Session # 2560
IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION TODAY
World Expertise LLC (
In 1982, John Naisbitt published Megatrends,
summarizing themes he detected from content analysis of media reports. Since
2000, the editors of the International Engineering Education Digest have
been conducting a similar scan and summarizing the results in a monthly
electronic publication distributed as a service to engineering educators and
others around the world. In this
paper, we take a fresh look at the events of the past few years and attempt to
discern the most important trends which can influence the education of future
In 1982 John Naisbitt introduced a new technique of gleaning trends in our society in his best-selling book Megatrends – content analysis. He based his futurist predictions on a detailed analysis of what the news media were reporting, by taking time to connect individual events to begin to understand larger patterns. His premise was that the most reliable way to anticipate the future is by understanding the present.
This paper looks at recent and current events in engineering education at the international scale, as reported over the past four years in the International Engineering Education Digest, and attempts to connect them in ways that reveal megatrends in engineering education. From the rush of universities to get into for-profit distance education ventures, to the worldwide drive toward harmonization of degrees and their quality assurance mechanisms, to downturns in engineering enrollments due to student disenchantment with the profession, to career disruptions due to outsourcing, the topics repeated in the monthly issues of the Digest provide a pattern that helps to illuminate current megatrends, and to project them into likely future directions.
Using over three years of the International Engineering Education Digest as a data source, and with the luxury of hindsight, eight major themes emerge from the world of engineering education:
connections with industry
Private higher education
Funding of higher education
These individual themes are complex enough, but when taken together they are intertwined, interactive, synergistic, and strike to the core of not only engineering education around the world, but also of higher education in the new millennium.
Entrepreneurship and connections with industry
Entrepreneurship education programs for engineering
students in the
Take-away for engineering educators: Changing the engineering curriculum to introduce exciting design skills early on is a successful way of retaining students in a program. Likewise, teaching entrepreneurship skills touches the core of why many students want to study engineering in the first place, and may be another way to increase the attractiveness of the profession to under-represented groups.
Offshoring of technical jobs, while still retaining its
ability to provoke outrage, is now just as often seen as a permanent
characteristic of the employment landscape in developed countries, not as a
practice that politicians are going to cure. With the expansion of the European
Union in May 2004 to include ten lower-cost countries from the east, and
Take-away for engineering educators: One of the major faculty development priorities for engineering educators should be to gain first-hand and recent experience in business and industry, both large and small, so that they can prepare students for this climate where traditional job descriptions are daily subject to dismemberment.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on the
Take away for engineering educators: It’s a bitter sweet truth, knowing that the time, effort, intellect and money which many have devoted to upgrading the quality of engineering education around the world has now resulted in increased competition to the US from the same people who were helped.
The social side of engineering
has been more prominent in the press in recent years. Engineers are being
portrayed, appropriately, as more responsive to basic human needs such as
poverty reduction and hunger. They are seen as more responsive to environmental
concerns, and sustainable development is a popular phrase in describing how
current engineers approach the development of new projects to serve mankind. In
addition, engineers in developed countries are assisting those in developing
countries to build their indigenous technical capabilities in order to attract
direct foreign investment, utilize foreign aid funds more effectively, and
develop entrepreneurial small businesses – all with the aim of promoting
economic development and eventual self-sufficiency for developing countries.
Engineers are also heavily involved in converting the results of basic research
and development into useful products and services to address the needs of
society. Such international organizations as UNESCO and the World Federation of
Engineering Organizations have are pursuing technical capacity building in
developing countries as a major approach to addressing their needs.
Take-away for engineering educators: Undergraduate engineering students are no different from other students: they have a streak of idealism and a desire to make a difference in the world, shaping it for the better. Introducing students early on to the opportunities for engineers to do good in the world is yet another powerful recruitment and retention strategy.
