Bocconi, how the tech turning point was born

Bocconi, how the tech turning point was born


The championship has been won, but the coach will leave the bench on 31 October after six years at the helm. "As the English say, mine is a bittersweet feeling: I am happy to have completed the cycle, but there is a bit of nostalgia", confesses Gianmario Verona, rector of Bocconi University until the end of the month when the soft passage of deliveries with Francesco Billari, a colleague who for years was his Vice Rector in via Sarfatti. Verona became the number one of the most famous Italian university of social sciences in 2016, today it seems prehistoric: “The indicators tell us that it went very well, despite the complexity of the context. The year I started was Brexit, with its wave of populism and the belief that skills no longer mattered. It is one of the most anti-academic things ever, we had to do a cultural battle because that idea is the opposite of what is needed in an articulated and complex world like ours ".

In the middle of Verona's three two-year mandates there was also Covid-19 which did not slow down Bocconi: the university has become more international, with 25% of professors and 22.5% of students from abroad, and more open to innovation. “We have pushed the accelerator on the data substantially. We are not engineers, but in all our fields of research, economics, law and political science, data has become central with algorithms and artificial intelligence that help make decisions and shape scenarios. We were not behind, but we had to make a qualitative leap to speed up the change and stay at the top ", explains the rector who in the first months of his mandate had made us understand the direction of the new era by starting the Python course for students.

“A computer science department wow”

“We opened a computer science department and hired theoretical and mathematical physicists who deal with cyber security and everything related to it with the management of large and small data models. And this - reveals Verona - required a commitment of economic resources with a fundraising on the market, without removing resources from the other departments, and a political effort to make our academic world understand the scale of the challenge and not to become a computer science faculty but to strengthen everything else in a world that has changed. It was a great achievement of Bocconi ”.

Contamination and horizontality are two key words of the rectorate of Verona which from the beginning has been able to force all students (not at all reluctant) to learn the basics of programming. “Now we are strong in modern social sciences, the ones that really matter and where not only econometrics is used, but also the typical modeling of physics to aggregate data as in supercomputers. We have hired important professors Marc Mézard, professor of theoretical physics, former rector of the École norma supérieure and Bocconi since February, Luca Trevisan, who will deal with algorithms and computational complexity, and Alon Rosen, cryptographer directly from Tel Aviv. High-level characters that allow us to have a really wow computer science department ”.

Verona leaves a Bocconi in fourth place in Europe for social sciences, behind the big British Oxford, Cambridge and London School of Economics. “In the world we are in the top 20. We are facing the A-league, with the unshakeable records of Harvard, MIT of Boston, Princeton. Being able to climb the rankings and compete with these universities is important because the rankings mean that students find jobs and that the research of teachers published in international journals. In short, when you are at the top it means that you are doing well ”.

Partners in the world and in Milan

Results achieved, Verona claims, also thanks to the partnerships that have made it possible to expand the training offer under the banner of multidisciplinarity. Today Bocconi has 287 partner universities in the world (there were 259 in 2016), with 35 of which it also has double degree agreements (there were 26 in 2016). “We have always had good international relations, the distinctive thing of the last six years has been the partnerships at the local level”, explains Verona. Two master's degree courses are held with the Politecnico di Milano, in Cyber ​​Risk Strategy and Governance from 2019/20 and in Transformative sustainability from this academic year, but relations are solid with all the universities in Milan. "A collaboration - recalls the rector - that has seen the four universities become the Ellis Unit of Milan, the laboratory that brings together the best academic resources for the development of AI and machine learning in Europe of which Bocconi is the leader".

Openness to the outside, concludes Verona, "is the essence of modern innovation because you can never do it alone. We need to innovate by learning and taking ideas from others ". This applies to the academic world, but not only: "Today the skills and knowledge are there, they must only be applied and an extra effort is needed to bring industry and science closer to bring knowledge to the market". To do this, Verona will still be on the sidelines, as president of the Human Technopole and in his old role: “I want to continue to be a professor who deals with innovation”.

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