By: Uriel R. Cukierman,
WEEF 2012 Buenos Aires, Co-Chair, Dean, College of Engineering,
University of Palermo, Argentina
“Think globally, act locally”. This well-known maxim, authored by the French-born American microbiologist René Dubos, usually comes to my mind when I think about engineering education challenges.
I have had the opportunity to interact, during the last decade, with several engineering educators from all over the world and I’ve discovered that we all share similar challenges when dealing with educating future engineers: how to promote the study of technological majors among high school students? How to deal with the teaching of mathematics and physics? How to avoid the high percentage of abandonment in the very first year of universities’ studies? Last, but not least, how to finance the relatively and increasingly high cost of engineering education? These are dilemmas that we all face regardless of our position; faculties, deans, chancellors and also governmental authorities are very worried about these issues. It is a fact that our modern world, with its paraphernalia of technological products and services, requires more and more engineers; it is not an exaggeration to state that the continuity of the world, as we know it nowadays, depends on the answer of the previously listed questions.
But the answers may not be the same in different regions or countries; as a matter of fact, the accreditation criteria vary from country to country and from region to region. The European Framework Standards are really different from ABET accreditation criteria and both of them have practically nothing in common with, for example, the Argentinean standards for engineering undergraduate studies.
The different perspectives about engineering education involve not only accreditation issues but some other challenges as well, let’s think about financing issues. Here in Argentina for example, public universities are funded by federal government and absolutely free for the students. On the other hand in countries like our neighbor Chile, tuition fees are equivalent to 22.7% of GDP per capita.
When we think about pedagogy, again there are very different approaches. You, dear reader, may think that this is not true because pedagogical theories are universal, but as soon as we analyze how those theories are implemented in different countries, we will find that there are diverse perspectives and approaches. In the so call “first world”, and especially in the US, MOOCs are proposed, by not an insignificant number of professors and universities’ authorities, as a solution for the growing demand of high level education. However, in very less developed countries, the access to decent Internet connections and to personal computing devices is nothing more than a wish.
We may continue looking for different situations about various problems, but it is not the object of this article to conclude that there is no way to solve these global challenges. Remembering Dubos’ maxim, it is clear that we need local solutions for them. There are no universal recipes, there are not magical solutions.
We certainly need to collaborate to learn from our colleagues all over the world, to replicate those solutions that are useful for our local actualities and, surely, to learn from those who have failed, in order not to repeat the same errors.
Global conferences, like those organized by IFEES, GEDC, SPEED and some other prestigious engineering education organizations, are very good opportunities to interact and network with colleagues from all over the world and to present and discuss our very diverse and particular ideas and solutions. From the point of view of those who leads those organizations, it is very relevant to find ways to facilitate the participation of more and diverse colleagues from all over the world in that kind of meetings and to assure that their participation will be really meaningful for their professional role in engineering education institutions.