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Lodz University of Technology: Marking 70 years
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Nurturing Potential
May 7, 2015   
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Prof. Stanis³aw Bielecki, rector of the Lodz University of Technology, talks to Danuta K. Gruszczyńska.

The Lodz University of Technology has turned 70. That’s quite a milestone...

This anniversary year is a good time to reflect on the past and think about what lies ahead, how we can live up to new challenges and what we can do for future generations.

Our university has an interesting history. When the textile industry boomed in the second half of the 19th century, £ód¼ transformed from a village into the second most populous city in Poland. Then the powerful factory owners, who needed qualified staff with technical skills, supported efforts to establish an institute of technology in £ód¼. Land had already been assigned for construction and the future institute even had a teaching staff ready, but in the end the project was never approved by Russia’s Tsar Alexander II [who ruled that part of Poland at the time]. Poland regained its independence in 1918, but £ód¼ did not get a university of technology of its own. The city had to wait until after World War II, when a decree founding the Lodz University of Technology was signed May 24, 1945. In a way, history has now turned full circle. The university was established on a site formerly owned by textile empires and today, our campus is home to renovated 19th-century villas and factory buildings that we saved from detorioration. You could say we have repaid our obligation to the industrial barons of the 19th century for their efforts to open a university of technology in £ód¼.

The Lodz University of Technology grew rapidly. It started with only three faculties, less than 1,000 students and 100 teaching staff. Today, we have nine faculties, around 20,000 students and 1,400 teaching staff and researchers. We are one of the best universities of technology in Poland.

We are the only university in Poland to have been awarded the European ECTS Label and Diploma Supplement Label certificates. We were pioneers in Poland in such areas as providing courses taught in foreign languages and the commercialization of research results.

What are your plans for the future?

Universities always need to develop, even those with traditions dating back centuries. That’s why we have been considering new forms of education, new research, majors and multidisciplinary projects.

People who know little about £ód¼ tend to think of the Lodz University of Technology as focused entirely on the textile industry [for which the city is famous], but that is a major mistake. This is not to say that the textile industry in £ód¼ collapsed completely after communism fell [in 1989]. All that has changed is the volume of production and the technological complexity of products. A new and different textile industry is emerging, catering to new branches of the economy and society.

We have a lot of achievements under our belt in other areas as well. For example, the Lodz University of Technology used to be the only university in Poland to deal with the paper-making industry. We had Poland’s only major in cellulose and paper technology.

If it wasn’t for the Lodz University of Technology, Poland would not have majors in brewing and the sugar industry. There would be no spirits industry if it weren’t for specialists and technology originating from our university. I’m not sure if Belvedere, one of the world’s best and most expensive vodka brands, would exist if it were not for experts from the Lodz University of Technology.

How are courses at the university set up? What teaching methods do you use?

We have introduced a teaching style where rather than being passive recipients, students actively acquire professional skills. We specialize in certain majors. We were the first university to introduce industrial biotechnology. We have an International Faculty of Engineering where all courses are taught in foreign languages, mostly English. We already have many groups of students being taught using new methods. We have pioneered methods such as Project Based Learning and Design Thinking in Poland. Our strong points also include lifelong learning, and we have a junior high and high school linked to the university. There’s also a Children’s University and a University of the Third Age.
At one point, we realized that graduates from our high school who came to study at the university often failed to make the most of their potential in their freshman year. These are very talented young people with a passion; most of them speak two foreign languages, and their knowledge is already quite extensive. We now provide the most gifted of them with an accelerated learning program that spans six years of studies and research, even allowing these students to earn a doctoral degree. We want to turn our university into a welcoming environment for young and ambitious people where they can fulfill themselves and make their dreams come true.

Does the £ód¼ Solar Team fall in this category? I’ve been told by students in the team that they are now busy preparing for the World Solar Challenge—a race for solar-powered cars over thousands of kilometers through the Australian Outback—so studying can wait.

