13/08/2020 - 13:16

Engineering education for the 21st century

13/08/2020 - 13:16

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Engineering is a great profession for creative thinkers with analytical minds and the desire to apply science and technology to develop solutions, systems and infrastructure to serve the changing needs of the global community.

Engineering is a great profession for creative thinkers with analytical minds and the desire to apply science and technology to develop solutions, systems and infrastructure to serve the changing needs of the global community.

Engineers are highly sought after internationally for their unique problem-solving skills, and they enjoy a professional career that is rewarding, exciting and far from repetitive or mundane.

The world of engineering is becoming increasingly multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary. Engineering projects and systems are spiralling up in information complexity with the development and adaptation of new tools and technologies.

These new innovations add substantially more detailed information at every stage of an engineering project from conceptualisation, design, verification, construction, commissioning and operation.

There is also a greater emphasis on the human interface and societal impact in engineering projects, as well as environmental considerations including conservation of natural habitat, energy efficiency, recyclability, waste management and climate change. Gone are the days when economic considerations were almost the only drivers in engineering projects!

So what are the implications of these diversified requirements on how universities should prepare graduate engineers for the challenges, expectations and opportunities they will face throughout their professional careers?

Many seasoned engineers would agree that the demand on graduate engineers is now higher than a couple of decades ago, with industry requiring new graduates to quickly get up to speed with the nature of the business. There is less appetite to grow the investment in student internships and graduate development programs across the sector.

With these changing dynamics in the engineering profession and the growing expectations on graduate engineers, it is no longer adequate to limit engineering education to theory and computer simulation, with minimal exposure to real engineering practice.

The engineering education of the 21st century must integrate theory with practice, making use of real engineering contexts and authentic learning environments to prepare graduate engineers for the varied challenges ahead of them as professional engineers.

In addition, engineering education must provide more than just a strong technical grounding. It should also adequately cover areas such as ethics, societal impact of engineering development, environmental impact considerations in engineering projects, climate change mitigation, etc.

It is also increasingly important for engineering planning and design to take into account the rapidly increasing frequency of extreme events, brought about by climate change. Quick deployment of the essential infrastructure and services after an extreme event requires a thinking and approach that must at least be seeded in the minds of engineering students whilst they go through their learning journey.

Such considerations have shaped the directions of engineering education offered by the School of Engineering at ECU.

ECU has established a unique niche in engineering education and research, where being student-focused and industry-relevant are at the core of our teaching and research culture. We have established outstanding engineering infrastructure and facilities, globally, to authenticate the learning experiences of our engineering students.

We have blurred the boundaries between engineering education and engineering practice by providing our students with frequent exposure to real-world industry-scale hardware, software, design and development environments.

The benefits of this approach were demonstrated by the recent successes of ECU Engineering in manufacturing a high volume of personal protective equipment (PPE) to assist the community and the health sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are strong advocates of local manufacturing, and through the design and manufacturing of a variety of products and systems at ECU we endeavour to demonstrate that Australian manufacturing can be competitive in price, whilst high in quality and style. This also provides a platform to engineering students and staff to turn their innovative ideas into marketable products.

We are proud of the Australian manufacturing sector and proactively contribute to its growth and expansion through our education and research.  

In addition to our authentic and real-world learning environment, we embrace and promote the concept of ‘peace engineering’, meaning that we deliver our teaching and research programs within the paradigms of environmental and community sustainability.

We teach the next generation of engineers to reflect on environmental considerations in their design and development practices, and endeavour to harmonise the natural and built environments in engineering projects such that we can sustain and improve our world for future generations.

Our responsible and ethical approach to community and environmental sustainability, together with a student-centred culture and a strong focus on industry engagement and professional practice, has made the School of Engineering at ECU one of the fastest-growing and most successful engineering schools in Australia.

This has also been built on a synergy between teaching and research in engineering at ECU, so that whilst our teaching quality is exemplary as a trademark of ECU, the quality of our research output is among the top tier institutions in Australia and across the world.

 Find out more here.

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