8 April 2002

Copyright © 2002 World Expertise LLC – All rights reserved

A periodic electronic newsletter for engineering education leaders,

edited by Russel C. Jones, PhD., P.E.



International developments

Higher education in the Arab world is behind in information technology, short on research, long on dogma, and too often educates graduates for jobs that no longer exist. These criticisms were made recently at a rare gathering of education and university officials from the Middle East and North Africa, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by David Wheeler. Professors in the Arab world were compared to clerics: education is taught like religion, and students are supposed to believe as a matter of faith. Much of the Arab world is in poor economic straights, with low incomes and high rates of population growth and unemployment. A few oil rich states have better economic conditions, but even there few women are enrolled in higher education. The primary themes at the end of the conference were for more technology, and for education aimed at overcoming high unemployment rates. See

Canadian education leaders are developing a plan to ease transfer of credit between institutions, according to an article by Karen Birchard in the Chronicle. The current ad hoc system of credit recognition in Canada is seen as inconsistent and inadequate for future needs. The new plan would be phased in over the next four years – if the postsecondary institutions agree to it. In addition to allowing more ready recognition of credit for Canadians, the plan would recognize the educational achievements of the growing number of immigrants entering Canada to fuel economic growth, as Canada’s population growth continues at a low rate. See 

Bowing to pressure from young researchers, politicians, and the press, Germany’s science minister has agreed to amend the recently passed university reform law to give young academics more time to finish their educations. According to an article in the March 29th issue of Science by Adam Bostanci and Gretchen Vogel, the change would remove what is seen as a serious flaw in otherwise needed reforms, and may lead to a cease-fire in a drawn-out battle over the legislation. Pressure for change in the law was brought by those who feared that the new limit of 6 years for students to finish a Ph.D. would not allow current student sufficient time to complete their degrees. The law also provides a limit of 6 years after the Ph.D. for the landing of a permanent academic position. The Education Minister has agreed to an extension to February 2005 on both limits for doctoral students currently in the pipeline. See http://www/

The quality of instruction at Russian universities has tumbled so low that the government plans to send teams of experts on surprise campus visits in an effort to enforce minimum standards, according to an article in the Chronicle by Bryon MacWilliams. The spot checks by teams of “quality police” will focus on the most popular subjects – law, economics, psychology, and foreign languages. Strong demand for degrees in these fields has led to a proliferation of private institutions that have neither the resources nor the experience to provide quality instruction, according to the Education Minister. The visits will continue indefinitely, until state and public universities establish an alternative system to regulate the quality of instruction independently. See

The economic crash in Argentina is making it hard for scientists there to keep their labs afloat, according to an article in the March 29th issue of Science by Jocelyn Kaiser. Science budgets have already suffered during the last 4 years of recession, but they went down even further when Argentina partially defaulted on its debt and was forced to allow the peso to trade freely on currency markets. The peso has lost 70% of its value since then. One researcher reported that his salary was $3000 per month a year ago, and now has shrunk to $645. Because of government-imposed limits on withdrawing money from banks and on buying imports, labs have had to raid cash and supply reserves to continue operations. In another sign of retrenchment, the Secretary of Science and Technology cancelled a fellowship program for young scientists. Few see a clear path to recovery – although some hope for a plan like that Brazil developed – taxing companies to fund research as a way to build its economy. See

The King Faisal Foundation has announced plans to establish the first private university on Saudi Arabia, according to an article in the Chronicle by Daniel del Castillo. The new institution is being built in the Saudi capitol, Riyadh, and is expected to open in the fall of 2003. The $100-million campus is being built on the grounds of one of the palaces of the late King Faisel, and will occupy 32 acres. It will specialize in information technology and engineering, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering as well as in computer science and business technology. The primary language of instruction will be English, and tuition will be $15,000 per year. Public universities in Saudi Arabia are free, and offer $300 monthly stipends to students. See

A company town in India is keeping software experts at home, according to an article in the March 18 issue of the New York Times by Saritha Rai. An Indian subsidiary of the U.S. firm Catalytic Software, in an effort to keep Indian talent at home or attract it back, has developed a company town which offers many of the comforts of the West. The town of New Oroville provides a lifestyle that is in distinct contrast with the grim life in many of India’s cities – with power failures, and horrendous traffic and pollution. Developers of the comfortable environment say that it is cost effective, since Indian programmers working in India can be hired for salaries that are perhaps only 15% of what comparable work would pay in the U.S. See

