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Einstein Academy: big science in vocational education

If it is up to vocational education in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine, every student in the future will get to know the Einstein Telescope. That world-class science installation requires the support from many hundreds of subject experts, including from secondary and higher vocational education. From ICT professionals and structural engineers to hoteliers, the new cooperation project Einstein Academy aims to prepare them all to contribute to this unique project.

The Einstein Telescope means opportunities for the border region of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, say educational institutions in Dutch Limburg. With their new partnership Einstein Academy, they want to prepare their students for all the high-tech installations, infrastructure and facilities needed. We talk to André Postema (president Zuyd University of Applied Sciences) and Ferdinand van Kampen (strategic advisor VISTA college) about big science in vocational education.

André Postema - credit: Zuyd Hogeschool
André Postema (credit: Zuyd University of Applied Sciences)
What is the Einstein Academy?

André Postema (AP): “The Einstein Academy is a partnership of Euregional vocational education in Dutch and Belgian Limburg, and North Rhine-Westphalia, to implement the human capital agenda of the Einstein Telescope. After all, as soon as the observatory is awarded to the Euregio Meuse-Rhine, we have to be ready to handle the design, construction, commissioning and maintenance of the facility. The Einstein Academy will train the necessary professionals.”

Who are involved?

AP: “At the moment, participants include Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, HAS Green Academy, VISTA College, Gilde Opleidingen and Yuverta from Dutch Limburg. Furthermore, we are seeking international cooperation with the Belgian University Colleges Leuven-Limburg and PXL (Hasselt), and the German Fachhochschule Aachen. The Einstein Academy may have started in Dutch Limburg, but the aim is to hook as many partners from all corners of the Euroregion as possible.

We will start developing the programme right after the summer, jointly by the participating educational institutions. Students will then be able to participate in this programme from 2025 onwards from their existing study programme: entirely or for parts. The aim is that this will lead to an additional certificate or supplement to it.”

Ferdinand van Kampen - credit Eline Dabekaussen
Ferdinand van Kampen (credit: Eline Dabekaussen)
Why is vocational education so important for the Einstein Telescope?

Ferdinand van Kampen (FvK): “Stories about the Einstein Telescope often start with gravitational waves, the distant universe. That’s exciting for scientists, but the first people to get to work with the Einstein Telescope will come from vocational schools. They will build the underground corridors, install the data centres, make equipment. We want to train the experts who can do all that.”

What specifically will students notice about the Einstein Academy?

FvK: “There will not be a separate course for the Einstein Telescope; in principle, everyone in our existing courses can come into contact with it. For example, as a case in a technical design course or even in the hospitality management course. After all, the Einstein Telescope is going to attract all kinds of international experts; they also want to live somewhere and use facilities. Those are all opportunities for people from vocational education.”

AP: “At its core, this is an opportunity for engineering courses such as engineering, construction, mechatronics, photonics and optics, and for ICT and computer science courses such as computer science, applied data sciences and artificial intelligence. In addition, the Einstein Telescope is also of interest to a wider range of courses in area development, business administration and facilities management, among others.”

Engineering students - Zuyd Hogeschool
And what does society gain?

FvK: “We see the Einstein Telescope as a great booster for the economy in the border region. In the form of direct employment, of course, because all that high-tech equipment has to be designed, installed and maintained. But also indirectly: the lessons companies learn at the Einstein Telescope are going to be applied elsewhere. This continues to generate new activity, as you see around the CERN science centre in Geneva.

Compare it to hybrid cars: they originally came from the world of Formula 1. Similarly, companies are going to develop all kinds of high-end technology for the Einstein Telescope, which will then have other applications.”

AP: “With the Einstein Academy, we take our responsibility as vocational education to ensure that we will soon actually have the knowledge and people to design, build, operate and maintain the facility. That will give a boost to our education, a boost to the facility and a boost to the supplying industry in the region.”

Engineering students - Zuyd Hogeschool
What if the Einstein Telescope should not come to our border area?

FvK: “In fact, the Einstein Telescope is already here to some extent. Maastricht University is home to the test facility ETpathfinder, for which companies in the area are already carrying out orders. ETpathfinder will continue to test future upgrades during the lifetime of the Einstein Telescope, so it will remain relevant wherever the observatory goes. And the high-tech knowledge we offer—managing data centres, for example—is relevant to numerous big societal questions. Embarking on the Einstein Telescope is a no-regret project; it is always worth preparing for it.”

Finally, do you have a wish for the future?

FvK: “The Einstein Telescope is going to have a huge impact on its surroundings. I hope we get to build and use it here together, taking our region to a higher stage.”

AP: “Our proposition for the Einstein Academy is a great example of Euroregional cooperation at all levels of vocational education. That tastes like a lot more.”

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