In the current challenging global context, higher education is increasingly taking on an important role in activating innovative ways of learning, knowledge exchange, and experiences that can lead to the necessary social transformations. Thus, one of the main goals of the EELISA Alliance is to propose a compelling, implementable, and shared vision of the profile of the future EELISA Engineer. A vision that inspires the necessary transformations in the training processes that will foster the new generation of engineers in Europe ready to address and contribute to the new challenges of a global society and the future companies’ expectations.
In this interview, Sophie Griveau, EELISA Dean of Studies, and Pascal Bigey, coordinator of EELISA Work Package 2 “Enabling engineering curriculum”, share with us some insights into the process of building this vision and its potential outcomes. A not to be missed content that invites all of us to read the conclusions of this process activated by EELISA through its Work Package 2.
Q. Can you tell us about the process and the sources used in the development of this definition?
A. The first part of the process was analyzing the literature about the education of engineers, particularly through the means of the universal Web of Science database, but also by consulting many websites of dedicated associations such as the US National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Academy of Engineering, or the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI). Then open surveys were undertaken: a web questionnaire shared on EELISA Website and sent to academic staff, students, and external stakeholders, as well as an in-depth interview with senior managers of leading European companies. Finally, after these data collection steps, formal workshops and internal discussions were organized to analyze the results and define precisely the EELISA engineer profile.
Q. What are the main pillars of this new profile?
A. We actually defined four main pillars for the EELISA engineer profile. The first one is obviously the core competencies of an engineer, which are strong theoretical knowledge in basic sciences, as well as in their specialization field, and cutting-edge digital skills, allowing them to solve complex problems. But as engineers are at the interface between science, techniques, and society, they need much more than that, particularly in a society facing the planet’s boundaries. The second pillar will then be the ability to address sustainability, by understanding how the techniques they develop are compatible with long-term development. This implies a critical and thorough analysis of the socio-environmental risks that pertain to the development of new technologies. It also requires ethics and empathy, which can be acquired on a personal level by being exposed to different environments and cultures to embrace the European project. Therefore, the third pillar will be mobility during the training, both physical and virtual. Finally, the last pillar will be business, communication skills, and critical thinking, since engineers will have to explain their decision and creative processes to multiple stakeholders.
Q. What are the motivations for accomplishing this goal? Why is this definition of a new model of EELISA Engineer important?
A. Actually, most international standards for engineer profiles underline the importance of key scientific concepts such as understanding, practice, design, research, knowledge, methods, and complexity, but few point out the utility of mobility/diversity during the degree to help promote learning, ethics, empathy, sustainability. European education provides engineering students with a rich and diverse learning environment, teeming with creativity. It is important to take advantage of this environment to its fullest, by promoting mobility during the studies and subsequently sustained interconnectedness for a rich life-long learning experience. The core of this project is to nurture an atmosphere of cooperation and common values around cohorts of students. Europe and the world need more engineers, and the more we can work to prepare strong and inclusive learning programs, the better.
Q. Can you share with us how this new “EELISA Engineer Model” will impact students, academics, and external stakeholders such as employers from public institutions or private companies?
A. The European Engineer Model initiated in the EELISA Alliance is a first step to continue building a common model of engineering in Europe. This shared vision of the engineer will allow for a progressive joint design of curricula to lead to the development of a network of expert engineers also involved as European citizens. In the long term, it is conceivable that a student could embark an entry university on an engineering course, a Bachelor’s degree for example, and then, depending on his or her professional project and desired specialization, continue his or her trajectory training by physical and/or virtual mobilities in one or more universities in Europe.
This model will allow future graduates who engage in European careers to have their diploma with a common European label and therefore their skills would be recognized by any company, regardless of the country in Europe. Companies would also have better visibility on the engineering degree in Europe. Altogether, this should favor the employability of engineers, both for students and companies and of course for academic careers too.
Q. How are both the definition and model materializing in EELISA?
A. Ultimately, the goal will be a joint EELISA diploma for engineers. As it is not yet possible for regulatory matters, some pilot experiments leading to a double degree between two different institutions are in progress. For example, two new master tracks should begin in the next two years: the Biomedical Technology Master for students interested in health sciences, and a Digital Twins Master for those interested in solving societal challenges using digital technologies.
Q. About the Biomedical Technology Master, what type of participants is targeting, and what joint recognition will offer?
A. Last year bachelor students strongly motivated by a future career in biomedical technologies in companies, in hospitals, etc, or aiming at creating their own start-ups, and with excellent backgrounds in sciences and engineering are targeted by this future Biomedical Technology master. Courses of the first year will be followed in the entrance Institution, and the second year will be mobility in a foreign institution within the Alliance. The first model of recognition will be a double diploma from two of our institutions. The natural evolution in terms of the diploma will be to favor ultimately a joint degree model, with first a European label, notably on the basis of the future key concepts from the European Pilot project JEDI.
Q. And what are the key elements of Digital Twins that will lead to the implementation of the new EELISA Engineer model?
A. The Digital Twins degree aims to address societal challenges found in transport, energy, environment, and livability. It follows an innovative learning and teaching model based on the social constructivist view that individuals construct their own learning experiences in their own ways and build their own realities according to their skills, and expectations from learning. It provides state-of-the-art knowledge on the key digital technologies that are used in digital twins for infrastructures and at the same time train students to develop strategies for the digitalization of infrastructures (future and already built). It hence provides a blend of technical and business-oriented skills. Furthermore, the added value that the EELISA engineering brings is the capstone Project: a team-working exercise based on a real challenge related to transport, cities, energy, or water proposed by different kinds of problem owners. Students are expected to conceive, design and develop a digital twin, identifying possible services or even business opportunities in a truly European context. Obviously, virtual and physical mobilities structure this training and provide many opportunities for students to interact.