EPFL launches new classes in management and finance

Starting in September 2020, Bachelor’s students will have the option to take new classes in management and finance. Offered by the College of Management of Technology (CDM), these classes are designed to equip future engineering graduates with broad, versatile skillsets.
© 2020 EPFL

Starting in September 2020, Bachelor’s students will have the option to take new classes in management and finance. Offered by the College of Management of Technology (CDM), these classes are designed to equip future engineering graduates with broad, versatile skillsets.

The Social and Human Sciences (SHS) program is an integral part of the Bachelor’s program at EPFL, with a wide range of classes covering subjects such as engineering, technology and logistics. Starting in September, students will be able to choose from new classes in economics, entrepreneurship, finance, politics in times of crisis, and more. As the COVID-19 pandemic grips the world, the revamped study plan couldn’t have come at a better time. Yet in what might be described as an example of forward thinking, the Vice Presidency for Education actually proposed the idea back in summer 2019, with work beginning on the new classes a few weeks later.

“Bachelor’s students have to take two SHS credits per semester,” explains CDM director Dominique Foray. “Until now, the program has largely revolved around traditional humanities and social sciences subjects like sociology, as well as general knowledge. We realized there was unmet demand for something different, so we’re launching new management science classes to fill that gap. We also found that Bachelor’s students who went on to study a Master’s degree tended to gravitate toward the Management, Technology and Entrepreneurship program. By introducing these subjects earlier, at the Bachelor’s level, we hope to broaden students’ options, inspire a passion for management and finance, and encourage more of them to enroll in one of our Master’s courses.”

When classes resume in the fall, Bachelor’s students will have eight standalone classes – worth two credits each – to choose from. The built-in flexibility means students will, for instance, have the option to switch between CDM and SHS classes in the third and fourth years of their Bachelor’s program, while more practical-minded students will be able to select those subjects that most closely align with their future career plans.

The new classes are designed to help prepare students for working life – an aspect that university programs typically overlook, meaning students aren’t able to hit the ground running when they make the transition from study to the workplace. “Companies have long recognized the technical skills and expertise that engineering-school graduates bring to the table,” says Foray. “But these graduates have typically lacked the business and financial acumen they need to progress to senior management roles. These classes address this knowledge gap. We believe all students should leave EPFL with a solid foundation in economics, management and finance.”

EPFL is known for fostering an entrepreneurial spirit on campus, and many current students will likely go on to found their own companies. The skills they learn in these new classes will serve them well in the future. That’s because running a successful business isn’t just about crunching scientific data – it also demands the ability to write an effective business plan. “Students tend to overlook the fact that, if they want to build a viable business around a piece of technology, they need to grasp the numbers behind it,” adds Foray. “Turning an innovative idea into a mass-market product takes a lot of preparation and planning, all of which requires a firm understanding of economics, management and finance.”

Interdisciplinary approaches

The CDM management and finance program serves as a link between management and science, offering a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical skills – with a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches. “Some business-school finance professors have never taught engineering students,” says Foray. “At EPFL, we’re keen to work with finance specialists who, for instance, recognize the potential of financial technology and want to further research in this field. At CDM, we see interdisciplinary approaches as an important part of how we’ll grow in stature.”

Perfect timing

The new classes, covering subjects like the innovation economy, technology, economics, and politics in times of crisis, are timed perfectly. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare a fundamental imbalance between an overcrowded drug research market and a sparsely populated vaccine development sector. While this mismatch is problematic from an economic standpoint, it also offers significant commercial opportunities. “All these issues come under the banner of the innovation economy, a subject covered in our program,” adds Foray. “Likewise, technology, economics and politics apply in many other fields and disciplines, such as climate change. That’s why these new classes will prove so useful for our students.”

In time, CDM plans to add more classes to the menu of options as it looks to shape a comprehensive program and give students even greater freedom of choice – from innovation, policy, entrepreneurship and management science to game theory, microfinance, sustainable finance and environmental economics.

The program will equip future engineers with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in today’s world. But space is limited to 80 students per class, allocated on a first come, first served basis.