February, 2000

Changes Needed in Engineering Education Says Academy of Engineering Report

The Canadian Academy of Engineering (CAE) has issued a task force report calling for changes to engineering education in Canada -- notably a broadening of the education of engineering studies beyond the technical aspects of the specialist engineering disciplines.

The Evolution of Engineering Education in Canada was released Dec. 13 and is the product of a task force study begun in 1998.

Other key recommendations are:

* greater interaction between industry, faculty and students;
* an increased focus on lifelong learning and self-directed instruction;
* carrying out of research of greater relevance to industry; and
* promotion of enhanced technological literacy among the general public.

CAE Chairman Alex Taylor, P.Eng., and chairman ARGA Inc. said: "There is no doubt that rapid change in science, technology and society is placing new demands on our engineering students. The report lays the groundwork for useful debate and encourages all interested parties to participate in that discussion."

The 12-member task force chaired by Dr. Arthur Heidebrecht, former dean of engineering at McMaster University, also included University of Alberta Dean of Engineering David Lynch, P.Eng., PhD, and former APEGGA president John McDougall, P.Eng., managing director and CEO of the Alberta Research Council.

The report notes that: "engineering faculties in Canada have a fine record of accomplishments and have adapted well to rapid changes in science and technology in spite of a continuing environment of serious funding constraints. The new millennium presents them with increasing pressures and challenges arising from a broadening of the roles that engineers fill: in emerging engineering disciplines; in innovation and entrepreneurship; in international markets; in team leadership and interdisciplinary activity; and in protection of health, safety and the environment."

The report adds that engineers are needed to serve society not only in the traditional technical capacities but increasingly also in non-technical leadership roles.

While the report calls for a further broadening of engineering education, it also notes that there is little flexibility within current time and resource constraints to accommodate pressures for broadening of the undergraduate curriculum and for incorporating the continual expansion of relevant technology.

It therefore is important that the undergraduate curricula emphasize problem-solving and design. Increased postgraduate opportunities and an emphasis on lifelong learning can provide both specialist information and further broadening. A high priority should be placed on "learning how to learn." Acquisition of the skills of self-directed learning is important in preparing for life after leaving the university.

The desired broadening of engineering education should take place largely within the engineering curriculum. The report stresses: "It cannot be left to faculty in other parts of the university, to the more liberally minded engineering faculty members or to part-time faculty brought in to teach specific courses. It should permeate each component of the program."

Professors should enhance their own skills in education and develop suitable educational experiences for their students. Access to specific preparation in teaching and learning pedagogy should be provided. Furthermore, the report states: "faculty must be assured that their efforts in these directions will enhance rather than impede their career progress."

Regarding conducting research relevant to industry, the task force says there is a need for increased recognition of the value of the research experience in the professional development of the graduate students.

Because engineering professors regularly deal with the interface between science and society, they can contribute to the liberal education of students and the public.

Though the deans of engineering are key players and have a direct responsibility for leadership in engineering education, leaders within industry, business and government also have a duty to ensure that the economic and social importance of these initiatives are fully appreciated and that necessary resources for implementation are allocated.

The Canadian Academy of Engineering is an independent, self-governing and non-profit organization established in 1987 to serve the nation in matters of engineering concern. Fellows of the Academy (limited to 250) are professional engineers from all disciplines and are elected on the basis of their distinguished service and contribution to society, to the country and to the profession.

The report was printed and distributed with financial assistance from a number of sponsors : including AGRA Inc., Nortel Networks, Petro-Canada, SNC-Lavalin and Syncrude Canada Ltd. The report is available at

Evolution of Engineering Education in Canada -- calls for a new approach to how engineering is taught on Canadian campuses, such as the University of Alberta.

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