Panel at ISIE'99 in Bled
- Engineering Education in the Next Century -


Today, I would like to talk on my personal opinion on engineering education in the near future, referring to the discussion of the Working Group of "2020 Engineering Vision". This WG consists of young professors in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo. I should apologize to you if some parts of my presentation may be limited into Japanese case.

(1) Discrimination to Engineering

Automobile, television, air conditioner, railway system, power plant, computer network, .... These are absolutely necessary for our daily life. But I am afraid that you do not think that educated people will continue such jobs in the future.

This is quite the same as discrimination to people involved in Army where murder might be done. In Japan, we recognize the clear discrimination to the Self Defense Forces. Slaughter industry may be the same. We usually close our eyes to works which we do not want to do. We do not express our gratitude. In some cases we do not put it into the regular organization. This is surprizing but the most shameful point in Japanese society and history. Foreign students are out of regular capacity. The root is the same.

What I am afraid is that engineering is exactly becoming so. Are you putting the electric transmission wires underground? Are you dreaming the world where computers are invisible? On the otherhand, what is the ultimate purpose of medical doctors or politicians? Is it to realize a society without doctors and politicians? The answer is absolutely NO. They exist evidently and their incomes are much higher than ours. We should consider why we have made such a society. If we do not make effort to raise a social position of engineers, younger people will leave from this field. We have been too modest so far.

(2) Problems in Departments of Law and Medicine

The students in the Department of Law waste much time at the pre-school, called law school, to pass the highly competitive Judicial Examination. They do not listen to the lectures given in the Department of Law, where "Lawful Point of View" is lectured. On the other hand, in the Department of Medicine, they are busy in mass production of actual medical doctors. They can not grow up basic researchers in medical science. Such researchers are imported from Departments of Science or Agriculture.

Fortunately, in the Department of Engineering, both categories exist together . We have a lot of professors who want to teach "Engineering Point of View". On the other hand, we know the importance of practical education based on experiment. Some people say that the Engineering has its original viewpoint much more than "Applied Science". I agree. However, engineering is also "profession" at the same time. These two should co-exist, at least in each individual. We do never forget this point.

(3) Is the 21st Century the Century of Information?

Big and heavy industries support the present society. But they are pushed down by small and light industries and students' interest is leaving. Even university professors, who have survived until today by "heavy" researches, emphasize that the world will go toward this direction. Say, 19th century was the century of machines. 20th century was of electricity, and the 21st century is the century of information technology. This may be true. However, students should not fly to the final stage in a single leap. It is necessary to repeat the history of species exactly in individual growth.

Now crazily much energy is spent in the "name change" and the "shuffle and re-organization" of departments, in Japanese universities. Fashionable words, e.g., information, system, environment, and life science are attached to the department names. However, it is cynical that, the more you attach such words to the department name, the more the identity is lost and it results in out-of focus. The graduates of unclear-named departments will be immediately categorized into the class of "others" and be found rootless. If this is the request of the society, it is OK.

(4) Backbone and Probing Engineerings

I would like to propose the word "Backbone Engineering". This is the name to call some conventional engineering fields like construction, architecture, chemical, metal, mechanical, and electrical engineerings. We should keep in mind these basics when we proceed to Probing Engineering. So-called Advanced Engineering is the Probing Engineering. Probe is a tool to make trial. We must not expect 100% success. If as much as 10 %, it is more than enough.

Information technology will go on the same road of Mechanical and Electrical Engineerings have come. It is not a Probing Engineering any more but is a Backbone Engineering. Therefore, we should think together.


(5) Aged Society and Engineering

It is often said that the key words of future Japanese society is the "Aged Society", "High Technology", and "Internationalization".

Among them, the aged society is the most serious problem which requires rapid treatment. Aged people are defined by 65 years old or more. 1/4 of population becomes aged in 2020 and 2,000,000 people require help in their daily life.

As I have no time, I do not speak so much in this topic. But, I want to tell you that the proper application of current technologies can be high technology. So-called high technology is used in the production considering individuality and our hearts.

Only a simple tool to help you in moving from bed to car makes you very positive and healthy. If helper robots have their own will, they will be never used. It is a human to use them. Robot should move as you command. Simple power amplifier is enough and important. The response can be slow. Simple on and off control is enough in most cases, because a human is near. There is much possibility of cost reduction.

The boundary area in 2020 will become the combination of electronic engineering, and psychology, for example. In the meaning of man and machine interface, putting a small machine into the human body will become natural.

(6) Accountability of University and Engineering Education

Why is university operated by tax? The reason is that the society requests two things to university. One is education and the other is value creation in the future. This has been the same from the old Greek Age. It is then natural that university receives evaluation from the society.

However, this evaluation must not come from the outside. We should make evaluation by ourselves. And it is highly important to open the evaluation process to public.

Individuality and diversification-based education in Japanese high schools has weakened undergraduate students' ability. I believe that a uniform, basic education is necessary in high school. Too much weight to individuality and diversification is wrong although they becomes very popular. This is just a fashion. Creativity never grows without basic knowledge. However, the Ministry of Education is convinced that high school students can enjoy their school life if the number of entrance examination subjects is decreased. It is stupid.

It is urgent to send a clear message to high school by showing the education of university. It should be transparent what they can get in four years and what future exists after graduation. This work promotes the self-evaluation of university and it leads to the improvement of accountability.

In undergraduate level, the students should be divided into many special fields. In graduate school they can be integrated into about three rough categories. This two step education is absolutely the best. Notorious discussion for many years, "Which should be ahead, basic education or integrated education? " is terminated clearly by dividing the role of the under-graduate and the graduate educations.

Such attempt is already started in Keio University. I envy their wonderful decision, because in many other universities, there two are still mixed and confusing. Usually you widen your speciality as your age is piled up and become a generalist year by year. I believe everybody is so.

What the society expects to university is education. It is not a research. Because the education is much more important, it is not a shame if you hang the sign board of "Education University". Additionally, Job Training University is necessary. It is important to bring up Technical High Schools and the Technological Universities in their original meaning. Of course, in a few selected universities, research and education can not be separated. They may be put at as many as 50 cities in Japanese case, where the prefectural governmental offices are set.

In Japan, recent serious recession eliminates basic research laboratories in industries and enormous budget is flowing into universities by a new political decision. The Ministries of Education, and of Science and Technology are merging together. Now is the time when industries use universities cleverly. It is a sincere request to universities from the society.

(7) What should we do?

There are pitfalls also in Backbone and Probing Engineerings. Many people want to keep their present positions and sometimes to jump into the boom to get much research money. University should prevent such stupid actions. It is absolutely important to talk with anybody in various fields and to be stimulated.

Today I have presented my opinion. Some points must be crazy because we have completely different backgrounds. I can easily change my opinion through discussion. The most important contribution of this panel is to open our mind to discussion. I think it is wonderful if we shake hands in seeking for the future direction of engineering education.