During the latter half of the twentieth century, the focus and content of formative engineering degrees that qualify graduates to commence supervised practice progressively emphasised engineering science, somewhat at the expense of its connections to engineering practice. Australian engineering degrees, nevertheless, have long included requirements for industry exposure, to round out and contextualise students’ engineering science and application knowledge, and provide experience relevant to their future practice as graduate employees. The quality of students’ exposure to industry has become more variable as engineering enrolments have increased and diversified, industries’ structures and employers’ expectations have changed, and the academic workforce has become more focussed on engineering science research. The changes present new challenges in coverage, quality, and assessment (by the universities) of students’ experience of industry engagement.
This paper describes a major national project completed in June 2014 by the Australian Council of Engineering Deans, and funded directly by government. It aimed to improve industry engagement in Australian formative professional engineering degrees. The working hypothesis was that student retention and graduation rates, and graduates’ employability could be increased by stronger industry engagement for all students, particularly in the early years of engineering degree programs.
The two-year project was led and managed by the authors. The project involved a large, representative set of the 35 Australian universities that provide engineering degrees, and was supported by Engineers Australia, industry peak bodies, and many engineering employers. Two distinct approaches were taken. The first developed a research-based model for improved industry engagement in engineering degrees, and refined this in extensive sector-wide consultation processes. The university participants explored their own practices, and plans against this model. In the second approach, seven universities developed, implemented, and evaluated ‘industry-inspired’ content, mostly in large enrolment subject units in core curriculum areas of engineering science and practice. This content involved about 30 engineering employers, and was taken by about 1,000 students.
The deliverables from the first approach are model principles for an industry engaged curriculum, expressed in the forms of best-practice guidelines, and recommendations for action by academic providers, industry and employers, and sector wide stakeholders, including government. These are complemented with a suite of resources, including a reflection tool for universities to assess their performance against the model. The participating universities have all demonstrated or planned practice improvements in their industry engagement methodologies. From the second approach, the industry-inspired projects have been packaged with materials and project notes for other engineering educators to use. Internal evaluations of these projects have indicated positive impacts on learning.
This project has contributed directly to continuing improvement in engineering education, and national accreditation and engineering skills development. The work aligns with national interest in the benefits of workplace integrated learning (WIL) in higher education, particularly in science, technology and mathematics, building on the experience of engineering.
Industry engagement, workplace learning, engineering education, authentic curricula