Building up the critical skills of EU engineering students for sustainable development

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2nd European Award for Best GDEE Practices Ceremony at Barcelona, Spain (2015). Source: EScGD

Engineering is no longer only about “structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes” (Wikipedia dixit). Growth for a minority has triggered a plethora of global issues – e.g. the energy crisis or climate change, to name but a few – that the engineering students of today will inexorably face as professionals, yet also as citizens. As their educators, we are acutely aware that societies are asking for progressive technical fixes as part of the political response to global concerns. Accordingly, since many years ago our teaching methods reflect a concern to help both under- and postgraduates cultivating their critical competences. Our teaching methods thus build upon our original know-how, but also upon innovative experiences appropriated from communities of learning set up by academic peers in Technology Studies.

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Our methods distil a wealth of experiences in teaching undergraduate students at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – Barcelona Tech (UPC), a practice that gained us the 9th University Teaching Quality Award. The idea grew in the late 1990s out of lecturers and students themselves encountering in the NGO Engineering Without Borders, and was subsequently adopted by UPC and Generalitat de Catalunya. Therefore, EScGD was amongst the pioneers in the introduction of development education in Spanish Technical Universities, a move later replicated across the country. A result of the latter is that over the last decade university lecturers associated to EScGD from a variety of disciplines – ranging from civil engineering to chemistry, and from mathematics to project management – have incorporated development education to the syllabi of their elective subjects.
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Moreover, researchers associated to EScGD have imparted ten postgraduate courses in the online MSc in Engineering for Development Cooperation at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. They have also supervised a number of doctoral dissertations, some of them successfully contesting national academic awards for thesis about sustainable human development, to be added to the awards of our under- and postgraduate students. Last but not least, we have facilitated elaborating guides and creating the spaces to train other lecturers – as reflected in this book co-edited with Intermón Oxfam.

Such a wealth of resources have been made public to the benefit of lecturers all over the world. EScGD has set up a consortium of European higher education centers in order to systematize existing resources for teaching in technical schools. Thus, the Global Dimension for Engineering Education (GDEE) project, completed in late 2014s, is a common undertaking of five universities and four NGOs concerned with advancing a more comprehensive engineering education. The GDEE project is but the latest of a series of combined efforts between Spanish universities. Thus, for instance, the six conferences about University and Development Cooperation convened since 2004 to gather Spanish and worldwide scholars from the field of development studies.

Today, we continue to integrate engineering sciences and sustainable human development in our daily teaching at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – Barcelona Tech. By sharing our own experiences and learning from our colleagues, we refine and test new methodologies that are appreciated by our students, and help them build the competences that our societies desperately need for progressive change.


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