Harbour Space University – An ambitious project to create the next generation of industry leaders

Wedged between yachts large enough to carry helicopters one sees Harbour Space University, housed in a ultra-modern building built right on the pier. Tonight, its first batch of students is about to set sail I’ve been invited to the graduation ceremony of this private Barcelona-based university, or rather, graduation sales pitch for its first batch of students. The event doesn’t simply involve caps, gowns (in fact there aren’t any) and the handing out of diplomas, the students each present their designs and creations and pitch them to the crowd.

The minds behind the project

That is just a small example of how differently Harbour Space views education. Founded by Svetlana Velikanova and Ingo Beyer von Morgenstern, the goal of Harbour Space University is to attract the brightest students from around the world, by both admitting only a tiny fraction of all applicants and the promise to them of being able to learn the latest technologies and be mentored by some of the world’s best teachers and professionals in areas such as technology and design. Velikanova, besides being the visionary behind Harbour Space, was director at VTB Capital, one of Russia’s largest investment banks. Ingo Beyer von Morgenstern is Director Emeritus of McKinsey & Company and a long time professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Faculty, both permanent and visiting, present a remarkable blend of important minds, to name a few: Kamran Elahian is chairman and co-founder of Global Catalyst Partners and co-Chair of Global Alliance for ICT and Development of the United Nations; Andy Crestodina is a co-founder of Chicago-based Orbit Media; and Christopher Fabian is Senior Advisor on Innovation to the Executive Director at UNICEF.

Funding for the school, according to PR Newswire, is provided by, among others, SDVentures, by Beyer von Morgenstern himself and other angel investors.

Curriculum and philosophy

At the moment Harbour Space University offers degrees in Cybersecurity, Digital Marketing, Computational Science, Data Management, High Tech Entrepreneurship and Interactive Design, with plans to expand the curriculum with programs in Aerospace Engineering, Fintech and Biotech.

However, anyone that is involved with Harbour Space would tell you that the school is much more than these titles. What is important is teaching through mentorship, applied learning, teamwork, and leadership. Networking appears to be as important as learning and there are also ambitious plans to create “the world’s best alumni network” for its students.

The University’s curriculum is based on the needs of the students not on what any given professor would choose to teach. And, according to Beyer von Morgenstern, perhaps most importantly, “learning how to learn.” In his commencement speech he stressed how rapidly knowledge is forgotten, and that learning is a never ending process.  The University has 100 bachelor students and 50 in the Master’s program, something which helps implement their direct teaching methods.

During the ceremony, amidst the pitches and presentations made by the students, a common theme was that of the value of failure and the lessons that can be learned through it, a rebranding of the age old “if at first you don’t succeed” that is popular in society these days. I had the feeling this batch wouldn’t be failing for long.

In addition to studies, Harbour Space teams up with Moscow Workshops ACM ICPC to host a boot-camp to prepare over 150 students from top universities from the US, Canada, China, Russia, Singapore, Japan, and more. The purpose is to whip them into shape for the next ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM-ICPC), which is one of the most prestigious programming championships in the world. Last year, 8 of the 12 medal winning teams had participated in the workshop. The ACM-ICPC has produced industry big shots like Adam D’Angelo, creator of Quora, and Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, to name a few.

The current trend in higher education, especially in the technology field, is focused on understanding concepts, being able to utilize big data, individualizing instruction, creating workshops where students can apply their knowledge, connecting students with specialists, and knowing how to network. In many fields, traditional studies are on their way out and Harbour Space University is one of the pioneers of this trend. As one graduating student remarked, “I really like your high marks on this standardized test…said no recruiter ever.”


Also published on Medium.

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