Between past and future
The origins and birth of SUPSI
In the mid-1990s, Switzerland enacted a federal law to promote the establishment and development of Universities of Applied Sciences and Arts (UASA), establishing the conditions under which tertiary education and applied research activities can be recognised as UASA. On this basis, on 11 March 1997 Ticino's Grand Council declared SUPSI to be established as an autonomous public-law body. In accordance with the Federal Law, SUPSI is assigned the mandate to provide practice-oriented teaching and to carry out its activities in four areas: Undergraduate and Graduate Studies, Continuing Education, Applied Research and Local Services. SUPSI was created from the integration of existing professional schools and research institutes in the area - the STS Electronic Engineering Section (Scuola tecnica superiore - STS), SSAA College of Applied Arts (Scuola superiore di arti applicate), SSQEA College for Financial and Administrative Managers (Scuola superiore per i quadri dell'economia e dell'amministrazione - SSQEA), Institute CIM - Computer Integrated Manufacturing (Centro CIM della Svizzera italiana - ICIMSI), ICTS Cantonal Experimental Technical Institution (Istituto cantonale tecnico sperimentale), Cantonal Geological and Hydrological Institute (Istituto geologico e idrologico cantonale) - enabling it to commence its educational and research activities a few months after its establishment. The process of amalgamating existing specialised schools was completed with the integration of the College of Social Work, soon established by the Canton of Ticino, giving rise to SUPSI's fifth department, the Department of Social Work (DLS). The degree course in social education is thus added to the existing courses in visual communication, interior design, architectural decoration, civil engineering, architecture, business administration, IT and electronics. In its first year, SUPSI had 224 students in Undergraduate and Graduate Studies, 1,247 participants in Continuing Education courses and 73 active projects in the field of Applied Research.
The 1990s were greeted with the integration of the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence Studies (IDSIA). This internationally renowned institute became shared by SUPSI and USI, enriching the university system in Ticino and Switzerland with a structure of great scientific value.
In 2000, the first SUPSI degrees were awarded in architecture, civil engineering, computer science, electronics, interior design, visual communication, conservation and restoration, business administration and social work: an important step towards consolidating the School's Undergraduate and Graduate Studies.
The early 2000s were characterised by an organisational restructuring decided by the School Council: the five departments were reduced to three (Environment Constructions and Design, Business and Social Sciences, Innovative Technologies), including the previously autonomous research institutes, while the General Management and the Enlarged Management were replaced by a SUPSI Executive consisting of the three departmental directors and the Director General of the School.
In 2004, the Fernfachhochschule Schweiz (FFHS) became affiliated to SUPSI: a collaboration that from the outset proved to be very successful and productive, both in terms of its projection beyond the cantonal borders and the impetus given by the didactic use of distance learning technologies. Two years later, the Accademia Teatro Dimitri and the Conservatorio della Svizzera italiana - University School of Music were added, bringing the number of SUPSI-affiliated schools to three. The affiliation formula contributes perfectly to ensuring the balance between integration where appropriate and autonomy where necessary, giving the art schools the necessary flexibility to move within a legislative framework originally designed for other types of schools.
2006 saw the establishment of a new healthcare training department: the Department of Health Sciences, which succeeded the cantonal schools of similar orientation and formed part of SUPSI in the same way as the other departments. The activities of the newly-established Department of Health Sciences began with three degree courses - physiotherapy, occupational therapy and nursing care - and with continuing education courses, characterised the Department for its strong inter-professional orientation.
In 2007, the Akademie Physiotherapie Thim van der Laan in Landquart - which had been training physiotherapists for years - was affiliated to SUPSI, allowing it to offer a SUPSI Bachelor's Degree in Physiotherapy at its two locations in Manno and Chur.
In 2008, the first cycle of studies organised after the Bologna Process was completed for 8,000 students at universities of applied sciences. The same happened at SUPSI, where Bachelor's degrees were awarded for the first time in eighteen different degree courses and the first Master's degree courses are launched.
The integration into SUPSI of the University of Teacher Education (UTE) in Locarno was the most important event of 2009 and answered the requirement to outsource teacher training. The creation within SUPSI of a fifth department, the Department of Education and Learning (DFA), responded to this new need and simultaneously followed a trend observed both nationally and internationally.
Between 2008 and 2011, SUPSI's research activities grew exponentially, achieving significant results in the acquisition of new projects, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Contributing to the increase in the financial volume of research activities - which rose from CHF 15 to 24 million - was external funding, in particular from the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) and European projects. Anchored by its regional mandate, SUPSI was thus able to profile itself as the Swiss university of applied sciences that has been most successful in participating in international research programmes.
On 23 March 2010, the State Council approved SUPSI's new logistics strategy, which envisaged the construction of three new university campuses in the canton; a moment of fundamental importance for the future of the School and the entire university system in Ticino.
In 2014, the Department of Health (DSAN) and the Department of Business and Social Sciences (DSAS) were merged into a single department, creating the new Department of Business Economics, Health and Social Care (DEASS). The merger’s objectives were to strengthen the profiles related to the three areas of competence (business administration, health and social sciences) and at the same time to further promote interdisciplinary collaboration.
This merger signalled the structure of SUPSI as we know it today, with four Departments and three affiliated Schools.
2017 saw the laying of the foundations for the two new campuses: Mendrisio-Stazione and Lugano-Viganello. SUPSI's logistics strategy, which envisaged the creation of a city-wide Campus, thus began.
In 2021 construction work was completed and the two new campuses finally open to students.
The SUPSI Campus in Mendrisio houses the Department of Environment Constructions and Design (DACD) and is located close to the railway station. Its location alongside the Mendrisio railway line ensures sustainable accessibility and fully embraces the School's logistics strategy.
The USI-SUPSI university campus in Lugano-Viganello (Campus Est) is located in the vicinity of the current campus of the Università della Svizzera italiana. It represents one of Lugano's major urban changes and is located between the districts of Viganello and Molino Nuovo. The new building houses the Department of Innovative Technologies for SUPSI.
Common to both new campuses are the core principles of attractiveness, accessibility, long-term development potential, energy and economic sustainability, social integration and cooperation with the Università della Svizzera italiana.
Among SUPSI's priority projects over the next few years is the implementation of the logistics strategy with the construction of the Lugano-Stazione Campus, which will house the SUPSI Direction and the Department of Business Economics, Health and Social Care (DEASS).