Interview with Luciana Vaccaro, Rector of HES-SO University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland

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In Switzerland, as elsewhere in the industrialised countries, the health sector is undergoing major change due to a combination of several factors: ageing populations, on-going cost increases, treatments for new pathologies, but also the introduction of new technologies and the increasingly sophisticated demands of patients. Our belief is that appropriate training for highly skilled health professionals is an essential key to address these new challenges. 

Can you give us an overview of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland?

HES-SO the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland is the second biggest Swiss academic institution with 21,000 students. It brings together 28 schools offering a full study and research offer in six areas: design and visual arts, engineering and architecture, music and the performing arts, health and social work. The academic curriculum is mainly centred around bachelor’s degrees but we also offer master’s. Our masters’ degree courses are designed as advanced modules and are intended for people who are already in a working environment. HES-SO is a genuine higher education cross-canton network (7 cantons).

What distinguishes you from other more conventional universities?

HES-SO offers university-level courses grounded in professional practice. Graduates come out of HES as generalists with a solid theoretical training and renowned practical skills. They master the tools in their field and know how to conduct cross-disciplinary thinking. They rapidly find positions in the business and service sectors but also in social, health, and cultural institutions.

HES-SO is known for its specialisation in the health sector. What is your offer in this area?

We offer courses in seven disciplines: Midwifery; Nursing; Nutrition and Dietetics; Occupational Therapy; Osteopathy; Physiotherapy; Radiologic Medical Imaging Technology. Our goal is to train high level professionals who will be able to meet the new demands of the health system. Student numbers at HES-SO have grown by 30% over the last five years and are now over 3,600.

Can you tell us more about the courses?

In Switzerland, as elsewhere in the industrialised countries, the health sector is undergoing major change due to a combination of several factors: ageing populations, on-going cost increases, treatments for new pathologies, but also the introduction of new technologies and the increasingly sophisticated demands of patients. Our belief is that appropriate training for highly skilled health professionals is an essential key to address these new challenges. What is essential to improve the quality and range of care available is to place the patient at the heart of the system and help contain rising health system costs. So we have developed several master’s degree courses in the health care area that aim to train future graduates to play the role of experts to optimise care quality, patient safety and ensure efficient use of resources. These new health professionals will play a central role in healthcare organisations in ushering in new healthcare practices. They will take part in the necessary organisational changes and developments in the health system.

What is your research strategy?

Unlike the federal universities and Swiss Federal Technology Institutes in Lausanne and Zurich, HES-SO does not offer PhD courses. However, we have developed a very important care research offer. Our flagship project concerns caregivers at home. HES-SO is piloting a project that benefits from significant financial support from the Swiss Confederation: the goal is to study all issues of ageing from the perspective of family caregivers. Our approach is multidisciplinary and all-embracing: it encompasses the different aspects that are care, new technologies but also the role of patients and their families. We also work in such areas as mobility, chronic pain, autonomy for cancer patients, and so on. Another example is the implementation of big data in the health sector: we have two research groups working on this issue. For all these projects, we work in collaboration with local stakeholders: hospitals, home care centres, universities, etc.

A word to conclude?

I think the Swiss experience can provide food for thought for the OECD countries, especially as regards decentralisation of the health system. Here hospitals are under the responsibility of the cantons whereas insurance schemes are federal. Furthermore, there is a real concern about user involvement and participation. Finally, Switzerland is a genuine laboratory in some areas in which future solutions are tested.

HES-SO: A network of skills and competences

▪ 6 Faculties Design and Fine Arts; Business, Management and Services; Engineering and Architecture; Music and Performing Arts; Health Sciences and Social Work.

▪ With 28 Schools, over 21,000 students, 68 study programs the HES-SO is the largest UAS (University of Applied Sciences) in Switzerland. 

Faculty of Health Sciences

▪ 3,670 students

▪ 8 Bachelor’s and 4 Master’s programs

Sponsored by 

©OECD Observer No 309 Q1 2017

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