The global state-of-the-art in engineering education

Commissioned by: MIT
Project conducted: 2016-2017

In June 2016, MIT launched the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET), an initiative charged with developing and delivering a world-leading program of undergraduate engineering education at the university. To inform this program of reform, MIT commissioned a benchmarking study to provide a rapid overview of the world’s leading engineering education programs.

The study provides a global review of cutting-edge practice in engineering education and the trends that will shape engineering education in the future. It was informed by interviews with 178 thought-leaders with knowledge and experience of world-leading engineering programs together with in-depth case studies of four universities. As such, it paints a rich picture of successful innovation in engineering education as well as the opportunities and challenges facing the sector.

The study identifies institutions considered to be the ‘current leaders’ in engineering education. Two US universities, Olin College and MIT, were cited by the majority of thought-leaders. Other highly-rated universities included Stanford University (US), Aalborg University (Denmark) and TU Delft (Netherlands). As these examples suggest, current leadership in engineering education is firmly located in the USA and northern Europe. Only one university in the global south, the National University of Singapore, was among the top ten mostly commonly-cited universities.

The global profile of the ‘emerging leaders’ in engineering education is very different. The emerging leaders identified by thought-leaders again include universities in the USA and Europe; Olin College and Iron Range Engineering in the USA and University College London (UK) all feature among the most-frequently cited universities. But, in contrast to current leaders, emerging leaders are located across the world. The group includes SUTD (Singapore), PUC (Chile), NUS (Singapore) and Charles Sturt University (Australia). The report includes case studies of four of the emerging leaders: SUTD, UCL, Charles Sturt and TU Delft.

The report also considers challenges that may constrain the progress of engineering education and looks more broadly at its future direction. Informed by insights from thought-leaders and the case studies, a set of key challenges are identified, many of which are ones facing the higher education as a whole. These include aligning the goals of national governments and higher education, the challenge of delivering student-centred learning to large student cohorts and faculty appointment and promotion systems that are not perceived as rewarding high-quality teaching.

Looking to the future of engineering education, the report points to three defining trends. The first is the continuing tilting of the global axis of engineering education leadership. As Dr Graham observes, “evidence from the study points to a shift in the center of gravity of the world’s leading engineering education programs from the north to the south and from high-income countries to the emerging economic ‘powerhouses’ in Asia and South America.” The second anticipated trend is a shift towards programs that integrate student-centred learning with a curriculum oriented to the pressing challenges of the 21st century - societal, environmental and technological. While current engineering programs often include both student-centred learning and a consideration of societal challenges, they are often elements ‘bolted on’ to a more traditional curriculum. In contrast, many of the institutions identified as emerging leaders are developing student-centred curricula within an integrated and unified educational approach. Work-based learning and societally-relevant design projects are embedded in the program, enabling students to contextualise and apply knowledge and skills gained elsewhere in the curriculum.

The third anticipated trend is therefore the emergence of a new generation of leaders of engineering education with the capacity to deliver student-centered curricula at scale. The case studies highlighted in the report include universities that may be paving the way, for example by achieving curricular coherence and integration through a connective spine of design projects. In the longer-term, the world’s leading engineering programs may be those that blend off-campus personalized learning, accessed online as and when students need it, with experiential learning both in work-based placements and on campus.

As the MIT report notes, the scene is set for an exciting period of innovation and change in engineering education. It offers opportunities for both established and emerging leaders to set the future benchmark for excellence in engineering education.

Published March 2018

To cite this report, please use: Graham, R. H. (2018). The global state of the art in engineering education. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology