The Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) has been in Oeiras since 2000, when it opened a new campus that aims to materialise the vision of teaching engineering, science and technology based on the connection between the university and companies. Rogério Colaço, president of the IST, talks about the growth potential of this hub and the opportunities that he believes exist for the creation of technological-based entrepreneurship initiatives and for the enhancement of knowledge transfer vis-à-vis the ecosystem in which it operates.
The Instituto Superior Técnico (IST) was created by Alfredo Bensaúde, in 1911, with the objective of training civil engineers. Over practically a century of history it grew and became the largest school of engineering, science and technology in the country. But at the turn of the last century, the need for expansion led the institution to extend its activities from Alameda, in the centre of Lisbon, to Oeiras, more specifically to Taguspark. It is here, considered the largest technological park in the country, that the IST carries forward the format on which its training is based: “hands on”. On this campus, the institute combines teaching and research, supported by some of the most innovative scientific laboratories it has set up there.
In an interview with Oeiras Valley, Rogério Colaço, president of the IST, explains the main areas of operation and the main distinguishing factors of this campus, also emphasising the advantages of the IST being based in Oeiras.
What are the major advantages of the Institute being based in Oeiras?
Here, our operation has a significant advantage over, for example, our Lisbon hub: it has the opportunity to grow and it has the opportunity to shape itself to the future, creating new initiatives. This area where we are, with a series of companies around us, is a site with enormous potential for creating initiatives, particularly in the area of technology-based entrepreneurship and the enhancement of transfer of the knowledge that is generated here.
Therefore, here we have a huge capacity to grow within this ecosystem, which, incidentally, was the initial idea. When Taguspark’s science and technology park is built and the Institute comes here, the idea is this: to create a system where there is self-fertilisation driven by companies, knowledge institutions, research institutions only – such as the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) — and research and training institutions — like the Instituto Superior Técnico. Therefore, the initial idea is to create a pulsating system in which there is mutual nutrition for all these institutions. At the moment, this is what we have, and it is time to give what we engineers call “impulse”: to start it moving until it is unstoppable. That is what we are trying to do.
“We have a huge capacity to grow within this ecosystem”
With the knowledge that we have at the Institute in these areas and with the departments and centres that we have here, with the companies that we have around us, and with the opportunity to grow in area, creating initiatives that expand, the area of technology-based entrepreneurship and the creation of spin-offs is very big. We have to take advantage of this to boost the local area, the Instituto Superior Técnico and the country.
The IST and the Oeiras City Council recently signed a memorandum of understanding. What is its significance?
The memorandum is the result of an academic institution such as the Instituto Superior Técnico and the Municipality of Oeiras joining forces around a common project. It is developing the ecosystem in this region, bringing life, activity, dynamism, training and knowledge to the local area. One of the things that also results from our Memorandum of Understanding is support from the City Council in improving the landscape surrounding our site.
The Institute already has some partnership projects with institutions in the municipality. Can you tell us about some of them?
At this point, what we have done is to kick-start the establishment of cooperation agreements with various companies and institutions that surround us here in various areas. We are surrounded by a group of companies mainly in the area of information and communication technologies, which we have contacted, we have brought them in to see what is done here and what we may be useful for. We have several areas: games, robotic speech, space. We have a very interesting initiative here that nobody knows exists, which is the construction of a satellite that, if all goes well, we be launched at the beginning of next year; we have the sea area; the area of space and aerospace engineering. These are all areas in which we are skilled here, at a site that is opportune for growth, so there are “highways” to take that which we do to those who can use and take advantage of these initiatives.
That is our where we are directing our efforts and that is what we have been doing in recent months with the support of Taguspark SA – also highly committed to the consolidation of the institute – Oeiras City Council and the surrounding companies.
Are you already taking advantage of the technological ecosystem that is here in some way? Can you give specific examples of partnerships you are working on?
We are launching our first projects, but at the moment I cannot talk about them. But things are going to happen. A year from now I will be able to say something.
What are the main distinguishing factors of IST training?
The training model followed by the Institute’s students is based on two fronts: classes and a “hands-on” training component. Now we are in the twenty-first century, this “hands-on” training is essentially given to students of different study stages through laboratories that are specially designed for training or for research. In other words, what distinguishes the training given at the Instituto Superior Técnico is that it is done in class and in research: research done by its teachers and professors and by its students, who are brought into the laboratories during the training by their teachers. Therefore, here, or in any part of Institute, there are normal classrooms and teaching laboratories and research laboratories, which are used by students at more advanced stages of study: master’s degrees and doctorates.
And when it comes to research, what areas make this campus distinctive?
The main areas that we currently have with laboratory support and that make us distinctive are information and communication technologies, especially with a large research centre at the Instituto Superior Técnico, the INESC; we have an entire component of laboratory support for industrial management, namely in the areas of logistics, through the Institute’s industrial management research centre, the CEGIST; we have underwater and aquatic robotics, which we thought a few years ago would be good to set up here at Taguspark due to the proximity of the sea and the ease of doing certain field experiments with greater proximity.
“Here where we are, in Oeiras — due to the conditions we can offer, with the beach two kilometres away and with this setting in a beautiful valley — there is great potential for creating a dynamic of attracting international students.”
Then, we have a new area that we have started to open this year — and that next year we will have a master’s degree in, for the first time — which is biotechnology and cell and tissue engineering. Next year, we will start a master’s degree in biomedical engineering and precision medicine, which takes advantage of the laboratory infrastructure that already exists here.
An important factor is also the internationalisation component. Next year, for the first time at Instituto Superior Técnico and here at Taguspark, we will receive a group of American students. We will base them here, and we will train them under a dual degree arrangement in engineering and industrial management. This is another important front.
Here where we are, in Oeiras — due to the conditions we can offer, with the beach two kilometres away and with this setting in a beautiful valley — there is great potential for creating a dynamic of attracting international students. Foreign students also come looking for beautiful places.
Do the Institute’s students on this campus share common characteristics?
We welcome the best students in the country and it is a privilege to teach these young people. Naturally, those who are here at this hub are mainly students in the areas of information technology, information and communication technologies: computer engineering, telecommunications engineering and electronic engineering. These students have a certain technical background per se. Then there are the students of engineering and industrial management, which is also a course very much focused on data analysis, but also on entrepreneurship and the interface between engineering, management and economics. These students also arrive here with a different background and with different career goals. But the characteristic common to all of the Institute’s students, and the students here at Taguspark are no different in this respect, is that they are excellent students, with an enormous capacity for work.
How would you like to see this campus ten years from now?
Ten years from now, this hub must be — and it will be, I am absolutely sure — a tour de force, with facilities and an environment appropriate to that which an academic and university site should be. And then, in three or four areas in which it has every opportunity to be, it should be an example of that which is done best in our country and internationally. At our hub in Oeiras, there are three or four areas here — industrial management, information and communication technology and subspecialties in these areas — which I think will develop in ten years, allowing us to reach these levels of excellence, which is always our goal.