Engineering and Information Technology: Challenges and Opportunities for Exchange Studies

Engineering and Information Technology: Challenges and Opportunities for Exchange Studies

Shanton Chang (The University of Melbourne, Australia), Martina von Imhoff (Technische Universität München, Germany) and Rikke Ilona Ustrup (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0169-5.ch012
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Students in the Engineering and Information Technology (IT) field are statistically less mobile than in many other disciplines. This has been documented across Australia, Europe and North America. While studies have shown the benefits of going abroad for a period of time, these messages seem to be lost on many Engineering and IT students. Using comparative case studies between/among various Universities, this chapter outlines and explores the challenges of trying to encourage more of such students to go abroad. Challenges include: (1) student concerns; (2) degree structure and program limitations; and (3) faculty buy-in. This chapter outlines three cases where strategic and operational actions have been taken to mitigate identified challenges. Best practices include the identification and introduction of ‘mobility windows' in curricula in cooperation with faculty, having a clear management framework and performance indicators and achieving faculty buy-in.
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Engineering is a global enterprise. Is it not uncommon for engineers to work on multi-national teams designing products which will be manufactured in one part of the world (e.g., Asia) to be sold in another part of the world (e.g., Europe and North America). (Parkinson, 2007, p. 1)

Professional Engineering and Information Technology (E&IT) associations across the world, recognise that the structure and nature of their work is global. It is not unusual for E&IT projects to take on multinational suppliers, team members and collaborators. Hence, the need for global skills is well recognised and increasingly prioritised by employers. Yet, researchers and practitioners in Study Abroad and Exchange (SAEX) have continued to note the lack of participation from E&IT students in global mobility programs (Berkey 2010; Parkinson, 2007; Christensen, Doerr & Adam, 2014). While recognising the limitations in numbers, Christensen, Doerr and Adam (2014) suggested that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are starting to strategise around improving the mobility of E&IT students with some gains in numbers. Yet, despite the efforts of study abroad and exchange professionals within universities, internationally, the numbers continue to be modest.

This chapter recognises the success of E&IT SAEX programs should not be seen only from the perspective of an increase in numbers of students going abroad. However, it is one key indicator of the level of acceptance from faculty and students members. The authors also argue that there is a clear interaction between/among recognising the challenges, strategies to mitigate identified challenges, providing incentives, attractiveness of the programs on offer, changing faculty and student attitudes, and an increase in the number of learners taking part. Therefore, this chapter explores the challenges that have been previously highlighted in both practitioner forums and the literature, as well as discussing ways forward. Using the cases of Technische Universität München (TUM), The University of Melbourne (UOM), and IT University Copenhagen (ITU), this chapter will show how these different institutions have developed some key strategies and practices at the departmental and central level. The close interaction of international faculty, coordinators and advisors, is critical to the success in increasing mobility and enriching programs.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Exchange Studies: Central to exchange studies is the point of reciprocity. Universities agree to sending students abroad and welcoming students from their partner university. Thus an exchange opportunity must be beneficial for both sides. Usually the payment of tuition fees at the partner university is exempted due to the mutual exchange of students.

Study Abroad: Universities have established non-degree mobility programs, in Australia often called study abroad, in the US, they are called ‘visiting students’ and in Europe, ‘guest students’. Students can apply for the program without an existing exchange agreement between their home and the receiving university. In most cases, tuition fees have to be paid for the stay abroad.

Information Technology Disciplines: In this chapter, Computer Science, Computing, Computer Engineering, Informatics and Information Systems are encompassed within the term of ‘Information Technology’ (IT). These disciplines overlap content-wise and the respective terming depends on the definition, origin and history of individual HEIs. Among those Informatics is the widest discipline meaning the systematic handling and processing of information with computers. However, it is common to use Informatics and Computer Science synonymously. Nowadays, IT as a field of science is localised at the interface of formal Sciences and Engineering Sciences.

Degree Structure: TUM, UOM and ITU follow a study structure with three-year undergraduate programs and two-year Master’s or postgraduate programs.

ECTS Credits: With the introduction of the European Higher Education Area the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) was established for making study programs transparent and comparable as well as facilitating recognition of qualifications throughout Europe. One ECTS credit usually represents 25-30 hours of work with regard to learning outcomes and the hourly workload of a course.

ERASMUS +: A program of the European Union (EU) that is especially renowned for its mobility initiative for HE. HEIs conclude inter-institutional agreements, so that students in undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral level studies, can go abroad for 3-12 months during each study cycle. Each participating student is usually awarded an ERASMUS + EU grant and are exempted to pay tuition fees at the host institution. Since the start of the program in 1987, more than 2.5 million students of more than 3000 universities in 33 countries have taken part.

Bologna Process: In 1999, 30 European states signed the so-called Bologna declaration in Italy, intending to create the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) until 2010. The goal was to establish and ensure comparability in the standards and quality of HE qualifications based on learning outcomes and competences, and credit ranges in the first and second cycles. In the first cycle (180-240 ECTS credits) Bachelor’s degrees are typically awarded, the second cycle (90-120 ECTS) leads to a Master’s degree. The new study structure replaced, in some cases complemented, former national degrees. Meanwhile 47 states, EU and non EU-members, have joined the EHEA.

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