The AGROfutur is now

Study reform with a participatory approach

  • Studium

The demands on agricultural science graduates are diverse and constantly changing. Therefore, a study programme must also be revised again and again. The last study reform, AGROfutur, came into force in 2016.

How do you teach agricultural science students to think critically in five years, to quickly recognise undesirable developments, to develop and review approaches to solutions, to apply scientific findings and new technical possibilities in practice, to discuss with a wide circle of “stakeholders” and to take on leadership roles? The challenge of answering this question was taken up by a team consisting of the director of studies, the coordinator, the head of the internship service, the department’s teaching specialist and a specialist in didactics.

An innovative approach

The demands on the reform were by no means modest. The aim was to offer excellent teaching that stands out internationally and enables students to enter professional life easily. In order to achieve this goal, a participatory approach was chosen that has become a model at ETH today.

During four years, discussions were held with students, lecturers and professionals, many of whom had studied at ETH themselves. The process started with a two-day kick-off attended by more than 40 people. It was very important to the core team that students were also involved in all decisions.

In this way, weaknesses of the old system could be uncovered and new demands created by technical and ecological change could be defined. It quickly became clear that there was a need for action in three areas in particular: the practical relevance of training, interdisciplinary expertise and the comparability of professional qualifications.

Innovations in the Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes

The first step in the process was to define what skills students should acquire during the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes. The diversity of these skills represents the diversity of the agronomic profession. Based on the qualification profiles, new courses were created or existing ones were adapted.

2016 was the year

Finally, in September 2016, the first Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes started in the new system. As is usual with such a comprehensive reform, teething problems were still apparent at the beginning and some of the innovations were not only met with understanding by the sceptical students.

Discussion rounds with all participants were and are held at regular intervals in order to meet the high expectations of the students.

Group photo at the end of the third AGROfutur retreat, April 2015.
(Photo: IAS, ETH Zurich)

The most important innovations in the Bachelor’s programme

  • The first year: the basis is expanded
  • In addition to the basic science subjects such as biology, chemistry and mathematics, agricultural science subject content is now a compulsory part of the basic year. These include, for example, the three lectures on the subjects of crops, farm animals and agricultural economics in the world food system.

  • The second year: practical work is included
  • During the third and fourth semesters, central specialised courses from all three specialisations and basic natural science subjects are compulsory for all students. After the fourth semester, all students complete a ten-week internship on a mixed farm at the same time.

  • The second year: practical work is included
  • In the fifth semester, a compulsory laboratory science internship takes place and skills in scientific writing, data analysis and various forms of presentation are rounded off, so that the Bachelor’s thesis in the sixth semester can be seen as testing the sum of the skills trained.

    The most important innovations in the Master’s programme

    Before starting the Master’s degree programme, students choose, as before, from the three specialisations of agricultural economics, plant science and animal science the one in which they would like to specialise.

  • Acquiring interdisciplinary expertise
  • The range of courses remains as before, only the interdisciplinary project work is expanded. More emphasis is placed on the more intensive teaching and direct application and reflection of interdisciplinary expertise such as teamwork, project management and giving feedback.

  • Learning the language of science
  • With few exceptions, the language of instruction for the courses is now English. This also makes the Master’s degree programme in Agricultural Sciences more attractive for international students.

  • Gaining experience in the world of work
  • A professional internship of at least 16 weeks becomes compulsory. This extends the standard duration of the study programme by one semester to two years, making it possible to incorporate experience from working life in administration, private-sector companies, development cooperation or the field of start-ups into the final courses of the degree programme.