Attributes of Engineers and Engineering for the 21st Century World

The world’s leading businesses are global. Below, PE Seeram Ramakrishna argues that engineering education should be reformed to nurture ‘global engineers’ and ‘mass engineers’ for the 21st Century world.

21st Century World

During the past thirteen years the world saw economic expansion, financial crisis, and unrest in certain regions. The next 87 years will likely witness them repeating for varied reasons that include emerging geopolitical conditions, population growth, internal and external migrations, further urbanisation, competition for natural resources, changing climate and energy mixes of nations. Longevity coupled with improved healthcare and birth rates suggests that the active world population will rise, thereby leading to continued economic expansion. The number of centenarians will grow to 15 million from the current half a million. Future generations will be healthier, motivated and economically active for periods longer than the current generations upon formal tertiary education. In other words the economically active life span upon graduation will be in the range of 50 to 60 years. It is no longer unusual for people over 65 to be working full-time. Moreover the future generations are likely to experience rapid technological innovations that will shape living conditions and businesses.  Hence the education and skills they acquire at tertiary institutions are far more important than ever before. Environmentally friendly, autonomous transportation will be ubiquitous.  Air, water and soil are likely to become cleaner with greater attention to the cradle to grave cycle of manufactured products. Bio-factories for medicines, nutritious food, and environmentally benign products will become normal. Advances in technologies and pursuit of sustainable development will slant energy mixes of nations towards renewables and lower resource consumption per capita. Widening income inequalities are likely to erode social values. The proportion of single, two person, or three person families will increase around the world. As families become nuclear, future generations will rely on public systems (universities, community organisations, cultural organisations, welfare groups, religious organisations, etc.) to develop character and acquire social values, interpersonal and life skills, which were acquired naturally in respective family settings in the case of earlier generations. The world will be increasingly multi-polar with USA, EU, China, and India among the major geopolitical influencers. Innovation nodes will become globally distributed. The key differentiators of the competitiveness of nations are quality of education & depth of skills, scientific research capacity & new knowledge generated, and a conducive ecosystem to innovate products, services & governance.

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