have had a profound impact on the job market worldwide. They have permitted globalization in the sense that knowledge work can now be outsourced to remote partners. ICT is also opening up new, flexible approaches to work for individuals and is helping to overcome institutional boundaries.

• ICT is additionally contributing to a new internationalization of the education market, and dynamic institutions are taking this opportunity to position themselves on the market. In Europe, the "Bologna Process" is creating increased international competition in education and research.

• ICT has further accelerated the exponential increase in knowledge and information, while also radically changing the way we handle this. Ever-shorter knowledge lifecycles are making lifelong learning essential and also necessitating faster, more direct access to continuing education. It would be impossible to cope with the sheer amount of information without ICT.

• ICT permits radically new models for cooperation, networking, knowledge exchange and the shared use of information resources. The "Open Source" movement has led to the creation of new business models, while "Open Knowledge" initiatives are undermining the established commercial power balance. The "Open Courseware" approach is turning age-old knowledge ownership structures upside down. Peer-to-peer solutions are taking networking and cooperation between individuals out of centralized control, thus strengthening the "Small World" phenomenon.

• ICT devices are continuing to become more efficient, less expensive and increasingly interconnected and are now penetrating all areas of everyday life. Each new field of use is accompanied by an increase in the amount of data and the computing and transmission capacity required. This calls for concentrated ICT resources and for templates to permit the flexible use of common resources across organizational borders.

2.3 Related Strategy Work at ETH Zurich

Mid-Term Strategic Plan 2004–2007

The Executive Board defined the goals for the development of ETH Zurich in the mid-term strategic plan for 2004–2007, dated 18 September 2002 [3]. On the basis of this plan, ETH Zurich is setting out to achieve the following by 2007:

The key question concerning the strategic use of ICT in education, research and services is thus:

Information and Communication Technology Concept 2003–2007

On 22 April 2003, the Executive Board approved an Information and Communication Technology Concept (ICT Concept) for 2003–2007 [4]. The focus of this Concept, which was prepared by the IT Committee (IK) and the IT Experts Committee (ITEK), is on the infrastructure and services maintained by ICT Services, viewed primarily from a research perspective. The ICT Concept thus has more of an operational focus than the institutional ICT Strategy and sets out more detailed goals for certain areas.

Bologna Declaration and Study Reform

For purposes of implementing the Bologna Declaration, ETH Zurich is currently in the process of introducing a three-tier degree structure (Bachelor, Master, Doctor). This study reform places new demands on the ICT infrastructure and services, which will need to be taken into account.

E-learning Strategy

The Academic Committee has commissioned the Center for Higher Education to define an e-learning strategy for ETH Zurich. The development and use of e-learning at the university has been analyzed by way of an input for this strategy work [2]. The Academic Committee will continue the work on the basis of the Institutional ICT Strategy.

Continuing Education Strategy

On 9 September 2004, the Executive Board approved the "Strategy for Continuing Education 2005–2010" [5]. This document sets out guidelines for academic continuing education at ETH Zurich. It identifies considerable potential for the use of e-learning in continuing education at ETH Zurich. Digital learning contents prepared for the Bachelor and Master programmes, for instance, ought also to be used in continuing education. The Continuing Education Strategy additionally states that ETH Zurich promotes the commercial use of e-learning in continuing education.

2.4 Related Developments in Other Institutions

2.4.1 In Switzerland

EPF Lausanne has defined its policy on new learning technologies in order to harmonize decisions and coordinate its activities with other initiatives [6]. New learning technologies are to be developed in order to improve the quality of teaching and boost pedagogic innovation. EPF Lausanne is promoting open access to its online learning materials, among other measures. The institution is not prescribing a uniform learning platform but is participating in the endeavours of the Swiss Virtual Campus which are aimed at providing a joint platform.

The University of Zurich, in its e-learning strategy of July 2003 [7], sets itself the target of increasing the share of e-learning in its courses to at least 15% by 2007 (3.4% in 2001). The university especially wants to use e-learning in subjects with large student numbers so as to ensure more active participation in the learning process. All e-learning developments are subject to systematic quality management.

The "Swiss Virtual Campus" (SVC) programme aims to provide support for the development and provision of web-based courses or course modules at Switzerland's universities, Federal Institutes of Technology (ETHs) and universities of applied sciences. The SVC courses and modules are developed as integral components of the curricula of the institutions concerned. In the first program phase 2000–2003, a total of 50 projects were supported and, during the first year of the 2004-2007 consolidation programme, a further 28 projects were added.

2.4.2 In Other Countries

Virtual Models of European Universities

A recent study entitled "Virtual Models of European Universities" [8], contains a comprehensive analysis of ICT use at over 200 European universities. It identifies four clusters that differ through the extent to which ICT is used in education and administration: the "front runners" (16% of the institutions analyzed), the "cooperating universities" (33%), the "self-sufficient universities" (36%), and the "sceptical universities" (15%).


When assessed on the basis of a self-evaluation, ETH Zurich does not fall into any one of the individual clusters but displays characteristics of all four categories. It is partly a "front-runner" (Institutional ICT Strategy; comprehensive digital services for educational support processes; funding of ICT developments) but, when it comes to the extent of the use of e-learning, the integration of ICT in education, the attitude of the teaching staff and cooperation with other institutions, it does not meet up to the criteria of the pioneers.

Comparison with North American Universities

An international comparison with other universities shows that both the problems and the attempted solutions are very similar to those encountered at ETH Zurich. The following are examples from leading North American universities.

The University of British Columbia initiated an "e-Strategy" in 2001 as guiding framework for aligning technology initiatives to the institution's strategic goals. The e-Strategy steers the use of ICT in the university's core activities and resources (e-Learning, e-Research and e-Community), in administrative processes (e-Business), and in providing access to advanced regional, national and international research networks (Connectivity).

In 2001, the University of California, Berkeley, also launched a similar initiative, "e-Berkeley", with the aim of "using the power of the Web to transform the way the university operates". The projects initiated in the first year of the programme essentially correspond to the goals of ETH World. In the years that followed, the programme had to be drastically curtailed due to reductions in the Californian state budget.

Interesting developments are also taking place in networks and consortia – frequently on an open-source basis. One example of a joint development in e-learning is the "Sakai" project. This is a collaborative venture between the University of Michigan, Indiana University, MIT and Stanford University, together with other partners, for the development of an open-source Learning Management System. Joint projects are also emerging in areas that have not so far seemed suitable for open-source solutions. The "Kuali" project, for example, is developing a financial information system tailored to the needs of higher education institutions.


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© 2012 ETH Zurich | Imprint | Disclaimer | 24 November 2005