A hundred years ago, the worker in the “belly” of the steel mill had no idea that a century later his great-granddaughter would be able to walk on the same floor to take advanced university courses at a multilingual international university. Amazing. But basically not so different from the migratory routes that made the golden age of the Luxembourg steel industry.
In a country that made its money from industry and then embraced the world of finance, higher education and university research are now one of the new vectors of growth in the country. An ambitious gamble which, in less than two decades, has proven its worth and is bearing fruit.
A turning point at the beginning of 2000
It was in 2003 that everything changed. Wishing to play a decisive role in the knowledge economy and to contribute to scientific innovation on a global scale, the brand new Public University of Luxembourg has just been born. The majority of its Faculties moved onto the Belval site between 2011 and 2015, around the blast furnaces, in new buildings that are as daring as they are functional, elegantly integrated into the industrial heritage.
Management students, the most popular course of study at the University of Luxembourg with its 377 students, quickly flocked to the university. In La Maison du Nombre, they are trained in banking and insurance professions, among other things, or choose applied economics. Mathematics, human resources management, accounting, descriptive statistics, when your brain overheats, all you have to do is go outside to get some fresh air and enjoy the elegantly landscaped urban environment in a post-industrial setting.
At the Maison du Livre, an architectural jewel that has preserved the metal structure of the old Möllerei and is now adorned with a carapace of steel triangles and silk-screened glass, they meet the students of the Bachelor of Educational Sciences or Computer Science courses in a studious atmosphere. Then they also meet at the Maison des Arts et des Étudiants, this time in a more festive atmosphere. One day, a student cultural event brings everyone together in a frenzy. The next day, a student concert draws fans to the multi-purpose hall. And so on.
You can’t get much more international
In just 16 years, the fledgling university has defied all predictions. It has managed to make its mark. Today it welcomes 6,714 students, 270 professors and more than 1,700 researchers, including 440 postdocs. “We are considered by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings to be the most international university in the world,” Rector Stéphane Pallage proudly tells Le Quotidien newspaper.
It is true that we are daily living the European dream of multicultural coexistence and teaching in several languages, in particular French, English and German. Students are encouraged to spend a semester abroad. Undergraduates and PhD students come from 25 different countries, often from as far away as India and Australia. Faculty and visiting professors are recruited from the best universities around the world.
Starting with the Rector, a Belgian who has had a long career at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), from which he has drawn an approach at the axis of European and American methods: teaching that is better attuned to the needs of the market and better aligned with the innovations of the professional world, and courses given in smaller groups.
“A student who comes to us will rarely have classes in a 500-seat auditorium that is full,” Stéphane Pallage went on to say in an interview with Le Quotidien. This may happen on the first and last day of his course, but in reality he will benefit from real interaction with his teacher, something we don’t often see in Europe.”
Focusing on research, the University also derives its reputation from its three interdisciplinary centres, the Interdisciplinary Centre in Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT), the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) and the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH).
“We are a special university that was built in a very visionary way,” adds Stéphane Pallage. It is resolutely modern and interdisciplinary. This is a strength, since contemporary problems are so complex that often a multi-disciplinary perspective turns out to be necessary. When an economist interacts with a scientific biologist and a IT specialist, we often find ourselves with much greater potential for innovation than if an economist confines himself to his peers. ”
Belval, an exceptional campus
University students have the privilege of being the local residents who frequent the Terrasse des Hauts-Fourneaux the most. Their City of Science campus is built around an exceptional universe, all around the iron and concrete structures of the former industrial facilities.
At the heart of the architectural site, the Maison du Savoir is built with presence. Its 18-storey tower houses the University’s administrative centre. Its horizontal, bridge-like structure houses the entire lecturing infrastructure, twelve auditoriums, 60 seminar rooms, informal meeting spaces and exhibition areas.
In addition to the Maison du Livre, the Maison du Nombre and the Maison des Arts et des Étudiants, the campus is complemented by the Maison des Sciences Humaines, a building with a very clean shape consisting of a compact volume laid out on a glazed, transparent ground floor, and the Natural Sciences pole formed by the Maisons des Sciences de la Vie, de l’Environnement et des Matériaux. Add to this the Maison de l’Innovation, located in the middle of the industrial remains, and the engineers’ test facilities, located east of the Terrasse des Hauts-Fourneaux.
Few European universities offer such an environment.
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