New Forms of University Life

The ETH Strategic Foresight Hub launched an Essay Contest on the topic “Hybrid University”. What hybrid also means in a university context will be discussed in this article.

by Polykum Redaktion

by Nikolaus von Moos

When I hear the word hybrid, I first think of hybrid cars. Somehow this analogy has stuck in my mind. More generally spoken, the word is defined as something that combines two other things, something mixed.

In order to look at the term in a university context, I went around the lecture hall and asked four colleagues for their point of view concerning two questions.

What does the word hybrid mean to you in the university context?

From the four people, I received three main concepts. Two people see it mostly as a “mixture of learning in presence at university, such as lectures or exercises, and remote learning, which can be carried out anywhere, such as quizzes or self-study sessions”. The second concept is also related to studying. For this person, hybrid means a “mixture of practical and theoretical studies”.

The third concept has more a biological and technical background, which is shown by the statement that the word hybrid is seen as the “fusion or more specifically the interbreeding of two populations with different genetic background” or the “combination of different technical concepts”.

Is ETH already a “Hybrid University”?

The binary answers to this question distribute themselves on three times yes and one time no. For the yes camp, both ETH’s efforts to include practical courses during the curriculum and the quest of our university to develop new learning elements, especially also online (e.g the Center of Active Learning CAL), were decisive.

However, one person stated feeling that these elements are mainly restricted to the first year of the Bachelor’s degree, resulting in less variety of learning methods the further the studies progress. The reason for one person’s no was that, besides the possibility to either attend classes or watch the live stream or recording, there was no other hybrid studying offer at ETH.


The variety of answers shows the diversity in the discussion about the subject “Hybrid University”. As we look around in the tertiary education landscape, we see some institutions providing hybrid education. For example, Penn State University in Pennsylvania, USA. They refer to the definition of hybrid learning as an approach combining face-to-face classroom instruction with online activities.

This approach has emerged especially during the Covid pandemic, however we are interested in the hybrid concepts dominating in twenty or thirty years. And that’s exactly where the Strategic Foresight Hub comes in.

Strategic Foresight Hub (SFH)

Its goal is to discuss, detect and reflect on long-term trends and plausible futures to keep ETH Zurich future-fit in the long term. The SFH is currently exploring the term of hybridization in the context of the university. This is ranging from hybrid presence (physical – digital) to cognitive hybridization (human intelligence – AI) to the hybridisation of subjects and much more… And the team wants your view, dear reader. So, if you want to share it, you can take part in the 2040 Essay Contest. Just scan the QR code above and describe your vision of a “Hybrid University”. So that also our children and grandchildren have the possibility for excellent education in Switzerland and can get the tools to tackle the world’s most important problems and issues.

Nikolaus von Moos, 23, studies Health Science and Technology in the 6. semester. While writing this article, he realised how interesting and challenging at the same time it is to try to discover possible future trends from a present standpoint.

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