2010

At the beginning of the 21st Century, society faces a host of emerging urgent and interrelated issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, rising sea levels and access to diminishing resources such as oil, fresh water and arable land. The engineering profession is increasingly being called upon to play a key role in addressing these challenges, but requires significant capacity building within the next decade in order to do so. The need for such rapid curriculum renewal is particularly evident within undergraduate and postgraduate engineering education globally, where the process of fully integrating new knowledge and skills has been comparatively slow and ad hoc. This dissertation addresses this need by exploring how curriculum renewal can be undertaken to meet rapidly changing expectations in urgent and challenging times, focusing on engineering education for sustainable development. The research uses a qualitative narrative approach which manifests itself in three main sources of data: literature from authors describing experiences and evolving theories; personal narrative of the researcher’s previous project experiences; and peer review from experts in the field regarding the findings. Historical and ethnographic research methods are used, primarily comprising document analysis and archival research. A significant gap in curriculum literature is highlighted, where few time-bound curriculum renewal processes are explicitly discussed, despite clear evidence of frustration about the need for rapid change within the field, and a substantial time lag evident in existing processes, particularly within the context of education for sustainable development. Six elements that support rapid curriculum renewal were distilled from the literature, personal experiences, and extensive peer review. These comprise: awareness raising and developing a common understanding; graduate attribute mapping; curriculum auditing; course development and renewal; bridging and outreach; and campus integration. It is concluded that rapid curriculum renewal is possible through systematically applying these elements, however they are not in themselves accelerating mechanisms. Therefore timeframes need to be set by one or more catalysts, which may include accreditation, regulation and policy, and employer demand. Strong institutional leadership and support is critical in ensuring that the timeframes are addressed and that momentum is maintained. Strategic planning is also important to ensure adequate budget and resourcing, with clear stages that can be reviewed and reported against. These findings have immediate and significant implications for engineering education providers globally, in addition to having potential application in other similarly structured professional disciplines.