Showcasing ERI policy: Swissnex at the Expo 2020 in Dubai

After a successful six months, the Expo 2020 in Dubai closed its tents at the end of March. The world exhibition also offered Switzerland the opportunity to present itself to a global audience, to showcase traditions and innovations, and to establish or deepen strategic partnerships. Education, research and innovation featured prominently at the Swiss pavilion.

A Swiss goldsmith and an Emirati colleague 'duel' in a friendly competition. Emirati Minister of Education Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi and Swiss Consul General Frank Eggmann observe their work. Photo: SERI

“A major event like an Expo provides an opportunity to present Swiss vocational education and training to an international audience,” states Martin Strickler, a subject matter expert who works for SERI's Bilateral Relations Section. Last December, he travelled to Dubai to take part in the "#learningtomorrow" theme week at the Swiss Pavilion. This event was intended specifically to highlight the Swiss model of vocational education and training.

Demonstrating key Swiss competence

The theme week was jointly planned by SERI and Swissnex, Switzerland's global network for education, research and innovation, in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland in the United Arab Emirates. “We conveyed key messages in Dubai, including the close correlation of VET programmes with the actual needs of the labour market, the dual-track principle of combining classroom instruction with workplace training, permeability within the education system and regular review and updating of training content in response to the changing needs of the given professional activity,” explains Strickler. State Secretary Martina Hirayama was also present in Dubai - but only in virtual form. In a recorded speech, she invited visitors to get to know and explore the federal education system.

Swiss professionals as goodwill ambassadors

For the theme week, SERI teamed up with the SwissSkills Foundation, which focuses on encouraging young professional talent. While preparing for the Expo, they identified VET graduates who could serve as goodwill ambassadors for Switzerland at this event. These were young people who had successfully competed in national or international skills competitions. Six of these goodwill ambassadors travelled to the United Arab Emirates for the event, attended several bilateral meetings, answered questions from the audience and demonstrated their professional skills. For example, a Swiss goldsmith competed in a friendly competition with an Emirati colleague from the industry. In addition to the professional delegations, the Minister of Education of the United Arab Emirates, Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, and the Minister of Education of Lombardy, Melania De Nichilo Rizzoli, also showed great interest in the events.

Bilateral exchange of Swiss and Emirati experts. In the photo: Professionals from both countries who took part in the WorldSkills competition. Photo: SERI

The idea behind the goodwill ambassador initiative was that by demonstrating expertise and know-how as well as professional success, this would encourage other young people to pursue vocational education training. Based on feedback from participants, this was exactly what happened. In addition, the visual design of the exhibition can be re-used in various contexts for years to come.

Roman Kern, interim head of the Swissnex Network at SERI, travelled to the UAE to visit the Expo and the Swiss Pavilion. This trip was also useful in preparation for the Expo 2025 in Osaka, where the new Swissnex office in Japan will play a leading role. Kern considers the World Expo in Dubai a success: “Many of our ERI partners are drawing international interest. This will hopefully result in long-term and mutually beneficial partnerships.”

An opportunity to network

Switzerland's vocational education and training system is just one aspect of Swiss ERI expertise that was presented at the Swiss Pavilion. The event also offered the opportunity for distinguished science and innovation protagonists to interact with one another. The EPFL - one of the world's most respected research and education institutions - was a prominent example. EPFL's presence in the Middle East dates back to 2009, long before the Expo, when it opened a branch in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (120 km north of Dubai).

For EPFL Middle East, the presence of Swissnex at the Expo was a stroke of good fortune, as its vice-director Fadi Bayoud reveals. “Swissnex activities gave EPFL representatives the opportunity to meet many academics at the Swiss and other pavilions. As a result, we met people with whom we wouldn't otherwise have direct contact - and this has helped us to expand our network.” As a case in point, EPFL Middle East will now launch a pioneering workshop on digital urban mobility in partnership with Swissnex Mobile at the Expo 2020 in Dubai, with Swissnex in India, and with the United Arab Emirates University.

Messages are displayed on the inside walls and edges of the 'fountains', and recordings are projected onto the floor from the ceiling. A screen in the room invites visitors to play an interactive game involving professional careers. Photo: SERI

In cooperation with Swissnex, the EPFL Space Center also organised a theme week on space and space research at the Expo (which coincided with the International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, where representatives of SERI's Space Office and Swissnex were also present). In addition to high-profile scientists from various countries, the former Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier and the former Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki were also present.

Swiss efforts pay off

It was precisely this kind of multi-faceted and interdisciplinary interaction that SERI wanted to encourage at the Expo. “Swissnex helped to connect the dots at the Swiss Pavilion, especially during the various events,” explains Dante Larini, Swissnex's project manager for the Swiss Pavilion in Dubai. By 'connecting the dots', he means creating contacts between stakeholders that offer the potential for future collaboration. “During the preparatory phase, we devoted a lot of time to selecting the right people for our presentations,” Larini explains. The effort seems to have paid off: “The events were lively thanks to the highly interactive nature of the activities and there was extensive interaction both with the speakers and among members of the audience.” One example of successful collaboration was the event on respect for cultural heritage with Dr Patrick Michel from the University of Lausanne and Prof. Grazia Tucci from the University of Florence, which led to further cooperation initiatives.

The project manager is pleased with the outcome of the Swiss presence in Dubai: “Based on the feedback we’ve received from participating universities, researchers and start-ups, as well as the reactions of visitors, our presence and participation in our events proved to be successful. Likewise, the indications pointing to future cooperation are also very encouraging.”

Further information

Roman Kern, SERI
Interim Head of Swissnex Network