A Canadian report ranks Quebec as the top Province in its commitment to higher education, according to an article by Karen Birchard in the Chronicle. Quebec nudged British Columbia into second place in an annual survey. Newfoundland showed the biggest improvement by advancing three places, mainly due to a rollback of university tuition fees and freeze on community college tuitions. Once again, Ontario finished at the bottom. The rating system, applied by an independent research group, is based on criteria that measure equity, accessibility, quality, and public accountability. See

South Korea is scrambling to fill its Ph.D. slots, according to an article in the March 15th issue of Science by Mark Russell. Korea’s postwar economic boom in the 1960’s and 1970’s benefited from the belief that technical know-how was essential for a rising standard of living. But faith in technology as an economic driver is being undermined by such factors as loss of status, the country’s rising standard of living, and financial restrictions imposed on the country by the International Monetary Fund. Government officials are trying to counter these market forces with a Brain Korea 21 program, which provides generous stipends for graduate students in addition to supporting their research and providing a travel allowance. See

Russia has announced plans to overhaul its research institutes and increase government support, according to an article in the Chronicle by Bryon MacWilliams. The plan would reform the institutes by rewarding research disciplines that adapt to the free market and contribute to the country’s wealth, while cutting off support to those which do not. The plan would quintuple funding for research in fields such as telecommunications and electronics, aviation and space, new materials and chemistry, advanced armaments, production technologies, energy conservation, and transportation. Salaries would be raised for scientists under the age of 35, while pensions would be sweetened in an effort to encourage senior scientists to retire to make room for new blood. See

The anti-immigrant backlash occurring in many countries is described in a series of articles in the April 2002 World Press Review. Australia has slammed its doors to the ‘less civilized’, the U.S. border with Mexico has been strengthened, Britain plans to increase requirements for immigration, and Germany is grappling with integration of immigrants. Some of the increased barriers to immigration are the result of 9/11 concerns, while others are economically motivated. See

Indian government researchers are cheering the government’s new science budget, which includes a doubling of funding for academic infrastructure, according to an article in the March 15th issue of Science by Pallava Bagla. The overall increase of $300-million, to $1.5-billion, brings the R&D budget close to 1% of the country’s gross domestic product. The budget awards a 52% increase to the Department of Science and Technology, which will allow doubling of a program to augment instrumentation and facilities at universities, and will extend support to cover university libraries including electronic databases. See


U. S. developments

Violence in Israel has prompted a range of reactions among study-abroad programs, according to a note in the Chronicle by Beth McMurtrie. Some universities – such as the University of California system – have suspended study-abroad programs in Israel and have recalled students currently there. Others are ‘strongly discouraging’ students from study there until the situation is stable. Israel is just one of a number of countries where American universities have decided it is no longer safe to send students; Nepal, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe are others. See

The College Board is considering major changes in the Scholastic Aptitude Test, according to an article by Elizabeth Farrell in the Chronicle. Responding to criticism that the SAT is not an accurate predictor of college success, and moves by a major university system to eliminate it from admission requirements, the College Board plans a wide-ranging change in the format and content of the test. Changes may include adding a writing section and more advanced math, eliminating the analogies section, and adding a section on critical reading skills. The principal shift in the math section would be to add advanced algebra and trigonometry questions. See

The Educational Testing Service has announced that it will eliminate 84 of its 195 overseas, computer based, testing centers. According to a note in the Chronicle by Alex Kellogg, ETS feels that the centers are not economically viable. The cuts could make it more difficult for students in dozens of countries to take tests that are vital to studying in the U.S. To minimize such problems, ETS will establish centers at area schools and colleges where students can take handwritten exams. Fewer than 15% of international test-takers will be affected by the change. See

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has pulled the plug on a popular graduate fellowship program in the environmental sciences, according to an article in the March 29th issue of Science by Jeffrey Mervis. EPA officials say the move responds to a presidential proposal to end the $10-million-a-year program this fall. The agency is assuming that Congress will go along with the president’s 2003 budget request which zeros out the Science to Achieve Results program. Environmental groups are beginning to rally support for the program, as its demise will leave no dedicated funds for graduate study in the environmental sciences. Critics say that terminating the STAR program would undermine EPA’s efforts to improve the scientific basis of its regulations. See

