The Royal Academy of Engineering hosted a pretty wonderful 2 day summit on the Grand Challenges facing the planet, and how engineers could respond to them.
You can read about it here, on the blog from the summit: http://globalgrandchallengessummit.wordpress.com/
I had to give a thought piece provocation for the education debate, which you can see below:
In its finer moments, engineering changes the physical world for the use and benefit of Man. Engineering is an art that uses science and is manifest through projects. For engineers to participate in this great purpose, they need to move far beyond the post-WW2 mentality that “good engineers do hard sums”, still the prevailing mindset in undergrad engineering curricula. Instead engineering education needs a radical overhaul, raising the skills of design and synthesis and the tackling of open, non-deterministic problems to balance out the oversupply of engineering science and maths, much of which, in practice, is now done robotically in any case.
For new engineers, the use of C21 tools to do the sums should be taken as a given, and for most successful projects, it has become only a small part of what is needed.. And education should focus instead on developing a really insightful contextual understanding of the societal need, and the ability to respond to that need through conception, testing and judgement as part of the iterative design loop. These skills work for any project, engineering, energy, architecture, product… Then the design challenge for engineering educators is to configure a project to deliver these skills via industry, to society. And that will need an academic shift away from detailed scientific research and analysis (which will still have a place, albeit as something for engineers to use) to project design and synthesis, or what some call systems integration. What fun to be had!
By way of clarification….I understand science to make our ideas conform to the world, and engineering to make the world conform to our ideas…..so the intellectual process of science is exactly opposite to engineering design. They need each other, and often play complementary roles in projects, but they are entirely different.
(touchingly, on the big poster displays inside the summit, the copywriters had changed “tackling non-deterministic problems” into “…non-domestic problems”. Maybe they’re right!