IEEE boss urges a reform to engineering in education -

IEEE president Dr Moshe Kam announced recently that a transformation in the way engineers are educated is vital in pushing forward innovation worldwide. Without reform, global economic expansion is doomed to slow.

Dr Kam believes that engineers of all disciplines need a deeper understanding of computing and networking, cross-disciplinary education, and sharper analytical skills.

According to Kam, the President and CEO of the world's largest technical professional association, the IEEE, there are a number of important challenges that need to be squared. We must provide sustainable energy and universal access to health care, which requires a change in the way that the engineering profession is treated.

However, with a slump in high level candidates being attracted to engineering courses in some Western countries, such as the UK and the US, Kam believes that more needs to be done to secure a vibrant engineering community that can look at these problems.

He recently spoke exclusively to TechEye, outlining the importance of investing in engineering education and the importance of knowledge in computing - necessary building blocks for the profession’s contribution to a better economic future.

“It is important now that engineers all have a wider range of skills to ensure high quality professionals as the nature of engineering work continues to change,” he told TechEye.

“This is particularly important with regards to being taught about computing and software which are now absolutely vital elements in the training of engineers.”

While in the past engineering has been fragmented into separate areas such as electrical engineering or mechanical engineering, Kam believes that what were once specialised areas are important, base elements of being an engineer, and knowledge of computing is a must.

“In the past students have been forced to pick up a lot of this knowledge on their own,” he added, “or it may just be taught at the end of the course as a kind of add on.

“Increasingly we feel that the principles of computing are not issues that should be brought in at the end as computing knowledge is so vital, so this knowledge needs to be implemented in the curriculum at an earlier stage.”

Kam believes that more needs to be done to support the adequate training of engineering with increased investments in Western countries, particularly in the UK.

“The UK has one of the most advanced higher education systems, however it has been in a slow decline over a number of years.

“While perhaps the elite universities are not always affected, there is often an impact on higher education institutions that are not as well placed.

“This decreases the opportunities for those from a poorer background and has a negative impact, and this can also mean that researchers have to look abroad for opportunities.”

One of the main problems Dr Kam wants to tackle for the engineering community is the ability to attract top level teachers to engage with students, noting a decline in interest in the UK and US.

While in the UK STEM subjects fared comparatively well in the recent bout of cuts, Kam believes that still more needs to done to attract teachers, researchers and students and this means more funding.

“Financial incentives should be given to teachers to bring those with the relevant expertise in engineering into other fields such as mathematics so that students are given good access to knowledge.  If this could be done at secondary level then it would be even more beneficial.

“Also in the UK there has recently been negativity in the higher education system in terms of funding foreign students following discussions on rising fees.  However, it must be stressed that attracting top foreign students is advantageous to the economy in the long run, as they establish links that the UK has always historically benefited from when they return to their home countries.

“Better links should be established with other countries from an early stage through exchange student programmes, as these mean that vital links are formed between different countries.”

While it is clear that a leading spokesman in his field such as Kam talks sense, it is perhaps inevitable he will argue that more funding is necessary for his interest, while calls for more investment go largely against the grain of an environment of cuts in the UK make this difficult.

There have been some notable exceptions, such as planned investments in the East London 'tech city', and overall Kam believes that by supporting engineers in the short term the economy in the UK, and indeed in other countries will similarly reap benefits in the future.

“When governments invest in engineers they invest in innovation and efficiency.  It is clear that without investment there is slower advancement, so this is an investment in the future,” said Kam.