They have the university’s full approval and support in this undertaking. I’m not a fan of students being too relaxed in terms of their work, but I know that in this case, getting in the way of a super interesting idea that the students came up with themselves would contradict the university’s mission. We aim to be an innovative university, which is why we are introducing research-based learning, especially for students working on their master’s-level degrees. Students are required to do a lot of the work on their own. They need to pursue several different fields of research and tackle many diverse problems. In fact, here is where academic careers begin for most of them.

What do you do to encourage potential students to study in £ód¼ rather than in Cracow or Warsaw?

We conduct unique research, we are setting up new majors, and we are trying to offer something new to young people so as to give them good prospects of finding a job after graduation. I know that young people take into account the big picture before they decide where they want to study, and I can tell you that our university has something absolutely unique to offer. Together with other universities in £ód¼, we are building a huge sports center with an Olympic-size swimming pool, a regular training pool, a multi-purpose sports arena and an indoor climbing wall. This is a project of tremendous importance to the university as well as the city and the entire £ód¼ region.

The Lodz University of Technology campus is a “green” one where heat and electricity are used in an environmentally-friendly manner, largely thanks to our students. Young people are keen to act and you only need to show them something interesting to do and then take a step back and let them do it.

You are vice-president of the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland (KRASP), an organization established to represent the interests of the academic community and develop strategies for university-level education in Poland.

I have been involved in the Conference for many years. This has allowed me to gain a broader perspective on university-level education in Poland as a whole, including relations between colleges and the government and parliament. It has also allowed me to gain a broad perspective on the international status of Polish education, especially its standing in the EU. When it comes to research and education, Poland has traditionally worked with Europe, North America and Japan, but now there are also countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. These are completely new challenges, if only because of cultural differences. This is a very important aspect of Polish university-level education now that Polish universities are faced with negative demographic trends, the unprecedented mobility of young Poles and the globalization of research and research funding.

The Lodz University of Technology takes part in student and researcher exchange programs. As a result of agreements with other universities, several dozen of our postgraduates are now postdocs at the best universities in Europe. Some of our teachers spent several years on internships abroad and now they teach their subjects in foreign languages. We also bring in teachers from other countries. In May, we will award an honorary doctorate to Prof. Arieh Warshel, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The Lodz University of Technology also works on international projects...

The projects we carried out and completed in 2007-2013 co-funded with EU funds were worth a total of around 500 million zlotys. We are one of three centers in Poland to have made it to the second stage of the “Teaming” initiative, under which new centers of excellence will be established. The initiative is part of Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation program. The academic community in £ód¼, together with two Max Planck institutes, has just been granted 500,000 euros for a business plan for the construction of a Research Center of Excellence specializing in biobased materials. The new facility will meet global standards and employ an international team of researchers. It will help the £ód¼ region to develop by giving science a bigger role. Our university is also a shareholder in and acts as an advisory body to the BioNanoPark in £ód¼.

You are the only Polish university in the European Consortium of Innovative Universities.

We try to be as innovative as possible in everything we do. We aim to educate creative people. We are members of many industrial clusters some of which we have helped establish. Recently, we founded the Polish Technology Platform for the Bio-economy. This holds huge potential. I believe it can become what the textile industry used to be for £ód¼.

The medals we have won at international invention exhibitions demonstrate that the world at large acknowledges the contribution of our university in this field.

What about collaboration with the business sector?

We organize extra classes in enterprise, start-up companies and spin-offs. We strongly support our students in their aspirations to launch businesses. The university is engaged in many international projects, and, for example, we were involved in the recent opening of an Airbus Helicopters Poland engineering design office.

Engineers from the Lodz University of Technology helped build the world’s fastest helicopter. We share our laboratories and programs with companies such as Citroen and Peugeot.

You might be a university of technology, but you don’t neglect the arts...

We do have young people with artistic talent. Generations of students have sung in our choir, which has been going for 46 years, and listened to our Radio Æak station, which has been on air for 56 years.

For 10 years, the university has had its own orchestra. The Lodz University of Technology’s Academic Choir is a renowned ensemble that, for example, accompanies international stars during the famous Night of the Proms concerts held at the Atlas Arena in £ód¼.

Our university has several art galleries and we have for years held music evenings and meetings with prominent figures in the arts. Last but not least, there are various student clubs offering something for everyone.
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