Digital competence is important – that’s something millions of Germans are currently experiencing in their home offices. Even school administrations or public authorities are suddenly having to set up new digital structures and reaching their limits here. Is the coronavirus pandemic a much-vaunted catalyst for digitisation in Germany? That has yet to be proven. However, what it does show very clearly is that digitisation has permeated society and we are facing processes of change from one day to the next. In order to keep pace with developments and drive innovation, we need the right framework and, above all, the right support for digital talent.
The XU University, Germany’s first university for digitisation and technology, has dedicated itself to future-oriented teaching at its location in Potsdam: “A new time needs a new university” is how its slogan goes. XU stands for Exponential University – for exponential change, exponential learning and action – as Adrienne Fischer, the University’s Managing Director, explains. “There is a need today for digital knowledge in almost all professional fields. There are new professions emerging and others disappearing. But, most importantly, there are professions that are changing. We therefore have to provide the competence to accompany these changes. Students are given the right methodologies and the necessary tools to do this.”
The bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes such as Digital Business, Digital Marketing and Social Media, Coding and Software Engineering, Data Science and the master’s programmes (Digital Transformation Management, Data Science) prepare students for the real-life requirements of the digital economy. To ensure that this is as practical as possible, the XU University’s didactic concept is based on the principle of “practice first, then theory”. This means that the students are asked to programme their own small app in the first two weeks. The app doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s more about getting to know the challenges of practical work so that they have the necessary prior knowledge before starting on the theory. Many professors who pass on their knowledge in such areas of expertise as coding and software engineering come directly from the free market economy. They are successful entrepreneurs who manage their own start-up or work for well-known companies in the digital and tech sector. Coding and Software Development Professor Dr. Mohammed AbuJarour worked for many years at SAP before taking up his professorship at the XU University.
In addition, the university draws upon an extensive network of partners. Guest speakers are regularly invited to the seminars to provide practical knowledge and insights into real-life cases from their digital companies. Students become acquainted early on with digital business models and organisation theories, and learn how design thinking can be integrated into day-to-da working life. “The major skills shortage is a challenge for the next generation. This isn’t a place where you should be extending the training period indefinitely with internships and traineeships because it’s more about already preparing for your job directly during your studies,” Fischer explains.
That’s why XU University enters into select regional cooperations. Together with the Stadtwerke Potsdam and under the direction of Professor Dr. Bouteiller, third semester students developed concepts for the Krampnitz Innovation Quarter. A new urban district for living and working is being developed on the site of former barracks to the north of Potsdam. Its goal of being sustainable, citizen-friendly and forward-looking includes, for example, a digital infrastructure, car-free zones and street lamps with 5G transmission masts. The students concentrated in their project on such subsections as the use of the Internet of Things or the use of elevated garages in an expanded function as mobility hubs. The students also took on the associated project management processes.
Adrienne Fischer points out that the university also attaches great importance to interdisciplinary work. While the marketing students also gain a basic understanding of coding, the coders in turn learn how to prepare a business plan. The courses take place in small groups on up to four days a week. One day off is also part of the weekly routine so that students have time to pursue practical projects and work.
You don’t have to have programming skills or be a marketing expert in order to enroll in a bachelor’s degree programme. But you should be curious about wanting to help shape an ever-accelerating world – using future technologies. The XU University also supports students’ own motivation in expanding on their education. Students can take certificate courses in agile working or, thanks to learning platforms, access first-hand market expertise and use new learning and teaching formats. There are hardly any classic lectures on the schedule; studies are supplemented by interactive lectures, hackathons and sprints. After all, working methodologies are just as necessary qualifications in the digital world of work as specialist knowledge is.
With regard to tools and platforms, the XU University regards itself as a curator of the most up-to-date knowledge available in the market. In consultation with the professors, it is then prepared for use in teaching.
Studies still take place on-site in Potsdam despite all the digitality: the University was established in the middle of the Media City at the Babelsberg Film Studios and therefore right at the centre of MediaTech Hub Potsdam. This means that the nearest collaborative opportunities for practical work can be found in the immediate vicinity.
By Christine Lentz
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