In many countries where the
demand for higher education has outpaced the ability of public institutions to
meet it, private higher education institutions are springing up and growing to
meet market demands. In many cases these private higher education operations are
meeting needs in market niches not well served by traditional public education
– such as retraining needed by working professionals, or focused training in
hot fields such as computer applications. Often the delivery of education and
training by private purveyors utilizes distance education techniques –
increasingly over the Internet rather than satellite or microwave delivery
typical a decade or two ago. Distance education offerings are more and more
available anytime, anywhere. They are
becoming much more responsive to the desires of employed engineers and their
employers, and tend to be market pulled instead
of provider pushed.
for engineering educators: Disreputable private higher education is mostly a
threat in developing countries, which often lack the mechanisms to force these
groups to shape up or shut down. There
is a need for the various professional societies in the
of higher education
In the wake of general economic
downturns in countries around the world, higher education has suffered
significant losses in financial support. Budgets at government supported
universities have been cut almost universally – one of the few areas that
legislators can cut in hard financial times, since many other areas of their
budgets are entitlements mandated by fixed laws. These cuts in external support
have generally led to universities passing more of the costs of education on to
their students, through tuition and fee increases. In countries where higher
education has been essentially free to students – including many socialistic
developed countries and many poor developing countries – costs are being
passed on to student for the first time. Increased tuition and fees in countries
where such student charges have been in place for some time have led to student
and faculty protests – and such protests have been even more pronounced in
countries where costs are being passed on to students for the first time.
Take-away for engineering educators: Is this the time for all educators to become more politically united and active on behalf of restoring appropriate levels of funding to higher education and research?
As globalization sweeps around
the world, stimulating the flow of engineers and their services across national
borders, accreditation and other forms of quality assurance have grown in
importance. Some form of credentialing is often demanded before an engineer is
allowed to move from one job market to another, or to offer services in another
country from a home base. Formal accreditation is often the preferred form of
quality assurance in such cases, and accreditation systems for engineering
education are being established or strengthened in many parts of the world. Such
high level pronouncements as the Bologna Declaration in
Take-away for engineering educators: Engineering is probably closer than any other profession to converging worldwide on standards of educational quality. This creates an increased incentive for US engineers to insist that their students have an international component as part of their undergraduate education.
The International Engineering Education Digest is published electronically every month by Dr. Russel C. Jones, a longtime engineering educator, and Dr. Bethany Oberst, a senior university official for many years. The Digest presents summaries of appropriate and timely articles from the many papers, conference proceedings, magazines and journals that they read regularly. The Digest is copyrighted by World Expertise LLC, with all rights reserved. All back issues can be found at www.worldexpertise.com.
While the editors use personal judgment in selecting items that they feel are of appropriate interest to engineering educators, the Digest entries are straightforward summaries of the items. For the current paper Jones and Oberst have identified megatrends in engineering education, and higher education more broadly. In the conclusion which follows the authors make some observations about likely trends in the future, based on the backsight provided by the Digest items of the past several years.
Although the economists of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund have failed in improving the status of people in poor countries
through attempts at stimulating economic growth with foreign aid, we must find
effective ways of ‘teaching people how to fish’ instead of sending them
fish. Engineering education and technology development can provide the base for
capacity building which leads to economic benefits from engagement in the global
economy, as well as to the effective local utilization of foreign aid resources
guided by indigenous engineers.
Ø Engineering students increasingly need to be educated for international practice, including an awareness of all these trends described above and how they will surely change the practice of engineering over the course of their professional lives. Programs of study should include education in languages, cultures, and mores of foreign countries. International experience through study abroad and internships are a must. Faculty need to show the way, with their own international activities.
Ø Communication and information technologies have greatly increased the need for effective quality assurance systems for all engineering education programs around the world. Mutual recognition agreements to move toward acceptance of educational equivalency are a must to allow appropriate mobility for practicing engineers.
Ø Problems with the funding of higher education, the rise of private educational institutions, and the increasing mobility of students are trends that threaten the dominance of traditional higher education institutions. Those traditional universities must adapt and change if they are to be competitive in the future.
Ø Attraction of appropriate quality and quantity of engineering students remains a problem. Offshoring and unstable employment patterns exacerbate the problem, but the inflexibility and difficulty of the engineering curriculum are also major factors. One major element that can contribute to solving the worldwide problem of attracting enough good engineering students is the diversification of the pipeline to include many more minority students and women. And that means moving beyond traditional comfort zones to recognize that the biggest barriers to access are rooted in deeply ingrained social and cultural systems that require serious grass-roots efforts to overcome them.
All back issues of the International
Engineering Education Digest are posted on the web at http://www.worldexpertise.com
S. Oberst is Professor
and Dean of the
C. Jones is a private consultant, working
through World Expertise LLC to offer services in engineering education in the
international arena. Prior to that, he had a long career in education: faculty
member at MIT, department chair in civil engineering at