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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » June 3, 2015
Wrocław University of Technology
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Aiming to Excel
June 3, 2015   
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As Wrocław University of Technology marks 70 years in existence, its rector, Tadeusz Więckowski, talks to the Voice about its distinctive approach to education, its history and its plans for the future.

Wrocław University of Technology is 70 years old. The first lecture was held in November 1945. At the time, the university had 512 students and four faculties. Today there are 35,000 students in 15 faculties and 5,000 employees. Isn’t such a large institution difficult to manage? What’s the most difficult thing about managing it, and what is the most satisfying aspect?
The academic community is very special, especially the professors. Every professor is an institution and that’s the way it should be. They are intellectuals, individualists, creative people. You have to respect and appreciate this. I think it’s easier to manage corporations than institutions such as universities. Managing a university is difficult, but certainly very interesting.

To illustrate the size of our university let me just say that we have 270 buildings and more than 100 hectares of land. Our budget is more than half the budget of the entire province of Lower Silesia and one-fifth of the budget of the city of Wrocław. We are talking about big money here. We get half of this amount as part of our basic subsidy. We need to generate the remaining part on our own.

In connection with this, managing such an institution is an extremely complicated and difficult thing to do. We have made changes that today are copied at other universities.

A university as large as Wrocław University of Technology cannot be managed without modern know-how. That would just not be possible. That’s why several years ago we decided to introduce process management at the university. Now we are introducing an information technology system to support this, the only undertaking on such a large scale in Poland.

What gives you the most satisfaction at work?
Along my way I have met and continue to meet many wonderful people with whom you can move mountains. This is my greatest source of satisfaction. The greatest strength of Wrocław University of Technology is its people. Without their work I wouldn’t be able to accomplish much on my own.

When I became rector for the first time, I did not think I would get so much support. The strength of all these people is something that’s hard to overestimate.

I am also very proud of our young people. They are a source of great satisfaction for me. We have fantastic, talented, and creative young people.

Many complain that young people today are consumption-oriented and avoid hard work…
I don’t agree. If we are dissatisfied with young people, it’s because we haven’t devoted enough time and attention to them. Perhaps we are the ones to blame for teaching them badly and raising them badly.

Young people today are as fantastic as they were 15 or 50 years ago. What these kids—because for me they will always be “kids” and that’s what I call them—are doing and the way they are a credit to the university with their work, fills me with pride.

I’m very mindful of the words of the former rector, Prof. Jan Kmita, who, upon presenting graduation diplomas to students, said that “Wrocław University of Technology is sending its children out into the world.” These words, uttered more than a decade ago, really stuck in my mind. That’s exactly what happens. We send our “children” out into the world—into adulthood. We produce engineers and graduates with master’s and doctoral degrees, and being aware of this brings me great satisfaction.

Do you try to keep the best of them on at the university?
A university needs to train a new generation of academics who will eventually take over the reins. We have more and more young people on staff, which makes me very happy. We have created good conditions for them. We want these young people to pursue their careers at the university, but also beyond it. Younger and younger employees are getting postdoctoral qualifications. I am very happy with that.

During your first term as rector, a total of 869 renovation and other projects were carried out at Wrocław University of Technology. Do you think this result can be improved on during your second term? Is there a specific target that you’re shooting for?
I don’t know how many renovation projects we have carried out.

I haven’t been keeping track. Above all, I would like to see the IT-assisted process management system that we are introducing to be operational by the end of my second term. We will be the only university in Poland that will be fully computerized.

Another priority is the Center for Scientific and Technical Information, which is about providing a gateway to science and business. This is a quality service that came into being at the university a year ago. We want a situation in which someone coming from industry knows where they can find solutions for themselves and their company. This is a very big university. That’s why people come to the center, and the job of its staff and the system is to find a solution and to refer them to the appropriate scientific team. And this is starting to work well.

Are you planning any big projects?
At the moment, I’m busy dealing with the most important thing I should be doing as rector of Wrocław University of Technology—fighting for money for the university, big money from the EU under its Horizon 2020 [research and innovation program]. We are far along in the negotiations and have put up a tough fight. My successor will oversee the implementation of these projects.

