Engineering Education in Sustainable Development
Karel F. Mulder, Delft University of Technology

Engineering faces a crisis throughout Western Society. Numbers of engineering students are dropping considerably. Although there have been various forceful attempts, engineering institutions have not been able to increase their numbers of female students considerably. The prestige of technology and engineering has dropped simultaneously. Engineers are not always seen as professionals that contribute to the public good, but as nerds that chase their own fixations.

This crisis has been developing since the 1970s. In the 1950s, nobody doubted the role of technology as the engine of progress. The demystification of technology in the 1970s accumulated in various controversies, like those on nuclear energy, weapons development, city planning, automation/robotics, information technologies/privacy, and various projects/technologies that affected the natural environment. Engineers often felt misunderstood and rejected by society.

The criticism gave rise to the creation of a number of hybrid engineering studies (like Industrial Management, Technology & Society, etc.) in Engineering Institutions. However, mainstream engineering departments were generally not affected. In general one could even observe a strong tendency among mainstream engineers to turn away from society, blaming politicians for being only opportunistic and the public for being ignorant. Engineering and science were seen as a last stronghold for rationalism. The Heidelberg Appeal is a strong example of this tendency.

Given the crisis in the legitimacy of engineering, one would have expected that engineers would have jumped on the issue of sustainability as it could imply new challenges for the engineering profession. However, in practice, the opposite was often true. Initially, many regarded it as a new attack on engineering rationalism: Cleaning technologies (sewerage clearing, heat exchangers, filtering) had already been integrated within the engineering profession but were often criticized as ''end of pipe''.

Gradually, the message has arrived that it is a challenge for the engineering community to create inherently clean technologies that use minimal resources. However, it takes a much longer period to show engineers that it is essential to integrate social skills and social analysis into engineering education to be able to recognise the global equity and democratic decision making issues that are part of SD too. This is a tough process that cannot be achieved by just putting a social science course into an engineering curriculum: the cultural divide is too large to be bridged in this way. Interdisciplinary projects are essential to educate engineers for SD. The paper will briefly analyse the historic development of engineering, and recent changes that took place in a number of engineering institutions in Europe. The paper will sketch some guidelines for successful implementation of SD into engineering curricula.

View Full Paper in PDF FORMAT