ENGINEERS play an important role in society. They are the ones who take bench or lab discoveries and materialise their potential to an industrial scale. Their work has made life easier, practical and economical for people from all walks of life.
According to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) director Professor Dr Khairiyah Mohd Yusof, developed countries like South Korea and Singapore have been investing heavily in engineering education because they see quality engineers as the wealth of the nation.
Therefore, she said, to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR 4.0), there is a great need for the same kind of engineers in Malaysia.
“If Malaysia is to be at the forefront of technology, to be the inventor that defines the future instead of merely users, then we really need good engineers.
“Engineers are trained to solve novel problems and innovate, and to translate disruptive ideas and technologies into reality that we see and use today,” said Khairiyah.
However, the requirements to educate and train them are very high.
“At the same time, the ecosystem to retain these high-quality engineers and attract students to take up engineering should also be nurtured.
“With the drastic decline in the number of students taking up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in school, we will be having an even smaller pool of potential engineers.
“To be competitive and enable the transition to K-economy (knowledge economy), Malaysia needs to have engineers who are capable of doing research, design and product development,” she said.
To nurture future-ready engineering graduates, universities need engineering educators who are not only experts, but also know how to incorporate digital technology into their field, besides conducting innovative teaching and learning approaches to equip students with the attributes needed in IR 4.0, especially life-long learning.
“Universities and accrediting bodies are working together to produce a flexible and multi-disciplinary curricula. Although technical skills are important, cross-boundary knowledge is just as crucial to work with professionals from other fields.
“While accrediting bodies are beginning to open up on flexibility, there are still hurdles to overcome even at university level,” said Khairiyah, who is president of the Society of Engineering Education Malaysia (SEEM).
Getting the industry to help develop students, especially in the curricula, is a major challenge.
“Students need the opportunity to work with real-world problems and to have input from practising engineers. Problem- and project-based learning are proven and well known approaches in producing good graduates.
“This requires interaction with engineers working in the field. Unfortunately, not many companies in Malaysia are willing to collaborate with universities,” said Khairiyah.
To help the academia deal with challenges in engineering education, SEEM, which is affiliated to the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies (IFEES), has embarked on several initiatives.
First, the society is providing a community for those who are passionate in advancing engineering education, which is essential to sustain their interest.
“While engineering education has grown rapidly in North and South America, Europe and Australia, the scholarly interest started off quite late and is not that widespread.
“SEEM is hosting the Malaysian community of practice (COP), who are connected through digital communication and events that are held not only locally, but globally.
“COP is necessary to support knowledge and skills sharing, exchange of ideas and support in implementing engineering education innovations,” said Khairiyah.
SEEM also organises conferences and seminars to attract engineers to expand COP’s network, as well as gaining visibility for engineering education.
“These conferences provide a platform that brings together educators, industry leaders and organisations to form fruitful and long-term collaborations.
“SEEM had successfully co-hosted the 2017 World Engineering Education Forum (WEEF) and the 2017 Global Student Forum, which saw international experts and leaders in engineering education from more than 40 countries participating.
“WEEF 2017 has illustrated the importance of engineering education at the world stage, spurring the formation of engineering education groups and centres in Malaysian universities,” Khairiyah said.
A project that SEEM had just started is on designing and offering training modules to support the development of engineering educators.
“We have offered several workshops and are coming up with modules to equip and mentor engineering educators in upcoming technologies, and innovative teaching and learning approaches.”
In future, SEEM is focused on developing high quality graduates who can compete in IR 4.0, and help Malaysia transform towards K-economy.
Khairiyah said the society is collaborating with various university engineering centres, such as UTM’s CEE and Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS’ Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
It also liases with professional bodies such as the Engineering Accreditation Council, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Education Society and the Malaysian Council of Engineering Deans to provide a platform to disseminate information.
“This is especially important in developing a high-quality engineering curricula. We need to have an open channel of communication to enhance collaboration and avoid misunderstanding among practitioners and stakeholders.
“The platform is also a good place to learn about the latest developments in Malaysia and overseas,” said Khairiyah.
SEEM supports the development of engineering educators through workshops, conferences, forums and other events.
It acknowledges the innovative practices by educators in schools and universities through its annual Innovative Practices in Higher Education (I-PHEX) exhibition.
In recognition of her work, Khairiyah was awarded the IFEES’ Duncan Fraser Global Award for Excellence in Engineering Education at last year’s WEEF in the United States, and the 2017 Student Platform in Engineering Education Mentorship Award in Kuala Lumpur.
“We are getting national and international acknowledgement for the work that we are carrying out,” she said.