'Education is key to build a strong Digital Europe'

‘Education is key to build a strong Digital Europe', says Roberto Prieto, Chief Education Officer at EIT Digital in an interview with the Hungarian Pénzcentrum. The interview is deepdiving in the need for digital skills within Europe and Prieto is explaining what EIT Digital Entrepreneurial Academy is doing to meet these needs. This is the English edit of the article.

EIT Digital is aiming at higher education. The target audiences are grosso modo engineers who need to learn to transform technology into business, and business people who need to learn how technology threatens, transforms or boost their business. The EIT Digital Entrepreneurial Academy has three schools to meet the aim of the Academy: these are the EIT Digital Master School, the EIT Digital Summer School and the EIT Digital Professional School.

The need for digital skills is high, underlines also the European Commission (EC). Many Europeans do not have adequate digital skills, the EC concludes based on numbers of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). This is a problem for business. Europe also faces a shortage of digital experts who can develop cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of all citizens.

The spread of digital technologies is having a massive impact on the labour market and the type of skills needed in the economy and in society. Here is where the EIT Digital entrepreneurial Academy comes in. Prieto: "Europe must increase its strategic autonomy in technology. Else, we will be using only imported technology from the United States or China. We have a lot of knowledge in Europe, Europe is very strong in the academy world. We need to unlock this knowledge to gain that autonomy.

Which sectors and industries in Europe are most lagging behind in digital transformation?

"Traditional sectors and SMEs are particularly lagging behind in their digital transformation. Recent studies estimate that the digitisation of products and services will add more than €110 billion per year in revenue for European industry in the next five years.  Europe should be ready for the growth in the emerging markets for future digital products and services. This will require sustained and coordinated investment from the public and private sectors.

EIT Digital believes that we can make and shape a strong, fair and sustainable digital Europe that can make global impact through European innovation fuelled by entrepreneurial talent and digital technology. In EIT Digital's Strategic Innovation Agenda 2020-2022, EIT Digital has defined five areas where it sees significant European relevance to invest in to make this impact possible. These areas are Digital Cities, Digital Finance, Digital Industry, Digital Tech, and Digital Wellbeing. To boost these areas alongside new innovations, Europe needs highly skilled professionals for the next decade who know how to use technology for business and who can build with us a strong digital Europe."

What kind of knowledge can applicants expect to acquire?

"For our three schools, we have three kinds of applicants. All of them are aimed of making technology work for business to better society.  Europe needs people who have the mindset to make technology work. This requires our students to be educated in key technological skills."

What kind of knowledge can EIT Digital Master School applicants expect to acquire?

"The EIT Digital Master School offers multiple technical majors. We review them every year to keep abreast of the future reality. For the upcoming recruitment season students can choose  from seven technical majors, these are: Autonomous Systems, Cloud and Network Infrastructures, Cyber Security, Data Science, Embedded Systems, Fintech, Human Computer Interaction and Design. Applicants may expect the top-level content provided by partner universities, institutes and companies. At EIT Digital we strongly believe that technology knowledge should be combined with innovation and entrepreneurship skills to make innovation happening. What is knowledge on technology if you cannot translate this knowledge into business? Therefore, we train our students to always think on how to use technology for business and also how to use technology for the good, to improve society.  A nice example of this are two students who learned about the problem wild boars can do to farmers. They analysed the problem and came with a drone based on artificial intelligence to scare off these animals and save the crops on the farmers' fields and thus also reduce waste of food.

Alongside the technological and entrepreneurial knowledge, the students acquire, we also put a strong focus on soft skills. Because our students' study at two different universities in two different countries, they learn how to be independent, learn to work within and lead international teams, and build strong international networks based on the local networks that we have established across Europe. During their two-year masters they will work on several real-life business cases that EIT Digital Partners within EIT Digital's extensive ecosystem provides them.

These cases might also inspire students to work on their own startup, as Dora Palfi did during her time at the EIT Digital Master School. She started the company ImagiLabs, got huge funding and now is listed in the Forbes 30 under 30.

This also unlocks another perk that our students acquire: because they have access to the EIT Digital ecosystem, they have the opportunity to be involved in the innovation activities of EIT Digital. To give an example:  EIT Digital has supported Peter Lakatos and his fellow EIT Digital Master School students who come from different EIT Digital Master School programmes, to build a startup within the EIT Digital Innovation Factory based on their brilliant idea for remote monitoring vital signs of patients. They work together with EIT Digital partners in Hungary and the Netherlands and their startup Entremo now is deploying their invention in hospitals and nursing homes in Hungary as we speak.  

To put it short, at the EIT Digital Master School students learn to make technology work for improving society and building a strong digital Europe.

What kind of knowledge can EIT Digital Summer School applicants expect to acquire?

“Applicants for the EIT Digital Summer School may expect to acquire specific knowledge about the theme of the summer school of their choice.  Every year EIT Digital hosts an extensive portfolio of summer schools across Europe which are themed around major societal and industrial challenges in the global digital economy. Participants deepdive into emerging digital technologies and learn how to turn technology into business. They can expect top classes of lecturers who give insights in the theory and technological challenges within a summer school theme. Alongside this theoretical framework, they see via company visits and case presentations how digital transformation is happening in the local ecosystem of the summer school. They also learn how to develop and evaluate different business models. These insights they bring to practice into a business challenge.

The EIT Digital Summer Schools immerses all participants in a two-week business challenge that is based on real live business cases from EIT Digital partners. They work in a team of people they probably have not met before. Their team member are other professionals from other companies, researchers, and/or EIT Digital Master School students, to whom the summer school is an integral part of their master’s degree programme. Participants who have joined the summer school say they have en passant acquired skills in teambuilding, brainstorming and getting things done in a short period of time, and growing an international network.”

