Sunday, July 11, 2010

Engineering Education Around the World: India and Saudi Arabia

I recently had the opportunity to travel to India and Saudi Arabia to get a better feel and understanding of the state of the education systems in these countries. It is clear that higher education is a government priority in both cases, but since the nature of the challenges differs greatly between these two countries, I have decided to describe my experience in two distinct sections.


For context, I travelled to Trivandrum, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi. I visited NITs and IITs as well as a few private institutions. World bank funds being invested in India in addition to the governments desire to maintain a competitive edge over nearby China on the technology front has seen the emergence of a variety of initiatives to build a stronger and more innovative Indian academic system.

That said, although the individual initiatives of small groups or individuals are commendable and need to happen, it seemed obvious that there is still a lack of clarity as to the priorities and overall direction the country would like to see its academic community pursue. This was obvious when discussing the concepts of the government driven Center of Excellence concept and the priorities and process of selecting them which was still quite nebulous by the end of my trip despite discussing it throughout with as many people as I could. It seems I was not alone.

India remains a country with great potential academic infrastructure and an efficient undergraduate engineering system. It seems that the focus on developing the graduate level and research is exactly what is needed, although hopefully, the priorities and direction from the authorities will become clearer in the coming months. In any case, Quanser will be well positioned to respond to the direction given and I am looking forward to my follow-up trip and seminars later this year.

Saudi Arabia:

Knowing the region, Saudi Arabia was not too much of a culture shock for me. That said, it was very refreshing to me (despite the 50 deg C temperatures) to witness the incredible amount of effort put into higher education infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. For context, I visited universities in the Dammam, Riyadh and Jeddah regions.

Again, based on my discussions with professors, chairs and deans, Saudi does have serious challenges. The main challenge to motivate, train and keep educated and trained engineers in Saudi Arabia who can act as local innovators to diversify and develop the Saudi economy. I was told that only very few Saudi nationals tend to stay for graduate level education where true innovators are created and that, typically, since jobs are almost guaranteed for them, motivation is a factor.

Since very few Saudi nationals, who remain in Saudi, become innovators, the current trend seems to be to attract foreign nationals from Europe and America to graduate level programs and incentivize them to remain in Saudi to continue to innovate and diversify the Saudi economy. This has led to progressive universities, if compared to traditional Saudi standards, such as the mixed gender King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) to see the day. Having been there, it is truly an amazing campus which is equipped with the latest technologies that should be a delight to any researcher. Many other traditional Saudi universities are also getting equipped in a similar fashion. There is definitely a growing trend towards mechatronics and hands-on education in Saudi which Quanser is delighted to see. Hopefully, Saudi will be able to keep the innovators it intends to create in Saudi Arabia so it can benefit from the brainpower generated.

We should have two of Quanser’s largest labs in the Middle East by the time I visit again at the end of this year to conduct seminars. Really looking forward to it.

- Keith Blanchet -

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