Emerging Trends in Engineering Education

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By Dr. Sanjay Goel, Director of Institute of Engineering and Technology, JK Lakshmipat University

For thousands of years, engineering activities have been the core enablers of civilizational transformation. New technologies as well as engineering systems and products have been and continue to be at the center, not only in sectors related to food, water, hygiene, clothing, housing, defense, energy, manufacturing, and transportation but also in healthcare, education, entertainment, finance, governance, etc. The ambitious sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without a huge expansion and transformation of engineering endeavors, in many cases, with new technologies and mindset. Hence, despite the evolution of many other industry-specific courses, engineering education remains as one of most attractive options for students across the world. A huge number of students continue to enroll in engineering courses as Industry 4.0 and Net-Zero Transition technologies present many bright career opportunities. Further,asengineering education mainly focusses on strengthening analytical and problem-solving skills, many engineering graduates find it very easy to use their education as a springboard for other career pursuits.

According to the latest report, India Inc. is optimistic about new job openings in FY23 as the country’s economy is on a growth trajectory. The report is based on a survey among executive-level managers and HR leaders covering sectors such as construction and engineering, auto and auto ancillary, education, FMCG, hospitality, banking, and finance, among others. The latest data indicates high job potential for engineering graduates and postgraduates, with companies looking forward to hiring fresh engineering talent who can help them fill the revenue or growth gap created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some emerging trends that are shaping engineering education in the country today:

Outcome-based Education (OBE)

Outcome-based engineering education seeks to nurture students’ ability to conceive, design, implement, and operate complex value-added engineering products, processes, and systems in a modern team-based environment. The UGC, AICTE, NAAC, and NBA are encouraging the implementation OBE. Many progressive institutes are carefully defining their Program Educational Objectives, Program Outcomes, Program Specific Outcomes, Program-specific desired minimum level of competence for POs and PSOs, Course Outcomes, Course Articulation Matrices, Program Articulation Matrices, and also developing their monitoring systems for Course level and Program Level Outcome Attainment. OBE’s implementation requires that students are repeatedly engaged in the core engineering processes—designing, predicting performance, building, and testing—throughout the curriculum. Many universities and engineering institutes are making systematic reforms to implement OBE effectively through the appropriate inclusion of inductive pedagogies like project-based learning (PBL), experiential learning, etc.

Choice Based Credit System (CBCS)

UGC introduced CBCS in 2015 to make higher education broad-based and promote learner-centricity, flexibility, and inter-disciplinarity. Extent of its implementation is an important parameter in NAAC accreditation process. NEP has also supported it. Some universities have already implemented CBCS in their engineering programs and many more are in the process of doing so. The BTech curriculum at many leading universities comprises of core courses, abilityenhancement courses, skill enhancement courses, discipline specific electives and open electives.

Concentrations, Minors, and Dual Majors
Academic flexibility is being taken to a new level through these options. Many universities are offering option of concentrations as an opportunity to specialize in a subfield within the core discipline. Some universities have opened up the possibilities of earning an additional minor in a closely related discipline in engineering, mathematics, or science or even a very different discipline in arts, design, management, humanities, or social science. For example, students of BTech (Mechanical Engineering) have the option to either earn a concentration in Automation and Robotics or a minor in CSE or Cyber-Physical Systems. A few universities have also gone ahead to create interesting inter-disciplinary programs combining two or more different disciplines of engineering or by facilitating something like dual major by combining an engineering discipline with mathematics, social science or design. For example, IIIT Delhi is offering BTech (CS and Applied Mathematics), BTech (CS and Social Sciences), and BTech (CS and Design). Both the NEP and also some new UGC announcements are encouraging the universities to bring in more educational innovations using such flexibilities.

Industry-specific programs

Many universities and institutes are including industry-specific engineering courses in their curricula. In these programs, the students are exposed to the latest engineering tools, technologies and trends in the engineering sector. The courses are also regularly updated from time to time. Many universities offer courses on RPA in collaboration with UiPath.

The flexibility of External Courses
Many universities are offering flexibility to earn credits through MOOCs and courses at partner universities in India or abroad. In addition to facilitating Swayam-NPTEL courses, some progressive universities have even entered partnerships with online education providers like Coursera and edX and free/paid access to these online courses to their engineering students. Faculty are integrating these online courses in their curricula in many different ways. Some universities also offer the option for doing a semester at some partner university abroad. They allows student to earn credits through curated MOOC courses, wherein a faculty mentors and also partly assesses the students for selected MOOC courses and students are also allowed to spend one or two semesters at either its partner universities through several such MoUs. Several BTech students have spent a semester or more in their Universities and then completed the course at the University of Florida, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, St. Cloud State University, IIT Gandhinagar, and IIIT Delhi.

Industry Internships

For many decades, one summer internship has been an essential component of almost all engineering programs. Earlier, only a few universities like BITS, and Pilani had created a provision of a full semester-long internship in the final year. While there are serious difficulties in managing short-term summer internships, the industry is much more interested in engaging students for this full semester-long final-year internship.

Focus on Sustainability

Institutions of higher education have started to include sustainability in the curriculum of various disciplines worldwide. The ability to consider sustainability-related issues in engineering processes of planning, design, implementation, etc., is now considered as an essential desired program outcome of many engineering programs. Many universities are transforming their engineering curricula to include sustainability related topics in their courses. NAAC’s requirement of various green campus initiatives is also supplementing this trend.

Soft skills development
Communication and other soft skills are essential for engineers as they are expected to be proficient in presentation, organisation, leadership, and conflict resolution. Increasingly the engineering institutes have been including soft skills development programs and courses in their curricula in many different ways. For example,BTech curriculum of many universities includes six compulsory courses taught by the Centre of Communication and Critical Thinking.

Building entrepreneurial and innovative abilities

Entrepreneurship and innovation have the potential of turning fresh graduates into job providers rather than job seekers. Understanding the true potential of entrepreneurship, institutes are building incubation centers and courses to help students hatch their innovative plans. Engineering institutes are also providing all necessary support from finance to infrastructure to students today and many students have come up with successful start-ups because of this process. Some universities have started giving the option to students to work on their own start-ups in lieu of internships and/or project work. The Atal Incubation Centre at various universities supports students in their entrepreneurial efforts and some specialized open elective courses on entrepreneurship are also offered to students.

Conclusion

As industries and businesses across sectors are evolving by leveraging new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Automation & Robotics, New Materials, New Manufacturing & Construction Technologies, Biotechnology, Clean Technologies, Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), High-performance Computing, AR/VR, Blockchain, etc., engineering institutes are transforming their curricula to meet the new demands of the industry by including these technologies in their curricula and also adopting transformative approaches like OBE and CBCS, increasing emphasis on industry internships, sustainability, soft skills, innovation, and entrepreneurship, as well as offering options for external credits and industry-specific programs.

Many progressive universities are redefining and transforming their curricula and student’s experience in different ways. With these new trends, engineering education is becoming ready for producing engineers who can take the country’s economy and technological might to newer heights. For motivated students, engineering education continues as a great gateway for some of the best career options. It also offers opportunities to prepare themselves as change agents to transform the world and make it more beautiful, prosperous, happier, healthier, and sustainable.

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