United we stand, divided we fall


What are the real aspects of engineering that are common across the different TU/e departments? Are we all so different or is there a common set of scientific competences that binds us together and if there is one, shouldn’t we aim to bring students together instead of locking them up behind the walls of the different disciplines?

When the smoke cleared on the battlefield of the new Bachelor College 2.0 it was clear who were the winners and losers. The departments have forced their way and secured more credits to the majors. In a world of fading borders between disciplines of engineering, TU/e has boldly decided to allow departments to withdraw their students from TU/e wide courses and remove the requirement from students to engage in interdisciplinary and non-technical education through the USE learning lines. It is possible that some departments are celebrating this achievement, but to me it seems this is a Pyrrhic victory.

When the Bachelor College was first introduced in 2012 it came with a vision. It intended to allow students, who have chosen a specific engineering discipline as their major, to study the basic courses together with other future engineers. Someone must have thought, if students share the basic courses they will learn to know each other, be more willing to explore courses and topics from other departments and develop a taste for interdisciplinary learning. Due to implementation issues and lack of institutional belief in this vision, the basic courses never became the melting pot of engineering. Instead, gradually, differentiation was introduced into general courses effectively emptying this ambition.

So was this idea fundamentally wrong? Are there indeed no common scientific grounds among the different engineering disciplines in TU/e, and does binding the students to their pre-defined discipline from day one really provide us with a better solution?

In three years time, the TU/e bachelor's programs try to convert high-school graduates into bachelors of science in one of several disciplines. However, effectively the true transformation happens during the master's programs. In many Ivy League universities, but also more and more around us, universities are creating bachelor's programs in engineering. Just that, without any additional qualifications. What will students learn in an engineering bachelor6's program?

I think you can guess. A very solid base in physics and mathematics (1-1.5 years) and a broad introduction to aspects on the different engineering fields (electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science are the most common flavors). Students are further encouraged to take minors of at least half a year to prepare themselves for the master's programs.

It seems to me that with the official termination of the Bachelor College as a unifying framework for engineers, we have lost the sense of joint engineering values and have opted to divide our students. But as a wise Greek once said: “United we stand and divided we fall.” I believe we should seriously consider starting a bachelor's program entitled Engineering Sciences (and/or technologies). To do this we should bring teachers together from all our disciplines to try and distill what is the essence of engineering as well as what are the essential disciplinary knowledge units we would like to secure in the minors. Graduates of this bachelor's program will then be able to continue into the master discipline of their choice based on a broader exposure to other engineering disciplines. And maybe even the walls between the departments can be lowered to see that we are not so different.

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