How will this money be spent?
We want to create a campus on the other side of the Oder river. We also want to construct Building B14, a building on Gdańska Street, and two buildings in the Research and Technology Center on Długa Street. These are not teaching facilities, but will be exclusively used for research. I’m talking about buildings complete with modern equipment and research infrastructure for businesses. These are the projects that we want to finance using these funds.

Shortly after being appointed for your second term as rector, you said that Wrocław University of Technology’s development would be based on four pillars: going commercial with research results, being “anchored” in the region, advanced scientific research, and—the most important pillar—high-level teaching. Are these still your priorities?
These priorities remain unchanged. They are the basis of our strategy. Above all, we attach great importance to education meeting the highest possible standards. We are not creating any new, questionable fields of study. We continue to offer the same courses. Of course, the content of these courses is changing, but we refuse to succumb to any temporary fads.

Today, there is a tendency to launch fashionable courses. Young people begin their studies, but half a year later they are disappointed. This is very unfortunate because attempts are being made to lure young people using marketing gimmicks and offering trendy fields of study. And what are people supposed to do after graduating from such courses? Swell the ranks of the unemployed?
This is cheating young people. A university that launches such courses is behaving unethically.

There is still the lingering belief in our society that graduation from a university guarantees a job and a better life. This myth was shattered long ago. What’s a university degree worth if no knowledge or skills stand behind it? This is a very unfortunate situation.

Why has your university decided to open three new faculties?
We are a regional university. That’s why we have decided to open three new faculties: in Legnica, Wałbrzych and Jelenia Góra. We are responsible technologically and technically for what Lower Silesia will look like 10 or 20 years from now.

These cities [Legnica, Wałbrzych and Jelenia Góra] are interested in seeing Wrocław University of Technology operate proper, full-fledged faculties there. We are launching fields of study in those cities that are not available in Wrocław. We are not creating competition for ourselves.

What does your university owe the city of Wrocław and the region as a whole, and to what extent can the university count on the city and the region?
I keep in touch with companies and know from them as well as other sources that students are something invaluable for the city of Wrocław. It’s enough to do some math and multiply the approximate number of students at our university, or about 35,000, by 10 months—assuming that each student spends only zl.1,000 a month, while in practice they spend much more. This works out at least zl.350 million. Find me a company in Wrocław with business of this scale and capable of pumping this much money into the market.

In the United States, students are highly valued wherever there are universities. I would like the same to be the case here, not only in words but also in deeds.

How important is Wrocław University of Technology to investors coming to Wrocław and the region? Do they come here specifically because of the university, or because the city and region are developing rapidly?
Both. Tax breaks are important, and it’s important to create opportunities, but nobody will come here without human capital and a pool of well-educated engineers. That’s out of the question. All of these elements must co-exist and interact.

Many investment projects would not have been carried out in Wrocław had it not been for Wrocław University of Technology. There’s no two ways about it. All these companies, IT businesses would not exist had it not been for our engineers. We provide good training to all those who later work for these companies.

When LG was starting to invest here, they asked me how many first-year students and others we had and in what fields of study. They wanted to make sure that they would have a pool of professionals to employ.

When IBM was about to come here, the company’s vice-president flew in from the United States for talks. We talked about our students—their future employees. Universities attract investors.

During the last academic year, Wrocław University of Technology established its own lower and upper secondary schools—together known as the Complex of Academic Schools (ZSA). Is this a kind of vote of no confidence in the Polish educational system because it is not doing a good job in preparing young people for further education, for studying at university? Or perhaps these schools were established for a different reason?
I will probably rub a lot of people the wrong way with what I’m about to say, but by establishing the schools I wanted to show that it’s possible to educate young people well within the existing system in Poland.

Everything depends on the people, on the team, on the teachers, on those who are the leaders in these schools. We have talented young people there. We want to teach them teamwork and creativity. We want them to be infused with an academic spirit, and not impose solutions on them. They must develop; they must be creative. We want to show that such a school can exist, that it will produce results.

I’m very sorry but when it comes to teaching mathematics, and physics even more so, we have many bad teachers who are unable to work with young people. We have gained a lot of insight into this. This whole situation worries me.

I have the university’s future at heart. I expect that many of these young people—although they will have the right to choose, of course—will choose our university, and some will not only graduate from it, but will also become professors at Wrocław University of Technology.
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