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A review of engineering technician education in Australia:

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Two-Year College Special Topics Potpourri

Tagged Division

Two Year College Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.95.1 - 22.95.9



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Paper Authors


David Dowling University of Southern Queensland

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Professor David Dowling is passionate about helping engineering students learn and achieve their career goals. As Professor of Engineering Education at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) his research and development activities are focused on enhancing curricula, and teaching and learning environments. Professor Dowling was Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) from 1995 to until January 2009. He was a President of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education in 2005-2006, and was awarded an Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Citation in 2008. David was the lead author of the recently published first year text: Engineering Your Future: An Australasian Guide.
Professor Dowling is currently leading two major research projects:
• A study of engineering technician education in Australia, which was funded by a USQ Senior Fellowship; and
• The Define Your Discipline Project, an ALTC funded project that aims to develop a process that can be used by a discipline to develop detailed graduate outcomes for that discipline. During 2010 the project team has been working with industry and university stakeholders across Australia to develop a national set of graduate outcomes for environmental engineering programs.

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A review of engineering technician education in Australia: Programs, pathways and perspectivesThis paper reports on the outcomes of two research projects that explored different aspects ofengineering technician education in Australia. The first project involved a comprehensive review ofthe engineering technician programs offered by Australian institutions in 2010. The second projectused an online questionnaire to gather information from students in those programs, including thereason 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 andthe vocational education and training (VET) sector. Traditionally higher education has been providedby universities, both public and private, while vocational education and training has been providedby technical and further education (TAFE) institutes. For the last twenty years the major distinctionbetween the two sectors has been the approach they take to learning and assessment. Traditionallyuniversities have adopted a research led academic approach, and employed curriculum basedpedagogies while VET sector institutions have used competency based pedagogies and focussed onwork skills and the recognition of workplace learning. Both sectors provide two year courses for engineering technicians, called engineering associates inAustralia. Advanced Diploma programs are competency based and offered by VET institutions whilethe 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, withan emphasis on the goals of the programs, their characteristics and the impact the many differencesbetween those programs have on student movement between the sectors. This section concludeswith a discussion about the impact that the role out of the Dublin Accord based Engineers Australia’saccreditation 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 330engineering technician students from across Australia completed during the first half of 2010. A keyfinding was that only 16% of the students intend to pursue a career as an engineering technician, thecareer their program prepares them for. This has significant implications for both educators andemployers.Surprisingly, nearly 60% of the students reported that they have a career goal to complete aBachelor of Engineering program and work as a professional engineer. This may be a relatively easystep for students studying an Associate Degree program, particularly those already in the universitysystem. This is not the case, however, for students who have completed a VET Advanced Diplomaprogram as they have to firstly find an efficient pathway into a university program, and then getaccepted into that program. The transition into their university program can also be difficult forthese students as the pedagogical differences between the sectors have created a divide that thathas 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 forengineering educators, employers and Engineers Australia.

Dowling, D. (2011, June), A review of engineering technician education in Australia: Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17377

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