EPFL delivers Switzerland's first Certificates of Open Studies

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© 2018 EPFL

© 2018 EPFL

Last fall, EPFL introduced a new continuing education program whereby participants earn a Certificate of Open Studies (COS) - the only one of its kind in Switzerland. The first COSs were handed out at a ceremony this past Thursday.

Switzerland’s very first Certificates of Open Studies (COSs) were handed out this past Thursday at a ceremony at EPFL. These certificates were granted to participants who completed a new continuing education program that the school has made available to anyone, with no previous degrees required. "These first COSs mark a major step forward for our school. We had to fight to get this program off the ground because nobody thought it could work. We met with a lot of resistance - but we believe that education is a lifelong endeavor," said Pierre Vandergheynst, EPFL’s Vice President for Education, at the ceremony on Thursday. He handed out the certificates alongside Marcel Salathé and Laura Downhower, the academic director and executive director, respectively, of the EPFL Extension School. They too worked hard to roll out the new program. "This is a historic moment for EPFL," said Salathé.

The EPFL Extension School currently offers COSs in two areas - Applied Data Science: Machine Learning and Web Application Development. The courses are given online and participants get personalized feedback from their instructors and can request a videoconference. To obtain the certificate, participants must plan, carry out and present a significant individual project showing that they have acquired all the requisite skills.

"In a fast-moving field like IT, you have to continually refresh your skills. I usually learn new things on my own," said Germain Hugon, an electrician by training who currently works as an IOS-Web Developer. "But when it came to machine learning, there were some concepts I was having trouble grasping. That’s why I decided to take an online course. And I selected EPFL’s program since the school is nearby." Hugon, the father of two small children, completed the COS program in eight months while continuing to work at his regular job. "That required a big commitment since it’s a demanding program. I think my family is happy that I’ve finished!" he says. Hugon doesn’t have a university degree so is happy to have the EPFL certificate in his pocket.

Participants from a variety of backgrounds

21-year-old Valentin Kaelin is also a COS program graduate without a university degree. "I had three months free before starting my civil service, and I’ve always been interested in web development. This program is really well designed with lots of exercises. And the certificate will look good on my CV," he says. With its new program, the EPFL Extension School aims to encourage people to learn more about digital technology, enable existing professionals to refresh their skills or change careers, and help job-seekers find employment. Zuriati Balion, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in information technology, is a stay-at-home mom proud to have completed the COS program - especially after all the late nights of studying. "I want to return to work and I hope this certificate will help," she says.

The 20-odd graduates of this first year of the COS program come from a variety of backgrounds and ages. Philippe Terrier, who holds a PhD in biomedical engineering and works as a research scientist on clinical trials, takes an avid interest in continuing education. So when he saw the new program on offer at EPFL, he jumped at the chance. "The program was really intense, but it’s good to be able to walk away with a diploma recognized by EPFL."

Many other students pointed to this benefit of the program, especially since those who complete it earn 15 ECTS credits. Daniel Müller, who worked as a doctor before an accident forced him to change careers, has discovered a talent for IT. He wrote a program that can predict the amount of solar power a station will generate based on weather forecasts. "The program works - I tested it out on my own solar panels. Some of the exercises and projects we had to do were quite challenging, but the important thing is we learned a lot. I plan to get a COS in another field next year," he says. In 2019, the EPFL Extension School will add a third COS option - Applied Data Science: Communication and Visualization.