Private giving to colleges surpassed expectations in 2000-1, but longer-range prospects are not bright, according to two articles by John Pulley in the Chronicle. Giving in the academic year 2000-1 grew 4.3% over the previous 12 months, despite a declining stock market and an economy in recession, totaling a record $24.2-billion. But the rate of growth was less than the 14% in 1999-2000, which was the fifth year of double-digit growth. See Private foundations and institutions of higher education seem to be drifting apart. Grant makers have a richer array of causes to choose from than previously, and they do not view higher education as having the most pressing problems at the moment. In addition, foundations are demanding more accountability from grantees, and many are not convinced that there is tangible proof of philanthropic impact in higher education programs. Financial support for systemic issues in higher education such as governance and economics is dwindling, and even in the realm of hot issues such as diversity and access foundations are moving toward practical things such as scholarships rather than supporting research on campus diversity. See


Distance education, technology

The National Technological University, a major provider of engineering and technical degrees through distance education, will be acquired by  Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc., according to articles in the Chronicle by Michael Arnone. NTU will become part of  Sylvan’s Online Higher Education division, fitting into the for-profit company’s strategy to offer degrees to working professionals in specific professions. Last month Sylvan bought a 51% interest in the for-profit Walden University, which provides online graduate courses in business, psychology, and other subjects. Sylvan also owns Canter and Associates through which K-12 teachers can get master’s degrees in education. Absorbing some 2000 NTU students will increase Sylvan’s graduate level enrollment to about 14,500. NTU awards 19 master’s degrees in engineering, technical, and management subjects. To do so, it relies on 1400 courses from 52 member universities, whose professors create and teach the courses. Most are delivered through a satellite-television network. Students mix and match courses from different universities, with most receiving NTU degrees. In the past 18 years, NTU has awarded more than 1700 master’s degrees.  Sylvan and NTU are in the process of talking with NTU’s member universities about the acquisition. To date reactions have ranged from ‘No problem’ to ‘Lets see what happens’. See

In a pair of articles in the Chronicle, Scott Carlson explores two extremes in the use of technology in the classroom: “Saint Joseph’s University stakes its future on a $30-million bet”, and “Technology on a shoestring”. The very latest networked technologies, which permit unprecedented interactivity among students and professors, are changing the face of the lecture hall. Universities such as Saint Josephs see these wired classrooms as the future of higher education, particularly for science and business courses. At the other end of the scale, schools such as Salisbury University – a public institution in Maryland – are sticking to simple technological enhancements at the cost of a few thousand dollars per classroom. This allows PowerPoint projection in the classroom, with slides posted on the Internet after lectures. In the end, institutions that spend money to adopt technology say they are doing it for one reason: to teach the new generation of students who have grown up with television and computer games. See and

An ambitious plan by the South Korean government to roll out high-speed connections to millions of its citizens is being hailed as a breakthrough in the country’s efforts to bring higher education to a majority of its population by way of the Internet. According to an article by Davis Cohen in the Chronicle, the goal is to be achieved through creating near-universal access to broadband services at the same price for rural and urban dwellers alike. The technology being used allows access up to 100 times faster than conventional telephone modems. South Korea is already one of East Asia’s leaders in broadband technology, with 7.4 million subscribers. See

The future of the microprocessor business is explored in a major article by Michael Bass and Clayton Christensen in the April 2002 issue of IEEE Spectrum. The authors predict that customization and speed-to-market will drive the industry from the bottom up. Currently engineers can specify a microprocessor and in some cases completely design it in weeks, rather than months. The microprocessor market may become dominated by multitudes of targeted chips, produced in relatively small numbers. In the same issue of IEEE Spectrum, Ivan Berger has written a major article on ‘can you trust your car’?. As cars become computers on wheels, they had better become more reliable that our desktop models, according to the author. Building diagnostics into components can enhance fault-finding right down to the service-station level. See

‘Hybrid’ teaching is seeking to bridge the divide between traditional and online instruction, according to an article in the  Chronicle by Jeffrey Young. By blending approaches, colleges hope to save money while still meeting student’s needs. Faculty members are asking why they have to meet students in a specified number of classes each week – why not use other forms of learning activity that substitute for a class? A growing number of colleges are experimenting with hybrid models of teaching that replace some in-person meetings with virtual sessions. See

