New Pro-Rector for Internationalization

Prof. Cesare Alippi, Faculty of Informatics
Prof. Cesare Alippi, Faculty of Informatics

Servizio relazioni internazionali e mobilità

16 Dicembre 2020

On 11 December, the University Council has appointed Prof. Cesare Alippi (Faculty of Informatics) as Pro-Rector for Internationalization. The IRO office looks forward to working together and took this opportunity to ask him a few questions.

Thank you Prof. Alippi for accepting to share with us and our readers your insights as newly appointed Pro-Rector for Internationalization. Could you please introduce yourself in a few words?

It is my real pleasure, indeed. I am a professor within the Faculty of Informatics at USI and professor at Politecnico di Milano (Italy), visiting professor at the University of Guangzhou (China) and Advisory Professor at the Northwestern Polytechnic in Xi’An (China). My current research focuses on adaptation and learning in non-stationary environments, graph learning and intelligence for embedded, IoT and cyber-physical systems.
I had the fortune to travel a lot spanning the five continents in several capacities e.g., visiting researcher/professor at UCL (UK), MIT (USA), ESPCI (F), CASIA (RC), A*STAR (SIN), UKobe (JP), distinguished lecturer, and again, invited speaker at many international conferences. I am very active at the international level in professional organizations, such as the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society and the International Neural Network Society.

Your profile clearly shows how important international experiences are in your life. In your opinion, which are the main benefits of internationalization? Any drawbacks?

Knowledge is for its inner nature universal, barrier-free and international. Teachers and students have always experienced over centuries mobility, since the birth of the first universities, all over the planet. For instance, Bologna, the oldest university in western countries, has seen teachers and scholars coming from all Europe, e.g., Thomas Becket, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Nicolaus Copernicus, Paracelso, Abrecht Dürer. The same holds for the others. Indeed, modern transportation and increased wealth in families have boomed this trend to unprecedented levels making an international experience a possibility for many.

An international experience exposes us to a multicultural frame, breaks ethnic taboos, opens us to different cultures, enriches your spirit, opens your mind, makes you more tolerant to the diversity, more careful to details and what is truly relevant. People exposed to multicultural stimuli are more flexible, able to interface with the counterpart at work more easily, more adequate to the current work market. Well, not to forget the fun and friends you gain in an international experience.

What about drawbacks? I do not see any drawback with internationalization, as the term should not be confused with globalization. Internationalization gives value to multicultural experiences, to differences by protecting them, to build respect at any level. Yes, my opinion on globalization, as it has been unfortunately materialized, is not that positive.

What do you think are USI’s priorities on the topic of internationalization?

USI was conceived as an international university and, currently, we witness the outcome of these efforts, with students and faculty coming from over 100 different countries. We need to keep moving in this multicultural direction, as we have been doing greatly to date. We can strengthen relationships with other universities, possibly enter other university networks, sign new agreements so as to cover different geographical areas and offer more choice to students and researchers, engage with industries and companies to provide scholarships for people coming from specific areas to study at USI.

Your appointment comes in a time of uncertainty and restrictions: the Covid-19 pandemic has challenged universities in ways we would have never imagined. What’s next? Many are the issues that International Relations offices and universities, in general, must reflect upon.

Covid-19 has challenged us in our daily life, and schools consequently. Governments were not prepared to face this emergency, even though it was evident to scientists that in a cause-effect mechanism if you challenge the earth-system you’ll get a return.

Within this context universities promptly reacted to the challenge, with huge efforts at the administration, teacher, and student levels. That said, lockdowns limited mobility and forced us to a different multicultural experience.

International offices were under stress as some students had to leave, others to come, others -again- to stay, some did not know how to get home given unclear conditions. Kudos to your office staff for the great work done.    

Do you also see opportunities, in this crisis? What are the lessons learned that universities should keep in mind when planning their offer?

You are asking me if I see the glass half full. Well, if I have to… Apart from jokes, we learned a plethora of platforms to deliver remote classes, introduced split and blended teaching modalities, explored different ways to do exams, and, most importantly, learned how to wash hands. Pros and cons. Indeed, recorded classes are a plus to refresh at home unclear concepts. Moreover, remote teaching and recorded material would make feasible new models of international teaching. As an example, consider a class at USI and the sister one at MIT. Educators of the two international universities share some lectures on specific course topics, others are recorded to deal with the time difference, assignments and labs are carried out locally. To me this represents a new dimension of teaching; given the pandemic, we partly explored a terrain and shed some light on possibilities: we cannot claim any more “hic sunt leones”.