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Author: Yeh-Liang Hsu (2001-05-27); modification: Yeong-Bin Yang (2001-05-30); recommendation: Yeh-Liang Hsu (2001-05-27).
Note: This is a position paper for the 1st Trilateral Korea, Taiwan, and USA workshop on engineering education and research, August 3-4, 2001, Oslo, Norway.

Issues on institutional reform of engineering education in Taiwan

Here are the several issues that we consider important to institutional reform of engineering education in Taiwan, and what we think we can benefit from international cooperation with universities in the United States.

1.          To allow the students to select their major until their second or third year of study in colleges.

One common question from engineering students is that they are not interested in what they are learning. To this an answer is to let them decide their major after they have better understanding of the curricula and future prospect of each field, as well as their own interests. This has been the system imposed by a number of universities in the United States for years. Recently, some management schools in Taiwan request all the fresh students to take the so-called “management major”. It is until the end of the first year that the students are allowed to select their department of interest.

Such an approach may not work for engineering colleges in Taiwan, if one realizes that all the departments in each college are almost of the same size, and that departments of electrical engineering and information engineering remain the hottest choice for most students. It will be impossible for all the students to get into the same one or two departments they are eager for. Through exchange of opinions with our partners, we can learn about how the universities in the United Sates handle this problem and what are their major concerns.

2.          To create a more flexible system by adding new interdisciplinary programs.

With the rapid progress of new technologies, the traditional way of division of engineering into civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical engineering, etc., may not be suitable anymore. The boundary between any two fields is not so clear compared with decades ago. This issue is somewhat related to the first one. To reflect such a situation, it is necessary to provide more flexible means to break the barriers between the traditional departments, and to establish some new programs of interdisciplinary nature.

Many engineering schools in Taiwan are developing interdisciplinary programs. But with the current institutional structure, every student is still required to have a major, and to fulfill the requirements of that major. Most of the time, interdisciplinary programs are nothing, but just a combination of several extra courses offered by different departments. In this regard, we are interested in how the major universities in the United States deal with the problem of interdisciplinary programs.

3.          To fill the gap between what are taught in universities and what are needed by industry.

One frequent complaint from the local industry in Taiwan is that they have to invest a lot in training their employees newly recruited from universities. Of course, it is not realistic, if not impossible, to expect that an engineering student receives all the skills or trainings required by the industry. Nevertheless, demand will always remain there on the university side to narrow the gap between what are offered by the universities and what are needed by the industry.

In some areas, the technologies used in industry evolve so fast that the curricula offered by the universities may not be able to catch up with in a short time. Moreover, the engineering students in Taiwan need more training on independent problem-solving and hands-on practice, to remedy the weakness inherited from traditional closed-type education. As far as the institutional or curriculum reform are concerned, we should consider how to bring in more input or stimulus from the industry, how to turn many of the “lecture, homework, exam” type of courses into the “need-driven, problem-solving, report” type of courses. We believe that many engineering schools in the United States have good experience and course models in this aspect.

4.          To expose the engineering students in Taiwan to international arena.

One issue that is often brought up these days in Taiwan is that the number of students going abroad for advanced study drops sharply in recent years. One side effect of this phenomenon is that the made-in-Taiwan students may not have enough international experience, as well as communication ability, to compete in the high-tech era of globalization, especially after Taiwan joins the World Trade Organization in the near future.

Through international cooperation, our aim is to create more opportunities for engineering students to expose in international conventions and societies. For example, we should establish more bi-lateral international exchange programs for students to conduct industrial training abroad. Also, we should encourage students to take part in international engineering design contests, and to present papers or technical achievements in international conferences.