New IEEE President: Engineering Schools Must Undergo Major Reform

March 2, 2011
Moshe Kam, 2011 president and CEO of IEEE said engineering education must undergo significant transformation in the next decade to continue to push innovation forward, or global economic expansion will slow.

Moshe Kam, 2011 president and CEO of IEEE, said engineering education must undergo significant transformation in the next decade to continue to push innovation forward, or global economic expansion will slow. Kam believes engineers of all disciplines need a deeper understanding of computing and networking, cross-disciplinary education, and sharper analytical skills.

IEEE is larger than it has ever been, with more than 400,000 members worldwide, and is growing at double-digit rates in emerging economies such as Brazil and China. However, Kam warned, the current pace of technological innovation is not sustainable without further changes to how we prepare tomorrow’s engineers. Challenges, such as providing sustainable energy and universal access to health care, would require a much more versatile and adept engineer than the typical graduate we educate now .

Among pre-university students in the United States, Western Europe and several countries in other regions, interest in engineering and computing has been declining for about a decade now. Cuts in higher education programs in the United States and the United Kingdom, tend to affect engineering and computing departments disproportionally, given that they are expensive to teach and maintain. State and university administrations that focus on short-term savings by contracting programs in engineering and computing may be putting the welfare of their communities at risk.

"Innovation – which is a vehicle for economic expansion and welfare – is not possible without strong engineering schools. If we starve engineering programs, we may save some money now, but will pay a high price in the long-run. We will be neglecting the development of those who can have the tools needed to face and solve humanity’s challenges," said Kam.

Additional curriculum areas that are likely to undergo significant changes include:

  • Incorporation of considerations from economics, psychology, law and even advertising in engineering design.
  • International opportunities to study and work abroad.
  • Engineering applications of life sciences and biology.
  • The shift of many engineering enterprises from products to services.
  • Progress in automated computing tools and symbolic computation.

"The engineering and computing education system is the backbone for key industries," says Kam. "There would be no Silicon Valley without Stanford. No high-tech Route 128 in Boston without Harvard, MIT and Tufts. The dramatic advances by India’s information technology industry wouldn’t be possible without the 15 Indian Institutes of Technology, and it is not a coincidence that Europe’s technology centers are found where a major university is located (e.g., Silicon Fen near Cambridge University, and Technopolis Innovation Park Delft near Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands)."

Kam said a critical step is convening government, academia and business leaders from key regions around the world to work on joint planning of the future of engineering education.

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