ITU’s new Vice Chancellor: Continued growth is the main task
The IT University of Copenhagen's new Vice Chancellor, Martin Zachariasen, is driven by a curiosity for technology and its effect on society. He will work to continue the university's growth by educating more IT specialists and attracting more researchers - and getting more women to take an IT education is a key issue for him.
He is passionate about everything that has to do with computers and has worked with IT research and education for over twenty years. First as Professor and Head of Department at the University of Copenhagen, and later as Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Southern Denmark.
So to Martin Zachariasen, it was a dream job that opened up when ITU's Vice Chancellor Mads Tofte announced that he would vacate his post at the end of 2018, after almost twenty years of service.
»“I applied for the job as Vice Chancellor because the IT University is developing rapidly and plays an increasingly important role in Denmark. This is something I want to be a part of and take responsibility for,” says Martin Zachariasen.
The IT University is developing rapidly and plays an increasingly important role in Denmark. This is something I want to be a part of and take responsibility for.«
As a PhD in Computer Science, his career began in the technical branch of IT research, but over the years he has increasingly become interested in the interaction between technology and the surrounding society.
"I have always been very curious to understand how modern technologies work, and have also started to take an interest in how technology affects society – our work life as well as our private life. And of course I am very interested in how we should educate young people so that they can understand, develop and use new technologies,” he says.
Broad definition of IT
Martin Zachariasen finds that the ITU as a specialized university plays a unique role in Danish society. Partly because of its focused mission to make Denmark better at creating value with IT, and partly because of the university's broad interpretation of IT as an interplay between technology, people and organizations or society.
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"Already twenty years ago, we saw that it was important to take these three aspects into consideration when discussing IT," says the Vice Chancellor, and mentions Artificial Intelligence and its increasing influence on the labor market as a current example of the need to involve many, also non-technical, perspectives on technology.
In addition, he believes that ITU enjoys special benefits as a small university.
“We have a good and very distinct study environment, and we can adapt quickly when employers demand new competencies. I see that as a great strength,” he says.
Need for more candidates
The task of educating more IT specialists is going to take up much of the Vice Chancellor’s focus in the coming years. Companies are demanding more highly educated IT specialists who can contribute to the digital transformation, and society needs more knowledge about how new technologies are affecting us.
Martin Zachariasen sees continuing the growth ITU has undergone in recent years as his main task.
»“There is still a significant need to educate more IT specialists in Denmark, and within the coming years we aim to educate at least 100 additional graduates per year, if the financial framework allows it. This is quite a lot when you look at the total production of IT graduates in Denmark,” says Martin Zachariasen.
There is still a significant need to educate more IT specialists in Denmark, and within the coming years we aim to educate at least 100 additional graduates per year, if the financial framework allows it.«
Competition for researchers and funding
Specifically, the growth ambition creates a need for more academic staff who can carry out the teaching and research.
Here, one of the biggest challenges will be the intense competition to attract talented researchers and external funding for research, he believes.
"There are too few IT researchers, both in Denmark and globally, so there is a large backlog, and all the universities, as well as the companies, are fighting for the best people. In addition, we are in competition with other universities to attract external funding for our research. We hope that the IT field will be prioritized higher in the future, so that there will be more funding for IT research both in Denmark but also in the EU,” he says.
Martin Zachariasen believes that ITU has a strong brand and therefore is well positioned in this competition. However, he thinks the university should work even more strategically and focus on selected research areas such as digitization, information security and data science.
»“It is important that we choose to focus on some areas where we can make ourselves extra strong in order to attract additional researchers. This is not a strategy that has been very clear before, but it is necessary if we want to attract top researchers from around the world. "
It is important that we choose to focus on some areas where we can make ourselves extra strong in order to attract additional researchers.«
More women in IT education
One of Martin Zachariasen’s key issues is to get more women to apply for technical IT education programmes. Thus, he will continue the work ITU is already doing to attract more female applicants. In 2018, the university received funding from the Villum Foundation for an effort aiming to increase interest in programming among young women through various initiatives for women in high school.
“We are doing this for two reasons – one is that digital technologies are used by everyone in society. It is important that women also have influence on their development. Secondly, we need to increase the talent pool and educate more students, and of course we should also include women here,” he says.
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»“There is no difference between men's and women's talent for working with IT. The female students at ITU perform at least as well as the men. But what we might need is to make women aware of the opportunities they will get by taking an IT education. We do this for instance by offering coding cafes and IT camps for female high school students,” says Martin Zachariasen.
The female students at ITU perform at least as well as the men. But what we might need is to make women aware of the opportunities they get by taking an IT education. «
These offerings are extremely popular and have also proven to have a measurable effect. Thus, the share of women admitted to ITU's bachelor's degree programmes has increased from 25 to 34 percent in just two years.
New Vice Chancellor, same university
One of the first, more practical tasks Martin Zachariasen is embarking on is to solve the space challenge that is a result of the university’s growth in recent years.
"We are more people, both employees and not least students, so we are in the process of negotiating more leases in order to have enough room for teaching and offices," he says.
Besides this, ITU employees and students should not expect any major changes from their new Vice Chancellor right now.
"I have no plans to change our basic approach to teaching and research. So you could say that the university has a new Vice Chancellor, but the university is the same – at least in the short run. In the long run, we will have to see what happens,” he says.
Vibeke Arildsen, Press Officer, phone 2555 0447, email email@example.com