Case Western Reserve University has begun a $25-million project to build a data, video and voice network that will be 10 times as fast as most campus networks, according to an article  by Florence Olsen in the Chronicle. The plan calls for establishing gigabit-Ethernet-over-fiber connections in 87 buildings on the campus, including some dormitories and Greek houses. Also included is campuswide wireless-network coverage, including widespread use of desktop video. It is estimated that more than a third of computers on the campus have processors fast enough to keep pace with the speed of the new network. See

The past and future of university research reactors are explored in an article by Kenneth Rogers in the March 22nd issue of Science. Reactors have been present on university campuses since the early 1950’s, with their number peaking at 58 in the early 1970’s. Since then, the number has declined to 28 – programs having suffered unduly from the vicissitudes of the nuclear power industry. The author explores the causes of this uncoordinated decline, and suggests roles that University research reactors should play in the future – both in supporting nuclear engineering and science programs, and for advanced research in other fields such as medicine and materials science. See

Pricing changes by two leading providers of course management software, Blackboard and WebCT, are giving academic-technology officials sticker shock. According to an article by Jeffrey Young in the Chronicle, products that used to cost universities a few thousands of dollars are now being priced at tens or even hundreds of thousands for the latest systems. While in the past the companies offered licensing options that allowed flat rate payments regardless of the number of students served, they are moving toward selling campuswide access to software based on the number of students enrolled. About one-fifth of all college courses now use such software. Some college officials are so frustrated by the recent pricing changes that they are considering other options, such as building their own systems or adopting a free course-management system under development by several universities taking part in the Open Knowledge Initiative. See

Microsoft is giving researchers and students access to code for the company’s .NET programming platform for Web services, according to a note in the Chronicle by Florence Olsen. The Corporation is attempting to win the minds of academic researchers and college-aged programmers by offering universities more than a million lines of source code – with no restrictions except a prohibition on commercial use. This offer represents a significant loosening of Microsoft’s restrictions, which have typically required pledges of secrecy from programmers who sought access to the company’s code. Open source code can be modified and used freely by others. See


Students, faculty, education

“Are current engineering graduates being treated as commodities by employers?” asks a viewpoint article in the April 2002 issue of Engineering Times by Russel Jones (editor of this Digest) and Bethany Oberst. The authors assert that the world of engineering employment has changed over recent decades, and not for the better. Engineering graduates are likely to experience 6 or 8 different jobs during their working years, with possible periods of unemployment between them and often see lateral moves rather than the upward advancement of past generations. This situation is exacerbated by the declining economy, and by international competition. The authors recommend that the engineering professional societies address this issue, perhaps with a ‘good practices seal of approval’ for companies that treat engineers fairly. See

Students at public colleges are bracing for large tuition increases, according to an article by Richard Morgan in the Chronicle. Over the past 5 years, tuition at public colleges has averaged an annual rate increase of just over 4% -- but for 2002-3, many public colleges are projecting percentage increases in the double digits. Projected increases in tuition are often part of a poker game where public universities threaten increases to pressure lawmakers into providing more state support. Some schools are planning to use tiered tuition increases, with the highest increases applied only to new students. Others are increasing student fees for services. See

The civil engineering profession has been debating whether to require a master’s degree or equivalent for entry into professional practice, according to a major report  in the April 2002 issue of Civil Engineering. Prepared by an ASCE Task Committee on the Academic Prerequisites for Professional Practice, the report states that civil engineers are not adequately prepared to compete for leadership positions because their formal education gives short shrift to the professional skills that a leader must possess. Nonengineers are increasingly managing civil engineers, the principal reason being that the nonengineers are more adept at leadership and communication and have better business sense. See

The University of Michigan has struck a deal with a teaching-assistant union, settling on a three year contract to avert a threatened strike. According to an article in the Chronicle by Scott Smallwood, a previous contract had expired in February and the union had threatened to strike indefinitely. The two sides had been furthest apart on wages and child care, and each side gave a little to achieve an agreement – which must still be ratified by the union membership. Similar graduate student union issues are active on other campuses, such as Temple University, SUNY Albany, and Columbia University. See

