As our modern world continues to become increasingly complex, the need for those with the skills to solve the problems of tomorrow will only grow in importance. While it might be surprising to hear, engineers may be the only people qualified to solve many of these new problems. Engineering is about finding practical solutions to problems that society is facing; these problems could include climate change, global health issues, the rise of new technologies, and much more.

While engineering is of profound importance to the world, many universities have previously struggled with attracting and properly educating students for the jobs they will hold in the fast changing future. It is thus vital that engineering schools attract enough students and ensure that they develop both the technical understanding and the enabling skills of these students.

Students study engineering. Pic: UCSI University

Students study engineering. Pic: UCSI University

Problems to be overcome

In the West, there has been a general decline in the number of students joining engineering programs. However, a similar decline has not been seen in the East – China and India graduate around six and eight times as many engineers respectively as does the United States. A lack of engineers can have serious long-term economic effects upon a country. This can be seen in how American engineering firms, once dominant in global infrastructure projects, are now often relegated to minor roles or are not even invited to participate.

Another knock-on effect of a lack of engineers is that a country’s own infrastructure steadily deteriorates. This can be clearly seen in the U.S. where many roads, bridges, power stations, railways, etc. have received failing grades from regulatory agencies.

One of the main problems that engineering has faced in the last few years is a matter of appearances – studying engineering may not sound quite as glamourous as some other subjects, but in fact it is one of the most exciting areas both for study and for work opportunities after graduation. Additionally, many schools have historically stuggled in adequately describing what a career in engineering might entail, thus many students have not had a clear understanding of whether they might be a good fit for such a degree.

While a variety of new technical and scientific fields have arisen in recent times, some schools fail to provide education to their students on these new industries. It is thus incumbent upon engineering schools to ensure that they are teaching their students the skills needed for them to be successful in these emerging industries, rather than focusing on out of date “traditional” subject areas.

Following along with this idea, many schools have, in the past, failed to provide real-world hands-on experience to their students. Employers have complained of the need to extensively train recent graduates in order to teach them the skills needed for their new jobs. This is not simply a lack of hands-on engineering training, but also a lack of a wider education in other business related fields, such as management and communications. An additional area that has often been cited as a problem is the lack of creativity among students, there is often very little in the education that encourages such thinking even though it is a key factor for success in the student’s later professional life.

Another problem that engineering schools have struggled with has been a significant dearth of female students attending their programs. A lack of diversity within the field can result in serious cases of groupthink and a resultant stifling of creativity.

Educating future engineers. Pic: UCSI University

Educating future engineers. Pic: UCSI University

Solutions that have been implemented

In order to deal with the range of problems within engineering education, such as those mentioned above, schools have come up with a variety of solutions and strategies aimed at improving the educational experience and at graduating better prepared workers.

In order to increase awareness about the vast range of opportunities available within engineering, many universities have developed outreach programs to local elementary and high schools wherein they send engineering students and professors to teach classes with a focus on solving engineering problems and creating enthusiasm about the subject. The long-term goal of these programs is to boost enrollment in engineering.

Within engineering programs themselves, an important change that is being implemented across the world is the move away from focusing on textbook learning and the incorporation of more real-world relevant course materials. This has resulted in the creation of comprehensive courses in the application of science and technology to solve real-world problems.

Additionally, in order to connect engineering students with emerging industries and develop their students’ skill sets, many engineering schools are arranging for industry experts to visit and meet with students as well as taking them on tours of their places of work. Furthermore, schools are arranging for work placement opportunities for their students so that they can begin gaining hands-on experience in the industries they will be joining once they graduate. Employers have stated that students with previous industrial work experience are much more attractive hires.

In furtherance of developing a more rigorous and real-world applicable engineering education, a number of programs have been developed to help create the next generation of engineers. One of the largest of these programs is the CDIO™ INITIATIVE. According to the CDIO website, “The [CDIO] framework provides students with an education stressing engineering fundamentals set in the context of Conceiving – Designing – Implementing – Operating (CDIO) real-world systems and products.” The CDIO program works with students to develop not just technical rigor, but also skills such as creativity, leadership, and decision-making. Hundreds of schools around the world have implemented this framework and have achieved great success.

