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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Engineering Innovation

Unis are not happy about the maths skills of new students. Professional bodies are worrying about shortages of engineers. Could it be that engineering is not sexy again? Is this the attitude in general and are budding engineering geeks opting for softer options like banking? In a recent OnlineOpinion article Tanveer Ahmed argues Australia needs more engineers and fewer bankers to secure our economic growth.
In an index developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a measure of a country’s potential for innovation was the number of quality engineers it produced per head of its population. The measure is to innovation as infant mortality statistics are to development.
Indeed innovation is driven by engineers and an entrepreneurial culture but it's something we don't see enough of in the Australian zeitgeist with it's over reliance on natural resources and the media distracted by the rapid uptake of new technologies (mostly developed elsewhere). I'm not aware of the per-capita comparisons of engineers between nations but Tanveer comments
A Chinese student is six times more likely to choose engineering as his American counterpart. An Indian graduate is eight times more likely, according to figures from a MIT study. The figure in Australia is likely to be closer to the US, if not less.
Is this a reasonable comparison? I would expect China and India to be starting from a lower base of higher-ed students and qualified engineers. Obviously with a high demand for engineers, necessitated by the increasing needs of infrastructure development, it would be reasonable to expect that a prospective student in such a country has more to gain by being an engineer during their lifetime.

Things have changed since my days at school. Since the tech-boom they have introduced teaching activities focusing on Innovation, Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship. Also, unlike IT, the governments are heavily investing in bio-technology. That said, development is not always innovation, it does not create tomorrows bleeding edge.
it is engineers and other like-minded science professionals who have driven forward our civilisation. From inventions like the electric motor and the computer chip, to astonishing achievements like the Harbour Tunnel, it is their brains that financiers must rely on to get rich off.
I think all potential innovators understand this and realise
Innovation and great ideas take time, hard work and can be filled with uncertainty.
Is it this desire to follow the path that begins with inspiring ideas, leads to sleepless nights, times of self-doubt, bouts of depression and periods of obsessive focus that produce the elusive innovation? Don’t know, but I‘d like to find out.


  • At 7:21 am AEDT, Blogger sittingnut said…

    i don't think innovation is confined to engineers, some of the most profitable innovations these days are in the supply chain management or in financial markets.
    in fact i don't think governments should worry too much about it. if you have a free market any useful innovative idea will be taken up.
    and ppl should be allowed free choice in education so they can follow their inclinations and when that happens various innovative ideas will come out.

  • At 7:33 pm AEDT, Blogger ivap said…

    s/nut - Innovation happens everwhere but a lot of depends on new technologies to be the foundations. anyway, I'm referring only to innovation driven by engineering here. supply chains or fin. markets wouldn't be where they are without IT.

    I agree the we should be able to rely on the market as the biggest motivator for innovation but I'm not convinced that markets are good at facilitating long-term research in the 'pure' sciences where there is hardly any ROI.


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