A review of engineering technician education in Australia: programs, pathways and perspectives

Dowling, David (2011) A review of engineering technician education in Australia: programs, pathways and perspectives. In: ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition (ASEE 2011): Your Passport to Engineering Education , 26-29 Jun 2011, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


This paper reports on the outcomes of two research projects that explored different aspects of engineering technician education in Australia. The first project involved a comprehensive review of the engineering technician programs offered by Australian institutions in 2010. The second project used an online questionnaire to gather information from students in those programs, including the reason they chose their program, their work experiences, and their career aspirations.
The Australian tertiary education system is divided into two sectors, the higher education sector and the vocational education and training (VET) sector. Traditionally higher education has been provided by universities, both public and private, while vocational education and training has been provided by technical and further education (TAFE) institutes. For the last twenty years the major distinction between the two sectors has been the approach they take to learning and assessment. Traditionally universities have adopted a research led academic approach, and employed curriculum based pedagogies while VET sector institutions have used competency based pedagogies and focussed on work skills and the recognition of workplace learning. Both sectors provide two year courses for engineering technicians, called engineering associates in Australia. Advanced Diploma programs are competency based and offered by VET institutions while the higher education Associate Degree programs were, until recently, only offered by universities. The engineering technician programs currently offered by each sector are described in detail, with an emphasis on the goals of the programs, their characteristics and the impact the many differences between those programs have on student movement between the sectors. This section concludes with a discussion about the impact that the role out of the Dublin Accord based Engineers Australia’s accreditation system may have on engineering technician education in Australia.
The second part of the paper reports on the results from an online questionnaire that nearly 330 engineering technician students from across Australia completed during the first half of 2010. A key finding was that only 16% of the students intend to pursue a career as an engineering technician, the career their program prepares them for. This has significant implications for both educators and employers.
Surprisingly, nearly 60% of the students reported that they have a career goal to complete a Bachelor of Engineering program and work as a professional engineer. This may be a relatively easy step for students studying an Associate Degree program, particularly those already in the university system. This is not the case, however, for students who have completed a VET Advanced Diploma program as they have to firstly find an efficient pathway into a university program, and then get accepted into that program. The transition into their university program can also be difficult for these students as the pedagogical differences between the sectors have created a divide that that has proved difficult to bridge and, from some perspectives, has widened in recent years.
The paper concludes with a discussion of the findings from the two projects and the implications for engineering educators, employers and Engineers Australia.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Copyright: American Society for Engineering Education, 2011. Paper AC 2011-2740.
Faculty / Department / School: Historic - Faculty of Engineering and Surveying - Department of Surveying and Land Information
Date Deposited: 30 May 2012 06:05
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2014 22:33
Uncontrolled Keywords: engineering technician; tertiary education; Australia; teaching programmes; VET; vocational training; accreditation
Fields of Research : 13 Education > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130213 Vocational Education and Training Curriculum and Pedagogy
13 Education > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130212 Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy
13 Education > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130303 Education Assessment and Evaluation
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 93 Education and Training > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939999 Education and Training not elsewhere classified
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/19365

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