Engineering education historically has been shaped by professional accreditation and internal university imperatives. The recent strengthening of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) adds a new layer of thinking and has required many universities to re-examine how embedded honours degrees are awarded and the degree to which undergraduate programs reflect the level 8 requirements. The AQF is necessarily broad as it applies to all disciplines and fields of education. What is needed is a way of contextualising AQF requirements for engineering education and a means for understanding how these are similar to, or differ from, Engineers Australia’s Stage One Competencies. This paper represents a work in progress that is designed to ignite thinking about AQF8 implications – particularly those around research in the final year engineering project.
An Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) project set out to map practices in relation to final year engineering projects and to consider the implications for compliance with AQF8 outcomes. One aspect of the study looked specifically at how AQF8 outcomes are understood by coordinators and the team came to examine the nature and role of research in final year projects. From here, the team sought to generate a contextualised definition for AQF8 outcomes as they might apply to engineering education. Although there are other points of differentiation between AQF7 and AQF8, the team sought, in particular, to develop a broadly accepted definition for research.
This paper reports on one part of the larger project. The wider project methodology was largely qualitative, adopting a case study approach. Data was gathered from 16 universities across Australia (from all states and territories) and included university documentation such as subject outlines, rubrics and student guidelines. Additionally, interviews were conducted with coordinators of final year project courses. It was within these interviews that participants were asked specifically about AQF8 outcomes. Additional data was gathered from participants during a conference workshop designed to explore understanding of AQF8 outcomes. The notion of a contextualised definition of research is derived from this data together in collaboration with Engineers Australia.
The data revealed that universities are at different stages of AQF compliance. Further, there is mixed understanding in relation to AQF8 with degrees of uncertainty about some terms used in the document, particularly around what comprises research. There is some sense that some engineering programs are already meeting the higher order requirements of AQF8 outcomes and that compliance is merely procedural. Beyond this, however, is the revelation that there is a great deal of contention around research and autonomy as defined by AQF. It was in this context that the OLT team sought to develop a definition of research as applied to the final year or capstone project. The definition delineates specific engineering knowledge, skills and application as would be seen in the final year project.
This paper proposes a nationally supported definition of what research means within the undergraduate engineering education context and in doing so assists linking AQF8 directly to final year projects specifically, but to embedded honours programs more generally.
Research, Australian Qualifications Framework