Thursday, February 12, 2009

Engineers for the Future

The Australian Council of Engineering Deans released a report "Engineers for the Future - Addressing the Supply and Quality of Engineering Graduates for the new Century" in March 2008. The report provides an analysis of problems with engineering education in Australia and recommendations for improvement.

Unfortunately the publishers did such a poor job of engineering the electronic version of the document that almost no one seems to have noticed it existed. Apart from rendering nugatory the fine work by many people preparing the report, this does not indicate that the universities involved understand the e-literacy techniques which will be needed to educate engineers.

The document was put online with a creative commons licence, so it could be freely distributed. But as it is in a poorly formatted PDF document, it is difficult for anyone to find or read. Even after I was alerted to the existence of the document it took me several minutes to find a copy of it. Instead what I found were numerous media releases from Universities about their staff attending the launch of the document. None of these bothered to provide a link to the actual document. It appears that the priority for these universities is to pander to the egos of their senior administrators, rather than to promote engineering.

The Recommendations for Action in the report were grouped as:
  1. the public perception of engineering
  2. the engineering occupational levels and graduate outcome standards
  3. implementing best-practice engineering education
  4. resources for engineering education
  5. engagement with industry
  6. address shortages by increasing diversity in engineering workplaces supported by engineering education programs
Unfortunately due to the poor formatting of the report I was not able to extract an easy to understand of the recommendations. However, here is the executive summary:
Engineers conceive, create and maintain physical and information-based products, processes, systems and assets that satisfy human and economic needs, and have minimal environmental and negative human impacts. Engineering is critical to Australia’s economy, security, health and environment, is increasingly complex and multidisciplinary, and is practised diversely, in business, government and educational
enterprises. Engineering is a key component of the nation’s innovation system.

Australia’s higher education sector provides entry-level education to professional engineers, engineering technologists and engineering officers, as well as advanced level education and engineering research. The engineering education system, involving educators, professional bodies and employers, enjoys good international standing. The system has continuously responded to changes in engineering practice
brought about by new scientific and technological knowledge, and to changing economic and regulatory forces.

This report examines the current state of the higher education component of the Australian engineering education system, with respect to its ability to address future needs, contextualised by assessing the implementation of outcomes of the 1996 Review of Engineering, Changing the Culture. Recommended changes to the engineering program accreditation process are judged to have been successful in driving greater emphasis on generic graduate attributes in first-degree engineering programs. The Review also stimulated improvements in curriculum design and delivery, including project, problem, and workplace-based learning, and increased emphasis on sustainability. The present study has also identified substantial and
emerging strengths of many of Australia’s engineering schools in the areas of research, international education, and in addressing industry-specific skills shortages though both undergraduate and postgraduate programs.

Undertaken at this time of high demand for engineers, this scoping project identifies critical issues such as the continuing reduction in the size of the pool of Australian school students who are studying the requisite high levels of mathematics and science, and the low participation of women in university engineering programs. The study reports concerns about the educational capacity and robustness of the engineering education system with respect to its ability to graduate increased numbers of engineers
with the qualities that are required. The six recommendations aim to ensure that the system can meet society’s future needs for engineers, through actions that will:
  • increase the public understanding of engineering and the work of engineers, particularly in schools;
  • clarify educational outcomes and standards required for practice at all internationally recognised levels of engineering;
  • develop best-practice engineering education to ensure the required outcomes and reduce attrition;
  • attract a higher proportion of women and other under-represented groups;
  • increase staffing and material resources for delivery of high quality engineering education; and
  • promote stronger collaborative links with industry.
Action leaders, stakeholders, and performance measures and indicators are identified to ensure effective implementation of each recommendation.

From: "Engineers for the Future - Addressing the Supply and Quality of Engineering Graduates for the new Century", Australian Council of Engineering Deans, March 2008