This new thinking about how engineering programs should be structured can also be seen in the recent £12 million donation by Sir James Dyson to Imperial College London for the new Dyson School of Design Engineering. The curriculum will have a strong focus on being relevant to current and future industry practices as well as ensuring there is a good balance between technical discipline and creativity, and will include modules on such subjects as patent application and intellectual copyright.

Since engineering can no longer be thought of as a closed discipline operating in its own realm, many schools are encouraging their students to integrate their educations with other engineering disciplines, pure science, and business practices (such as management) so that they will be more well-rounded employees.

To their credit, schools all over the world have recognized their lack of diversity, particularly with regards to the number of female students, and are engaging in active outreach in order to attract more females to study engineering. Following along with this, many schools are offering mentoring and other special programs that are designed to appeal to female students.

Encouraging innovation in engineering. Pic: UCSI University

Encouraging innovation in engineering. Pic: UCSI University

Improvements that are clear to see

The efforts mentioned above appear to be having their intended effects. In the United Kingdom, for example, enrollments into chemical, process, and energy engineering have risen from 8,450 in 2007 to 19,830 in 2014, a 135 percent increase. Additionally, over the last decade, enrollments in mechanical and general engineering have seen an 80 percent increase.

Women are also entering the engineering fields at a much higher rate. During the last ten years, there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of female students entering civil engineering programs.

So do you think you have what it takes to become an engineer and change the world?

Read on for more information on some of the world-class institutions who are leading the revolution in engineering education, and who are offering high quality and progressive programmes, preparing students for the modern world of engineering:

Built on the principles of audacity, perseverance, integrity and excellence, UCSI University is a leading institution of higher education with campuses across Malaysia. The University’s commitment – and success – in undergraduate teaching is matched by its progress in research and the discovery of knowledge, making it a true hub of higher education. UCSI University’s Faculty of Engineering, Technology & Built Environment (FETBE) provides a range of innovative undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, many of which benefit from national and international recognition. The custom-built campus provides students with access to industry standard facilities, engineering software and technology. Students are taught by a rich mix of industry practitioners, professors and informed researchers, who are able to offer extensive expertise and vital links with industry. With this level of expertise and with over 1,800 corporate partners, UCSI distinguishes itself by offering the largest industrial placement programme in Malaysia. Read full profile.

The University of Dundee has an international reputation which attracts top-class students and academics from all over the world – more than 100 countries are represented in the student community. Innovative – and often world-leading – research into a wide range of disciplines takes place at the University, with pioneering post-graduate programmes enabling graduates to move to the next level. The School of Engineering, Physics and Mathematics (EPM) is dedicated to promoting academic excellence and preparing students for rewarding and successful careers. Graduates from the School are highly sought-after by leading employers; alumni have gone on to work for industry leaders across the globe. Engineering at EPM opens the door to a wide range of careers by mixing traditional core engineering principles with emerging technology.

Oxford Brookes University was founded in Oxford, England in 1865, and it has grown into one of the UK’s leading modern universities. Innovation is the cornerstone of the educational process here, and students are encouraged to expand their academic curiosity, experiment and take risks. The Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment at Oxford Brookes University has an international reputation for excellence, innovation and an ambitious desire to be recognised as one of the most exciting places to study in the world.

An institution committed to inspiring students to excel as creative professionals within stimulating, rewarding careers, the University of West London has gained an outstanding reputation for high quality education which facilitates graduates’ seamless progression into employment. The University, which is situated in the heart of the UK capital, has one of the most impressive employment rates in the country; recent Employment Performance Indications (EP) released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) indicate that 94% of students find work within six months of graduation. Specialising in the delivery of research-led, innovative technical courses, the University’s School of Computing and Technology aspires to be the best source of education for creative professionals in computing, engineering and built environment in London.

The first university in New Zealand to have achieved a 5-star ranking under the QS Stars system, the University of Canterbury (UC) ranks among the top 3% of universities in the country. With a strong international reputation for its high-quality course options, world-class teaching staff and large, inclusive student community, the institution attracts both students and staff from all corners of the globe. UC’s College of Engineering offers professional qualifications in Engineering and Forestry at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. The Civil and Natural Engineering department, which operates within the College, is ranked 19th in the world; in addition to this, the Mechanical Engineering and Chemical and Process Engineering departments are recognised as the best in New Zealand.