What kind of knowledge can EIT Digital Professional School applicants expect to acquire?

“Participants of the EIT Digital Professional School are mainly professionals who need to know more about how emerging technologies affect their business and how they can use them to gain a competitive edge. We believe that lifelong learning should be a concept that all companies should embrace. After all, digitalisation is a critical success factor. This means a reflection on what skills are currently in the company, which skills are needed to get through the digital transformation and how to overcome the skills gap? I believe that every employee, every working person, should permanently wonder if their skills are still in line with the changing demands that digital transformation is putting on employability. Each C-level person should reflect on the company strategy: will that strategy be  competitive enough, how to Get ahead in the ongoing digital transformation, what will for example be the business implications of artificial intelligence, how to use Data Science for business innovation, what does blockchain for the decision maker mean? Not thinking about how new emerging technologies impacts one’s company is ostrich policy: with your head in the sand, you can’t see who is overtaking you.”

“The EIT Digital Professional School has a portfolio for managers, decision makers and others to learn about emerging technologies for business. Currently we have eleven courses that helps professionals to unlock opportunities to strengthen their market position, to acquire digitally enabled leadership and management. Each of the course provides managers the skills to lead the digital transformation and to use the latest in digital technologies. Interesting to mention here is that all courses are developed in partnership with renowned partners in executive education. We work for example together with KTH Executive School, Budapest University of technology and Economics (BME),  Fraunhofer, Politecnico di Milano but also with industry partners as Bright Cape and Campden BRI Hungary.

Which kind of applicants is the EIT Digital Entrepreneurial Academy aiming at?

“The EIT Digital Entrepreneurial Academy offers higher education opportunities for students and professionals in all stages of their careers. We believe in lifelong learning, for the industrial 4.0 revolution evolves so rapidly that upskilling will become a basic need for every working person in Europe.”

Which kind of applicants is the EIT Digital Master School aiming at?

“For the EIT Digital Master School anyone with a bachelor’s in science, technology, economics and mathematics can apply to one of the master programmes. Most of our students come from a bachelor’s in computer science. But that is not a prerequisite per se. We also have students who studied aerodynamics, psychology, or industrial design to name a few. Most of our master school students are aged between 23-27. We also notice that we get more people going back to school after they have worked for a while. They see that society is changing and to keep up they need to know about technology and how to use these in their working life. Askhat Issakov, for example went back, at the age of 32, to study at the EIT Digital Master School programme Autonomous Systems after already been working as IT Architect for several years. And the Finnish CFO and teacher Taru Itäpelto decided to start a masters after being inspired at one of our Summer Schools.”

Which kind of applicants is the EIT Digital Summer School aiming at?

“The EIT Digital Summer Schools are open for all kind of professionals. From young professionals, researchers or other managers. They will be in the school together with the EIT Digital Master School students. This turns out to be an unexpected perk for those attending the summer school.  PhD researcher Nelly Hernández, who is researching strategic management at Fraunhofer visited one of our summer schools to learn to understand the concept of digital transformation. She said that working with students opened her mind. That we hear more from working participants who attend the summer school. When you are working for a while in a company or organisation, you become corporate minded. Being among young, fresh students, inspires them again to see possibilities rather than constraints.”

Which kind of applicants is the EIT Digital Professional School aiming at?

“The EIT Digital Professional School is aimed at professionals with decision power. Digital transformation is not just a matter of implanting a project. It is about embedding strategies to at least survive or better to gain a leading position in the new digital economy. That is a matter of business strategy. C-level persons need to know how technologies can impact their business, how they can foster their business and how the company should react to that. Participants therefore learn to understand the implications of new technology for their business and embed these in their strategies. Waiting for the moment to come is not an option. The moment is for those who can grasp these moments and these people are the ones that understand the implications of emerging technologies.”

How long does the trainings of the schools last?

“We have a palette of programmes and trainings with different durations. The EIT Digital Master School is a two-year programme where students study at two different universities in two different countries and receive upon successful completion two master’s degrees and a certificate of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The EIT Digital Summer School is a two-week intensive training. In this training participants get lectures, receive soft skill training like pitching, work in teams together to come to a possible solution to a real time business challenge worth of 4 ECTS.

The EIT Digital Professional School courses are short programmes of a three to four days. Mostly they come in a blended shape: online preparation and onsite lecturers and discussion. With the corona pandemic happening however, both the preparation and the training are being held online.”

How much does the education programmes cost? And what are the conditions and arrangements for deferred payment?

“EIT Digital education models are designed to provide students with the best educational experience using a combination of public and private resources. Recently, EIT Digital and the European Investment Fund (EIF) signed an agreement that will allow students to benefit from EIT Digital's education and training programmes. The EIF put in place a guarantee, that allows EIT Digital to give deferred payments to students. In other words, they can study now and pay later. I think the signing of this agreement is very important. It underlines the importance that digital skills education is critical for the development of Europe. Building successful business is not only a matter of having the financial resources, but also a matter of having human resources. All students of the EIT Digital Entrepreneurial can make use of this deferred payment opportunity.

For the EIT Digital Master School we try to set the prices as low as possible to make sure that our education is accessible for all students in Europe and beyond and to give talents a chance to become tomorrow’s next leaders in digital transformation.

For the EIT Digital Summer School, the fees for external participants are very competitive compared to other business schools. Fees for the EIT Digital Professional School are also competitive on the executive education market. They vary per course. Companies who have multiple managers to send to a course and managers from EIT Digital partners can request a discount. Unique to the Professional School courses is also that each course can be held exclusively for one company and then be customised to the unique needs of an organisation. “

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