chapter  7
18 Pages

Efficiency of teaching core knowledge and employability competencies in chemical engineering education

WithGlassey Jarka

A recent review of the learning outcomes of a chemical engineering higher education formation indicated a significant alignment of the requirements world-wide with some differences in the emphasis on fundamental science, related engineering disciplines, and information technology applications.

An overview of the effectiveness and efficiency measures, currently used in chemical engineering education in Europe, is provided through the findings of the iTeach European project consortium. These measures are used as a basis for examining whether the chemical engineering education is seen as fit for purpose. State-of-the art in assessing the effectiveness of teaching of core engineering knowledge and of the development of professional skills and competencies required to increase the employability of the graduates is reviewed. Together with the stakeholder consultation, this enabled a robust framework for supporting effective delivery of core knowledge and employability competencies to be formulated, as described in chapter 7. The results of the pilot implementation of this framework are outlined and generic findings summarized.

It is widely accepted that our world is a world of constant flux, permeated by very rapid and relentless change; it is industrialized, globalized, and interconnected. It is also self-evident that engineers, throughout human development, have played a major role in shaping our physical environment and will continue to do so for years to come. Although our engineering graduates are in great demand, and because of their skills it is highly likely that they will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future, they have to compete with equally well qualified graduates from across the global job market who often can offer their services at more competitive salaries. Nevertheless, today’s industry knows that the decisive factor for competitiveness is no longer cheap labour but the attitudes and skills of their employees, and therefore it is important that HE institutions must address this issue in their curricula. More and more we find that our engineering graduates have to differentiate themselves from the competition through demonstration of competences, i.e. knowledge, skills/know-how, and attitudes/personal attributes. This picture appears to hold in general for EU countries, the USA, Canada, and Australia, and to a lesser extent for China and the Asian subcontinent, where personal connections still play a major role in finding employment.

While the full impact of such trends in this new competitive marketplace is not yet clear, one thing is certain: we will need more and more engineers with knowledge, skills, and enterprising and entrepreneurial mindsets to develop and produce the goods and services required by the expanding world economy. There is a need to train graduates that think and act like professionals, with professionalism being much more than just acquiring specific skills and subject knowledge, but rather a state of mind, a way of thinking and living.

In January 2015, a diverse group of teachers of history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, economics, and other domains in the humanities, arts, and social sciences came together with teachers of engineering at a workshop in Washington D.C. to explore possibilities for establishing an innovative undergraduate degree program – a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies in Engineering.

They propose the establishment of a new kind of undergraduate experience that would integrate engineering studies in with courses in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. They advanced the idea of a new kind of undergraduate degree, calling it a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies in Engineering, meant to move faculty of engineering and of the liberal arts to think seriously about the possibility that preparation for work as an engineer, for the vocation, requires now a firm basis in the liberal arts, and that all graduates should be sensitive to and prepared to reflect upon not just “impacts,” but also the complex social/political contexts of engineering practice at all levels – within the firm, the community, the nation, the world.

The aim is to encourage students to identify as a group, a community, and see themselves as standing apart from their peers who have chosen to major in traditional fields. Those seeking this new form of undergraduate education will be strengthened in their resolve and professional identity formation by participation in a cohort experience.

The program in Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies in Engineering is seen as an antidote, a way to engage students in engineering, even entrepreneurship, while rooting learning in specially designed courses in the humanities, arts, and social sciences that stress reflective thought and practice and show the importance of cultural values, listening, reading, and open discussion with peers. The challenge is in how to integrate “exemplary engineering content” in with the teaching/learning of literature, philosophy, history, anthropology, sociology, government, economics in a way that contributes to enrich the host course and engenders an understanding and critique of the engineering in context? The way forward is illustrated by showing how three colleges have met the challenge.