Being a University, the reflections of the Rector of USI for #USI25
Institutional Communication Service
12 March 2021
Sometimes I have the impression that USI has not yet found its way into the minds, perspectives and hearts of the people of Ticino, as it should. For this reason, I have set myself a two-fold objective for the 25th anniversary of Università della Svizzera italiana: to present the rich variety of what the University has to offer and to foster mutual understanding between us and community in which we operate. A number of events included in the calendar for the celebration of this important anniversary will therefore be included in a series that we have called “Facciamo conoscenza” and which has a dual meaning. On the one hand, it is an invitation to get to know each other better and, on the other, it is an expression of our contribution to the advancement of knowledge.
USI today has 3.350 students from 100 countries, 10.000 alumni worldwide, is well represented in the main international rankings and obtains competitive research funding of around CHF 20 million per year. Our University is organised into five Faculties, with 20 Institutes, and is active in several areas of study and research: architecture, communication, data science, law, economics, public health, informatics, medicine and biomedicine, computational science and humanities. We are one of the youngest public universities in Switzerland and the only Italian-speaking one in the country.
Making – or creating – knowledge is the fundamental requirement of every university. Producing knowledge and transferring it gives us legitimacy vis-à-vis the institutions and citizens who support us, and dignifies us towards society as a whole. We could do no less: producing knowledge will always be at the heart of our natural interest. For a quarter of a century, this knowledge has been conveyed through three main channels: education (transferring knowledge to students), research (scientific discovery) and service to the community (the so-called 'third mission’). It is precisely the consolidation of the third mission over the next few years that should enable the University to establish itself in society and debunk the myth of the 'ivory tower' in which academics are thought to reside.
Clearly, we are not the only ones who create knowledge: in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland much knowledge has been – and is still being – created in a variety of areas, and compared to the past we have become more organised, more systematic, and the institution of USI has helped to structure various initiatives in the region. The 25th anniversary of USI is an important occasion to underline our "being a University", a novelty brought to Ticino towards the end of the last millennium and which has meant that today we are a university canton in our own right. My invitation is not to take for granted the fact that we have a university, but instead to take the time to discover it, beyond preconceptions. Over the years, I have observed that some people tend to project preconceived impressions of our university.
We certainly still have work to do to change these perceptions. In other parts of Switzerland, the universities are well established and deeply rooted in the community. This is thanks to their long history and presence in the area, of course. But the good news, despite its young age, is that USI (and Ticino as a university canton) is no longer cut off from the rest of the country. At the federal level in Berne, cantonal representatives are present and actively participate in discussions as equals with representatives of the other cantons, thus contributing to the collective effort to increase knowledge and general well-being in Switzerland. We are now considered to be on the same level as other universities: we are no longer an exception, and we are part of one of the best university systems in the world. I think this is a wonderful achievement of which all Ticino and its citizens can be proud, because it is the collective result of a journey that began together 25 years ago.