Horst Bischof: ’Use artificial intelligence as an opportunity’

In conversation with Horst Bischof, Rector of Graz University of Technology.
In conversation with Horst Bischof, Rector of Graz University of Technology.

By Ines Hopfer-Pfister

Horst Bischof has been the new Rector of TU Graz since 1st October. In an interview he talks about his goals, his penchant for numbers and how important experiments are for everyday university life.

TU Graz people: Prof. Bischof, you were Vice Rector for Research at Graz University of Technology for twelve years. Why did you apply for the position of Rector?

Horst Bischof: It wasn’t an easy decision. I thought about it for a long time, and in the end the design element tipped the scales. As Rector, you can shape and develop the University. This is an exciting task that appeals to me very much. At this point I would like to thank my predecessor Harald Kainz. It’s due to his work I can take over such a well-ordered house. Our university is in an excellent position and has an incredibly good reputation.

What goals are you setting for your term in office?

Horst Bischof: Student numbers are elementary for our budget, but the number of students is declining and interest in technology is waning. But I see great potential here among our freshers. It is important that we keep them at TU Graz, that they are keen to take exams and complete their studies. I see the contemporary challenges in the area of digitalisation in particular as great opportunities that we should take advantage of. In the not too distant future, artificial intelligence will allow us, for example, to provide all students with a personal chatbot to accompany them through their studies.

Is this the university of the future?

Horst Bischof: I am convinced that the university of the future will have to rely much more on interaction and personal exchange in addition to the use of digital content. This will not happen in the next four years, but we need to take the first steps in this direction now. Lab exercises, group meetings and individual mentoring become more important because personal interaction is the only thing that sets us apart from the online universities and other digital formats, which are also very good in terms of quality.

Are there any other goals for your term of office?

Horst Bischof: A very important issue concerns the complexity of our daily work. I’m talking here about guidelines, regulations and the like. We must try to streamline them. I would very much like to coin the catchphrase "TU Graz GPT", which always gives us the right guidelines and answers to our complex structures. This is how artificial intelligence can support us in our everyday work. This is exactly the direction it should go in. In addition, we would like to push ahead with internationalisation with Unite! and the climate neutral TU Graz, and we would like to continue our partnerships with other scientific institutions and the business community at our location. We want to remain a reliable partner. Furthermore, we must not neglect our basic research. ERC grants, for example, strengthen our reputation and also reflect our strength in basic research.

Where do you see the greatest need for optimisation? What would you definitely like to implement right at the beginning?

Horst Bischof: One can and should always question things that have crept in over the years. This is the opportunity that a new rectorate offers. I have already mentioned that streamlining our guidelines is a very big issue, something we want to roll out successively and soon. But in parallel, digital support is quite essential in this area.

What makes TU Graz special from your point of view?

Horst Bischof: We are a very efficient university that has retained its family character. I value this immensely. When you walk through the university buildings and have conversations, you get the feeling that people like working here, even after more than 30 years. I think that everyone at TU Graz pulls together and wants to make progress together. And that is a quality I wouldn’t want to lose. This is certainly one reason why I applied for the position of Rector.

What are you looking forward to?

Horst Bischof: I’m looking forward to good teamwork with my Vice Rectorate. I’m convinced that we’ll harmonise well and work well as a team. This is an extremely good team that brings a breath of fresh air and in-house experience.

What can we expect from you as the new Rector?

Horst Bischof: As a computer scientist, I am naturally "driven" by numbers, data, facts. I will certainly look very strongly at numbers and evidence, and I have resolved that I’ll do experiments and we’ll try things out. That means we evaluate projects after a certain time and if they are successful, we continue them; and if they are not successful, we do a new experiment. This applies not only to teaching and research, but also to administration. It is important to have the courage to cut things back when they haven’t proven their worth. This is also what distinguishes a university as a playground for new ideas.

Is there a particular motto you’re going to set for your term in office?

Horst Bischof: In my interview, I chose the symbolic image of an impulse generator. The term impulse stands for two things: on the one hand, it sets something in motion - and TU Graz should set the direction and keep moving. On the other hand, it only works properly in unison with others. TU Graz should and must play the role of a pioneer, but also act in harmony with its partners.

What university topic is particularly close to your heart?

Horst Bischof: The PhD students. They are still in training, teach and conduct research at the institutes, but are already on their way to becoming independent scientists. PhD students are the backbone of research. Here, too, there is still potential at TU Graz that we should strengthen and expand.

How would you describe yourself?

Horst Bischof: I’m persistent and analytical. I am a calm person who can listen, but when I’ve made my decisions, I follow them consistently.

How do you prefer to spend your free time?

Horst Bischof: I prefer to spend my free time with my family: with my wife, my two sons Marvin (32) and Clemens (27), with my stepdaughter Cynthia (32) and last, but not least, with my two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter Sophie. In addition, I try to integrate sport into my daily routine. In the morning, I like to run or ride my e-bike from my home in Eggersdorf to the office. When the weather doesn’t cooperate, I get on the exercise bike. Twice a year I run a half marathon.

Is there anything you’ve always wanted to say to the staff of TU Graz?

Horst Bischof: I’d like to thank you all for the excellent work you’re doing at TU Graz, and I’d also like to make a request. Please stay so committed and actively loyal to TU Graz.