Imperial outlines vision for new era in engineering education

Global Sustainability Forum delegates

Forum for global sustainability brings engineering community together-<em>News</em>

Thursday 20 September 2007
By Colin Smith

Imperial College London outlined its vision for the engineering undergraduate of the 21st Century this week with a forum aimed at heralding a new era in UK engineering education.

The Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Ian Pearson, along with leaders of industry and academia gathered at the College for the ‘Global Sustainability: the future for engineering education’ forum.

In partnership with Arup, BP, Engineers Against Poverty, the Institute of Education and Schlumberger; Imperial held the high-level strategy forum to set the agenda for changes which embed sustainability in engineering education.

The forum is part of Imperial’s EnVision 2010 project - a major initiative by the Faculty of Engineering to promote excellence in teaching, learning and academic leadership. The strategy also aims to create improved learning environments and facilities for students and lecturers, and foster debate in the engineering community.

Delegates discussed the changes needed to ensure that the engineering graduate of the 21st Century is better equipped to take a leading role in identifying issues and designing solutions to address global issues.

Jignesh Parekh, a recent Imperial mechanical engineering graduate talked about what inspired him to become an engineer and Kaitlin Richard, from the University of Queensland, discussed her project work with Engineers Without Borders – a group which facilitates human development through engineering.

Sir Richard Sykes  , Rector of the College, told delegates: “We are a UK university which aims to make a global difference. Our Faculty of Engineering plays a key role in fulfilling this ambition.”

“From taking major steps forward in personalised healthcare to reducing the environmental impact of industrial processes; from sustainable energy to climate change mitigation, engineers are vital to quality of life world wide,” he said.

Sir Richard told delegates that conversations with engineering employers yielded one over-arching message - that graduates must understand the responsibilities of the engineering profession and the wider impact of its activities.

For that reason, he said, Imperial launched the EnVision 2010 strategy.

Professor Dame Julia Higgins   , Head of Imperial’s Faculty of Engineering and a driving-force for EnVision 2010, said engineers are increasingly being asked to make professional decisions which not only rely on their technical expertise, but also draw on a cultural understanding of, and sensitivity to, the environmental, societal or political context.

“We want to ensure that the engineering graduate of the future is better equipped to take a leading role in identifying issues and designing solutions to local, national and global challenges affecting society and the world around us, without compromising their technical education,” she said.

Those sentiments were echoed by Ellis Armstrong, Group Vice President of Exploration and Production at BP. He told delegates that the world’s challenges could only be met head-on if future engineers developed more “soft skills”.

“We have a responsibility to relay to students that engineering is the key to solving the world’s major issues. They need to know that they are making a difference.”

Capitalising on these global issues could also have major financial benefits for UK industry claimed the Science and Innovation Minister, Ian Pearson. He said tackling climate change and the effects of population growth could generate at least GBP 700 billion globally by 2015. He said it was an opportunity that British engineers should capitalise on, while helping to mitigate the most damaging features of climate change.

Keynote speaker Jonathan Porritt, Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, said there was a need for new mindsets, technologies, responsibilities and business models and higher education needs to be at the forefront of this change. He praised Imperial’s EnVision 2010 initiative as a great step in the right direction.

Full proceedings of the forum will be available next month, which includes a cd-rom of all transcripts, video interviews and presentations. For more information email:

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