ENGINEERING EDUCATION: CHALLENGES AND FUTURE TRENDS
June 2021 |SLEN Podcast
AN INTERVIEW WITH ENG. PROF. UDAYANGA HEMAPALA
In the eighth episode of the SLEN Podcast, Eng. Chamil Edirimuni speaks with the Head of the Department of the Electrical Engineering University of Moratuwa, Eng. Prof. Udayanga Hemapala about “Engineering Education: Challenges and Future Trends”.
Eng. Chamil Edirimuni:
You are listening to IESL digital SLEN podcast. Featuring a wide range of conversations on diverse engineering and non-engineering sectors of national importance. I'm Engineer Chamil Edirimuni and today for our eighth podcast we have another special guest. He is the Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Moratuwa. Let us warmly welcome Engineer Professor Udayanga Hemapala for today's discussion.
Eng. (Prof.) Udayanga Hemapala:
Thank you Eng. Chamil.
You are one of the very few who gained the professorship at a young age, and that is a very special achievement, and also we know that some of the graduates are also willing to join the academic sector and proceed for their higher studies. Would you please briefly explain what are the current prospects and opportunities for them in this field both in Sri Lanka and outside as well?
Prof. Udayanga :
I think we have two kinds of graduates in Sri Lanka. Now some are going into the industry, and some might join into the university's academics as what we have done. If you take the international scenario, it is somewhat different. If you look at the international scenario, we have mix of these. Academics are not pure academics. They do R&D. That is research and development for the industry, and they work closely with the industry. Mostly in our country R&D is carried out by our universities and the industries not coupled with that. Now because of that we see the best students go to the industry and who are willing to stay in the universities. They may stay but they find PhD positions in a foreign country. Normally because they don't like to be PhDs in Sri Lanka, and they hardly come back and join with us due to various reasons. We will discuss them in different sections the reasons for those, because of that most of our departments have several vacancies and we fail in attracting good and quality academics to the universities. My suggestions for young graduates if you are interested to serve the country as an academic, what we do, do higher studies in a foreign country, and get some experience and come back and join with us. Take the leadership. You have enough ample reasons for coming back. Therefore, what I propose is you can do, do high studies, and come back and join and do something for this country.
Eng. Chamil :
Sir, you are the Head of the Department of the Electrical Engineering University of Moratuwa. At present, the higher education system is hugely suffered from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation. How would you as an Academic or else the university as an institution has adjusted to carry out the academic programs with the minimum effect to the higher education of the students?
Yes, engineer Chamil. Now as you know COVID 19 has dramatically reshaped the way education is delivered. Thousands of learners were affected, due to the pandemic, which resulted in the largest online moment in history. But the problem is, this is a sudden shift away from the traditional classroom to virtual and digital platforms. But what I feel is, if it is a well plan online learning, is totally different from shifting online in response to a crisis like this. Yet I don't see we are ready for this change. Anyway, we have moved to online teaching and assessment as well. Now currently we are conducting final examinations also online. We have introduced virtual labs as well. This is a new thing and as well as a positive thing. But the important thing is the student should be ready for this sudden change. They are the main stakeholders of this teaching-learning process. Therefore, I believe that the adoption of online distance learning will persist even after the pandemic. A new hybrid model will come. Therefore but the problem is the students don't have enough resources such as laptops and data etc. Therefore, the government should help the students.
Eng. Chamil :
Engineering education also has a bigger stake in the education system of the entire country. You are also contributing attached to the IESL and giving you valuable contributions to the engineering education aspect of the IESL. What is your view regarding the president education standards and the challenges that we are facing at the moment in terms of the overall engineering education system?
I think we have not identified the engineering education requirements correctly in this country. There are two aspects. Now we have global requirements as well as local requirements. Now what we need to look at are we making our Graduate for local jobs or foreign jobs? Are we making entrepreneurs for Sri Lanka or the international industry? Still, for me, all this are not clear. Now what we need to do is if we want to develop standards first we need to look at the requirements of this country. Now internationally different countries and different universities use their way of maintained standards depending on their requirements. Now UK if you take UK or Australia they have different requirements like education is a foreign income for them. But do we have the same requirement for Sri Lanka? No. Therefore, what we need is a well-formulated engineering policy. Now what we feel is we have a responsibility to maintain the quality while giving the high standard cost for the students who can follow it. Now it doesn't mean that I am proposing to stop the students to earn qualifications. No. What we need to do is educate people to select the right and most suitable education for them to develop their knowledge and skills in their industry.
Eng. Chamil :
We know you have played a major role in the formation of the Federation of the Engineer Teachers Association. Which is also known as FETA, among the engineering academic community. Can you let us know about the major concerns in our engineering education system that you have identified as a group of academics?
Prof. Udayanga :
Now FETA is formed to address mainly two issues. Now the first is you know as the association, the first is to secure and safeguard the professional rights of their members. That is one thing. But secondly, our main thing is to uplift the quality and to ensure the sustainability of engineering education in Sri Lanka. Now as you have directly asked about the concerns, I will take them one by one. Now first one attracting qualified lecturers and retaining them within the university. Now we know that some of our students’ initial salaries are higher than my current salary. Now the government is failing to understand the salary scale difference between different fields. Now we are working on that engineer Chamil, and we have already requested from the government to provide engineering allows for the lecturers in engineering faculties as well. Now second point the professional qualification for engineer teachers it's very important. Now as we're engineer teachers, we feel that practising in the field is very important and that experience can use during the lectures. Now, therefore, we have to create a motivation among the lectures to get the IESL membership and finally to become a chartered engineer. That is one thing. The last thing it's a big challenge. Basically, the ad-hoc increase of intake. Now we have seen that the quality of our education is dropping when we increase the numbers without increasing facilities. As well as we know our graduates are migrating. Now has a government or as Sri Lanka, we don't have a policy for that. Because we're giving the Washington accord degrees for them that will helpful for them to get get the PR. And because of that most graduates are migrating. Now at the moment, we are looking all these concerns and we are in the process of address those concerns as a group of academics.
Eng. Chamil :
This is my last question to you Sir. Can you let us know what are the things that you can recommend to implement in order to merge the industry and academic sector to achieve their individual and mutual objectives for the betterment of our country?
Prof. Udayanga :
Yes, very good question Eng. Chamil. Now as academics our focus is high-level research where we can get publishing international conferences and index journals. Because we need in order to get the promotions, we need to do those things. But our industry is not matured up to that level to take those results and convert into product or developments. Now therefore we can see there is a mismatch between what we do as academics and what industry expects from us. Therefore what I'm proposing is the government should take some policy decision on this matter as well. Now anyway, as academics, if we can use our sabbatical leave. You know we have sabbatical leave every seven years and if we can go to the industry it will helpful for both the industry as well as the university. Therefore we are proposing the university grant commissions to promote academics to use sabbatical leave for getting industrial exposure. But the problem is still the industry's not ready for that and we are proposing that and I think as academics we have a social responsibility to serve this country as well. We are here to do this.
Eng. Chamil :
Thank you very much, Engineer Professor Udayanga Hemapala for spending your valuable time to share your valuable thoughts with us. We wish you all success in your future endeavours
Thank you very much engineer Chamil for you as well and your career as well. and thank you again.
Eng. Chamil :
This is the engineer Chamil Edirimuni from the digital SLEN podcast. Have a safe day.