Trends in professional engineer exams are reflecting changes in the profession, according to an article by Rachel Davis in the April 2002 issue of Engineering Times. The proliferation of engineering in the groundbreaking areas of nanotechnology, biomedicine, computer technology and other fields is stretching the definitions of traditional engineering disciplines. These developments are influencing the profession’s quest for a better Model Law, and are reflected in trends in the type and format of engineering licensing exams. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying recently converted its PE exams to a breadth-and-depth format, which enables licensure candidates to concentrate on their specific areas of expertise during the afternoon portion of the exam. NCEES has also broadened its exams to cover computer and software engineering, and naval architecture engineering. See

The Gates Foundation has announced a plan to spend $40-million to create 70 high schools that will award both diplomas and associate degrees, according to an article in the Chronicle by Audrey Williams. The ‘early college’ high schools will be designed to keep students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, from dropping out of high school, or quitting college as freshmen. The funds will be divided among eight organizations that will then work with universities and community colleges to create small high schools. At these small schools, students will receive personalized and accelerated learning that they need to ensure a smoother transition to college or the workplace. Graduates of the schools would have enough college credits to enter college with sophomore or junior status. See



A 1999 report that documented the plight of female researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sparked a heated national debate about the need to improve the status of women scientists in academia. Now a new study of MIT’s school of engineering cites a host of similar barriers, according to an article by Andrew Lawler in the March 22nd issue of Science. The dean of MIT’s largest school has concluded that the engineering school there is not a hospitable environment for many women. Female professors comprise only 10% of the 357 faculty members, and those hired are subject to a constant pattern of marginalization, according to a 30 page study commissioned by the dean. The study did not find significant inequities in salary and space based on gender, but identified more subtle biases which may be harder to redress – including a dearth of women faculty members on Ph.D. committees and in senior administrative posts. The report recommends doubling the percentage of women engineers in a decade, hiring consultants for job searches, and holding workshops to increase gender awareness. See

Historically black colleges are grappling with online education, where they lag in national trends, according to an article in the Chronicle by Michael Arnone. In the past such colleges focused on basics such as reading and writing, and could not think about technology in the classroom. But times have changed, and providing distance education is imperative if black institutions are to remain competitive as more institutions of all types put courses and degrees online. The 105 historically black institutions and roughly 30 more predominantly black institutions confront the same challenges as other institutions as they work to train professors, improve infrastructure, and find scarce money and time to develop online content. But the job is even harder than in mostly white institutions because black colleges have smaller endowments and charge their students less. An October 2000 study indicated that 58% of black institutions participated in some form of distance education, but that 85% of them were not offering degrees online. See

For the first time since it abolished affirmative action, the University of California system has admitted more minority students than it did during the last days of its race-based admission policies, according to a note in the April 6th issue of the Washington Post. Of the 48,369 students admitted in this year’s freshman class, 19.1% were from Hispanic, black or American Indian backgrounds – up from 18.8% in 1997. Critics of affirmative action embraced the figures as proof that race has no place in the admissions process. Others said that historical disadvantages that minorities experience need to be weighted. Despite the gains for the system as a whole, the number of minority students admitted to UC’s most competitive campuses has not rebounded to the same extent. See

A new book reviewed in the April 2002 issue of IEEE’s The Institute by Helen Horowitz offers strategies for women Ph.D. students. “The Woman’s Guide to Navigating the Ph.D. in Engineering and Science” has been written by two faculty members at Carnegie Mellon University, Barbara Lazarus and Susan Ambrose, with assistance by communications consultant Lisa Ritter. It is a resource for female students seeking strategies to deal with key graduate school issues and potential barriers specifically affecting women. Topics range from funding sources, the advising process and dissertations, to conducting effective job searches and striking a balance between professional and personal needs. The book has been published by Wiley/IEEE press, and can be ordered  online at



The online journal TechKnowLogia has released its April-June 2002 issue, which is posted at . Focus of this issue is on virtual education, online learning, and related topics.

The April 2002 issue of the Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice has arrived, with eight papers on a variety of professional topics. Of particular interest may be “Motivating Students by Building Self-Efficacy” by Michael Ponton, and “Capstone Course in an Integrated Engineering Curriculum” by S. Rod Jenkins et al.


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