(This article was published before on EITdigital.eu)
The engineer of the future is more than just a very good beta person. He or she should know how to combine technology with societal needs. That is the belief of ir. Jan Mengelers, president of the Eindhoven University of Technology, who was one of the keynotes at the recent EIT Digital Master School Graduation Day. “These new graduates should be role models.”
The Graduation Day is the official send-off for 246 EIT Digital Master School graduates who have completed a two-year master programme at two top technical universities in Europe. This includes training in innovation and entrepreneurship to help guarantee Europe’s leading role in the global digital economy.
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Mengelers addressed the new graduates about being proud of their formal education and being given the chance to study in two different countries. During the Masters, EIT Digital students are tasked with working together during pressure-cooker events like the Kick-Off and Summer School, where they have to crack a business case with students from different disciplines, backgrounds, religions, cultures and perspectives. “This gives them the advantage over others of international experience,” says Mengelers. “Their education offers the basics to start a career in European society. If they start to work in international companies, they can apply their experiences of working together with international people. It is their job to be the role model for integration. The first step for the new graduates is to start working on what they have learned – prove yourself in the major of your curriculum, make yourself valuable.”
“Engineers of the future need to approach technology development not only from the perspective of technology but also that of users and systems”
Engineers of the future
To Mengelers it is important for the engineers to realise that technology does not stand alone. “Technology and its role in society will become increasingly complex. Engineers of the future need to approach technology development not only from the perspective of technology but also that of users and systems. Our students will need to be equipped with both in-depth knowledge and skills to operate in a diverse and rapidly changing world. They need to be able to work in multidisciplinary teams, take a systems perspective and be solution and innovation-driven. They need to consider technological, societal and ethical contexts as well, including regulations, policies and markets. Engineers of the future need a broad, open and cooperative mindset to meet the United Nations sustainable development goals, contribute to the technological revolution and create impact for society in a responsible and sustainable way. This implies reflection, analysis and participation in academic and public debates about technology and its impact.”
Skills in social science
Therefore, the profession of engineering is changing, emphasises the university president. The engineer of tomorrow will not be the same as the engineer who has been educated for today’s business. “It does not mean that one is better than the other. The future engineers are more system integrators. That isn’t easy. You should be good in multiple sectors. Based on technology, the engineers should see how technology connects within the society. This means that engineers should have skills also in social sciences and humanities. They do not have to be sociologists or psychologists, but they should understand the context of social sciences. Otherwise, you cannot operate as an engineer in the future.”
Besides the social context, the engineers of tomorrow need to be entrepreneurial. That is what Mengelers hears from the industry. The Eindhoven University of Technology, concocted more than sixty years ago at the kitchen table of the CEO’s of the large multinationals around Eindhoven, has a history of close industry collaboration. “There is a need in the market for engineers who can move in an entrepreneurial environment, just like the EIT Digital Master School graduates. Business is more complex nowadays. Therefore the industry wants a multidisciplinary approach to their business – they need people with in-depth technical knowledge and an entrepreneurial layer on top of that. They need system integrators who can oversee the big picture and the impacts in multiple areas.”
Yet, this need is also creating a paradox. The need for deep tech engineers 4.0 is growing, but the capacity at universities to deliver these people is limited. Recently, Mengelers stated that the TU Eindhoven – and also the TU Delft – had problems managing the growing student demand for computer and technical science bachelor programmes. The increase in applications for these programmes have four causes, explains Mengelers. “One is that additional programmes are now all in English, another is the relatively low tuition fees in the Netherlands for the strong reputation of high-quality scientific education in Europe and the Netherlands and the fourth reason is the job guarantee in the greater region of Eindhoven. This is attractive to international students. Globally about ten million people are looking for a scientific education at high ranking universities.”
The number of students applying for master’s programme is also increasing, says the university president. Although the amount of students is lower than graduate programmes, master’s students require more space, infrastructure and coaching. “That determines how you have to deal with the available space. Master’s students need more guidance in research skills and more laboratory facilities to experiment.”
European academic collaboration
The paradox is not easy to solve. Mengelers says that if the Dutch government does not supply more means, the university will be forced to limit the inflow. “We do not want to cut down on the quality. Our stakeholders – the industry – support us in this. They do not want us to put quantity over quality.”
Could a collaboration with other European universities ease this pressure? “In theory yes. But it is a long road. You need to harmonise with universities on working methods and levels. There is currently no aligned policy on solving capacity issues in one university within a European collaboration. The French president Emmanuelle Macron wants universities to work together in a network of universities by 2020. We now work in Eurotech Universities, a network of six leading European universities of technology and science, who are equipped to do so. That is a start. EIT Digital Academy is also a good example of where universities collaborate. This framework is simpler than having a full collaboration on multiple levels. Yet, it is a very useful collaboration to define ourselves as an international university. I think it is good that foreign universities are connected to us. I can only encourage having more international students.”
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