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Five-year plan could be rule for tomorrow's EE undergrads

3/3/2008 05:00 PM EST
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SkyhighSG
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re: Five-year plan could be rule for tomorrow's EE undergrads
SkyhighSG   3/31/2008 5:43:18 AM
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This used to be a problem that was anticipated and solved in the British higher education system and also in the European credit system. This explains why, for example in the UK, there are MEng and BEng programmes. Similarly in Europe, there are 5-year MSc programmes. Even former British colonies, namely Australia, Singapore, Hongkong and India have adopted and evolving this model. Why have they continued to preserve the traditional British higher education system to solve the need to better prepare students for the real-world engineering environment? In fact, it is also a mix of British-European style, not entirely British. British system focuses on fundamental cores on the first and second year. The final year consists of the advanced and elective courses. The aim is not to teach students what's the most marketable skills, but what's the most relevant knowledge that will take them far and beyond. If the graduate intends to specialise in a particular area, for example - Power Engineering, High Performance Computing, or Biomedical Engineering, there are MSc programmes after BEng/BSc. It is understandable that graduates will specialise or focus their best skills or most comfortable field to carve their careers. It is not expected of them to learn everything or do everything. Learning the fundamentals are good enough to give the essential backgrounds to have a broad picture of their opportunities available in different fields. At the end of the day, everyone has a choice to choose one or more areas to embark specialisation. For engineers in the power systems, it is unlikely for them to think about switching jobs into semiconductors. Likewise, it is unlikely for a process/device engineer to hop into software development. Statistically, engineers tend to link technical fields that are related but not acrosss a big gap. For example, power and control go hand-in-hand. Likewise, embedded software and FPGA/ASIC/DSP design go hand-in-hand. Communications goes hand-in-hand with embedded software and also DSP. As you can see, graduates may be taught all of the above, but they are influenced by the opportunities in the real-world environment and personal preferences to choose the relevant fields to position their career advancement and technical specialisation. Hence pushing 5th year will never solve the problem at all. Engineers today are less paid, if not underpaid. Engineering as a career is no longer something that comes into the dreams of young talents who seek professional respect, high salary and long-term career such as surgeon and lawyer. The longer you take to train your engineering students in the universities, the longer they earn their degrees, the later they embark their career, the more debt they incur, the less wealth they accummulate. The negative effect is stronger. The ultimate measure is the quality of the students not by more years they are taught, but by their motivation to acquire deeper knowledge on their own and we call this self-inspiration. China and India are producd many engineers each year, at least 5 folds that the amount US can produce. If it takes more years to train one in the US, literally it means their started salary is expected to be higher as well. Will US companies pay more or prefer cheaper labour in China and India or other Southeast Asia countries? Think again. Nothing good will come out of 5th year initiative. It will force more US MNCs to seek cheaper and fast labour market in Asia.

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