Move to change the way we educate engineers comes in response to a number of factors, such as growing demands from industry for graduates with a broader skill base, increasing international competition in engineering education, and the motivations and experiences of prospective students.

The EnVision project at Imperial College London, UK, aims to transform undergraduate engineering education – who we teach, what we teach, and how we teach. This is clearly an ambitious goal – it is a huge challenge to transform undergraduate education and related support activities across nine engineering departments of 3000 undergraduates.

The initial phase of the project, following its establishment in March 2005, required the answering of a simple question: “What, if anything, do we need to change?” Surveys were conducted of over 2500 of our stakeholders – students, alumni, academics, industry, and professional bodies – alongside a study of the educational developments at the best institutions for engineering education across the world. These studies revealed a remarkable degree of consensus over what changes were required, particularly in the description of the ‘ideal’ engineering graduate, as well as a number of more unexpected findings. I was particularly interested in the extent to which students, graduates, and industry employers saw sustainability – the ability to take a leading role in designing solutions to local, national, and global challenges affecting society – as an important theme in the skill set of the engineering graduate of the future.

After drawing together and assessing this information, the themes of EnVision were identified:

1. Improve and sustain our ability to recruit the most able students;

2. Improve the motivation and engineering aspirations of undergraduates;

3. Ensure that our graduates possess the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to become internal leaders in engineering in both industry and academia;

4. Enhance the faculty's educational provision, through the transformation and development of both curricular and noncurricular activities;

5. Significantly improve the physical learning environment and facilities in the faculty; and

6. Improve the environment for support, reward, and celebration of excellent teaching.

We have since been working with students, academics, and other key groups to determine exactly how these changes should be designed and implemented. With the project now in its implementation phase, a large number of activities are already underway.

One critical element of the project is to effect a cultural change by which teaching excellence is promoted, rewarded, and celebrated. Last June, Imperial's Faculty of Engineering presented the Inaugural Awards for Teaching Excellence in Engineering Education. The awards recognize and reward individuals and small teams renowned for the excellence of their teaching. Three awards were presented, each of value at €13 500, and this has now been established as an annual event.

Another strong theme in EnVision is the establishment and support of undergraduate projects that broaden the personal and professional leadership and communications skills of students. The projects encourage them to apply their theoretical knowledge to complex real-life engineering situations. This helps to motivate and inspire them to a career of lifelong learning in engineering. One example is Racing Green, which brings students together from across the engineering faculty to design, build, and race a zero-emission electric hybrid fuel cell racing cart. Students from six engineering departments are working together, using cutting-edge technology to develop a race vehicle ready for its first time trial this year.

A major driving force of EnVision is to shift the focus of engineering education towards ‘learning by doing’. This allows students to deepen their theoretical understanding and develop their professional skills by applying their engineering knowledge in real-world situations. To reflect this shift in the way engineering is taught at Imperial, we are also developing new teaching and learning spaces, which symbolize and inspire the imagination and creativity evident in the very best achievements of engineering technology and practice.

External communications and network building are also key elements of the project. In September 2007, we organized a high-level strategy forum to explore the issue of how to equip the engineering graduate of the future to take a leading role in designing solutions to local, national, and global challenges affecting society and the world around us. This event responded directly to calls from many of our stakeholders for an increased acknowledgment of sustainability in undergraduate engineering education. It brought together decision makers from the academic community, government, professional bodies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), industry, and student groups and was a resounding success.

Although the Envision project is still in an early stage of implementation, it already seems to be making a significant impact. I can see that the positive changes we are starting to make at Imperial through this program are producing some significant waves, and I believe we have a real opportunity to set a new benchmark for engineering education worldwide.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(08)70002-6