05 Talent
27 May 2024Sonja Knols

Jan Aarts on the importance of curricular continuity in quantum education

For quantum technology to be successfully implemented in society, we need to extend the educational scope to all different levels of education, and to new target groups like policymakers. That is the firm belief of Jan Aarts, who will take over the coordination of the Quantum Delta NL programme’s action line 3, Human Capital, from 1 June 2024 onwards. Miriam, thankfully, chose to stay involved in a different capacity. Here, Jan (re)introduces himself to the Quantum Delta NL community.

How and when did you first get involved with Quantum Delta NL?

‘In my position as the scientific director of the Leiden Institute of Physics (LION), which I held between 2018-2024, I have been involved with the Quantum Delta NL programme from the start. My colleague Carlo Beenakker had foreseen at an early stage that topics like applied quantum algorithms would only gain in importance over the years, and that it would be good for our institute to be in the front seat of larger scale activities in this field.
In Leiden, we had already established a Quantum Rules lab for high school students to experiment with quantum technology. We seized the opportunity to incorporate that lab into action line 3 of the Quantum Delta NL programme.

What does the Human Capital action line entail?

‘We have three major ambitions. The first is to build a common knowledge base and strengthen possibilities for training in quantum technology. To this end, during the first two phases of the programme we established dedicated quantum master programmes in Amsterdam, Delft and Leiden. In addition, we developed a quantum minor at the University of Twente.
The second aim is to introduce quantum technology in the curricula of universities of applied sciences. This is rather challenging, since most of these institutes are focusing on existing fields in industry, and there aren’t that many quantum-oriented businesses yet. This means that we are educating a workforce for an industry that does not exist  yet. That requires a special effort, which is why we launched the Talent & Learning Centers.
The final ambition is to achieve a structural embedding of the quantum human capital activities in existing organizations to ensure continuation beyond the Quantum Delta NL funding period. How can we acquire funds from the private sector for successful initiatives like the TLCs, when for companies there aren’t that many business cases yet? This final goal also connects to the aims of the third phase of the programme as a whole, which is paying more attention to creating economic value out of quantum technology.

Ultimately, we need to develop a continuous line of learning through all of the different educational levels, ranging from primary schools to vocational institutes, universities of applied science, academia and even beyond. Over the first few years of the programme, many promising initiatives have been launched in our five hubs. Now we need to better connect these hubs and decide what to organize locally and regionally, and what to offer on a national level.’

What do you consider the most successful achievements from the Human Capital action line so far?

‘I am very happy that we managed to establish the master programmes, the functional TLCs, and the quantum labs where high school students can gain hands-on experience with quantum technology. When it comes to the TLCs, I am rather proud of the fact that in Leiden/Delft, we also managed to get a vocational education institute on board, the Leidse instrumentmakers School (LiS). LiS graduates build unique instruments for the high-tech industry and academic research, which cannot be valued enough.
If we want to build things like quantum computers and quantum networks, we cannot do without the universities of applied sciences and the vocational institutes which educate the workforce to provide the necessary infrastructure. For quantum technology to make an impact in the real world, you do not only need people who understand quantum mechanics, but also people who know how to make the hardware that is needed to for example sustain quantum states and secure quantum information.’

What will be the biggest challenges for the human capital action line in the coming years?

‘To establish long-term funding for educational and training programmes, and to extend the scope of these programmes to new target groups. Besides primary, secondary and vocational schools, we also need to reach out to groups of professionals, like policymakers at municipalities or people working at telecom providers. We need to address them in a way that they understand the added value of quantum technology for their own work, and that empowers them in making informed decisions on how, when and where to deploy these new technologies.’

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