IT Study Plan in Istria Connects Students, Companies and Freelancers

Lauren Simmonds

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Sergej Novosel Vuckovic writes on the 12th of September, 2019, Giorgio Sinković is the Dean of the Faculty of Informatics in Pula, Istria (FIPU), a scientific and educational institution that has been an independent entity since last year, and he sat down to discuss the Croatian brain drain, education and the economy.

Students are offered attractive educational programs to learn about blockchain, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, etc. Owing to that, educated individuals manage to remain desirable and competitive in the ever-growing and ever talent-hungry IT workforce market.

Professor Sinković talks about enrollment at FIPU, which lasts until September the 17th, the harmonisation of education and economy, digitisation and the impact of information and communication technologies on the local, Istrian economy, which is often mistakenly perceived only as tourist oriented.

Although the teaching of informatics in Pula has existed for 15 years within the Faculty of Economics and Tourism, only since last year has there formally been a Faculty within the University of Juraj Dobrila. One academic year has ended and a new one is coming, has anything changed?

The Faculty of Informatics in Pula was registered at the Commercial Court in Pazin on May the 17th, 2018. Its roots can be traced back to 2004, when the undergraduate study of business informatics began to be carried out within the Faculty of Economics and Tourism, and the undergraduate study of informatics started from 2011, first as a separate department within the Faculty of Economics and Tourism, and ever since the 1st of October 2015, a graduate study of informatics was launched and a Department for Information and Communication Technologies was established at the university level.

Changes had to be made gradually to ensure that there were competent staff who had the right type of experience. The founding of the faculty was a great impetus for the further development of studies, as some independence was achieved in planning and the creating of the business policy. The result is, for example, an improved study structure and cooperation with economic and other environmental organisations.

We see things on portals and social networks that this is a state-of-the-art college. In what way does that manifest?

It’s a new sort of environment with young staff who aren’t burdened with the past and are thinking about the future without such restrictions. Although the study program is modelled after other similar study programs in the Republic of Croatia, for which we’ve received a permit for implementation, we have included a dozen elective, attractive courses that allow students to focus on their preferences within the program. By connecting with the local economy and with world-renowned scientists, we’re striving to organise attractive lectures and professional practices to help students follow the trends of ICT development.

Which courses do you deem to be the most attractive in luring prospective students?

Recent attractive courses include Blockchain applications, computer games design and programming, mobile applications, functional programming, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, business intelligence systems, dynamic web applications, and more than twenty other courses that address the foundations and upgrades of ICT. In addition to the courses themselves, we strive to attract students to get involved in various projects to broaden their knowledge and gain the necessary experience. In collaboration with the subject teachers, gifted students also publish scientific papers at national and international conferences. The Faculty encourages and provides financial support for such activities.

How many students are already attending college and how many places are scheduled for the 2019/2020 academic year?

There are about 500 students together at the Faculty of Informatics at undergraduate and graduate levels. This year, we want to enroll 100 full-time and 40 part-time students in undergraduate studies, and graduate studies have two fields and we have quotas of 40 full-time and 20 part-time students for informatics. Regarding graduate studies, it’s likely that we’ll fill the quota with full-time students, while for undergraduate studies it will be somewhat more difficult. Unfortunately, the general trend of the population declining has affected the number of students enrolled in our study. In terms of part-time studies, we’ve been seeing a decline in interest in this form of study for years.

What titles are acquired after the completion of a particular study?

Upon completion of undergraduate studies, graduates gain the title of Bachelor of Informatics, and after graduation, the title of Master of Informatics (Mag.inf.) Or Master of Education in Informatics (Mag.educ.inf.).

It is always emphasised that educational programs must be aligned with the needs of the labour market. Your college educates for highly sought after professions. How much did you adapt to the labour market needs of the economy?

The practice confirms that our students usually find a job before graduation. This is, on the one hand, the result of the demand for such staff, but also of our efforts to involve students in the work of business entities through the organisation of professional practice and cooperation with the economy. The study programs, especially electives, are done in agreement with our business partners. In addition, experts are invited to guest lectures that highlight topics of particular interest to particular business organisations.

What is the relationship between science and the local economy like? Talking about the Istria IT Land initiative, what does it represent?

Istria IT Land is a platform that will contribute to the development of the IT industry in Istria and make it a recognisable hub in Croatia and throughout the region. The main goals are to increase the attractiveness of design and the development of IT solutions in Istria, to connect companies, freelancers and students, to encourage entrepreneurship and offer a joint appearance in the international market. At the end of the year, an informal initiative will be formalised by establishing an association of the same name, in order to further achieve the set goals and facilitate operational action. In addition to IT, the platform’s activities would also cover related areas of marketing, graphic design and multimedia.

What do you think of the ”brain drain”, of most people who work in IT from Croatia? Can it be suppressed, should it be stopped at all, how can it be mitigated?

The brain drain is an old phenomenon that gained more momentum when Croatia joined the EU. If we look at the statistics of the reasons why young people leave, we see that salaries aren’t actually the most important motive for leaving, but more often than not, it’s the general climate and a sense of an uncertain future. Generally speaking, it’s not bad for people to gain international experience if this will ultimately reflect positively on the lives of those who remain in the Republic of Croatia. So, they will either return after a few years or otherwise transfer their acquired knowledge and experience back to their homeland. It’s our task to create a stimulating climate for all types of social and economic development.

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