Towards culturally inclusive global engineering?
Engineering is now, more than ever before, a global profession. The context in which engineering design problems must be framed is increasingly a global one, and global sustainability needs to be taken up as an important design criterion. Engineers are finding employment in multinational companies in greater numbers, and their work takes them to every corner of the world. But engineering is still far from culturally inclusive. There has been a worrying tendency for the global reach and impact of engineering to be based essentially on North American or European perspectives. I argue that we need to reclaim the term globalization as implying the celebration of rich diversity, not as a recipe for an essentially neo-colonial domination by a perspective drawn from one or two regions, however powerful they may be. The extent to which multicultural as well as international issues should be taken into account in engineering practice raises questions about the extent to which cultural issues permeate the whole of engineering education. However, it is far from clear that developments in higher education in general are necessarily supportive of a variety of perspectives. Indeed, a group of forces and ideas promoting a two-tier global market for education seems to be increasingly influential in national and international discussions. Traditional universities, even as they extend their international reach, may increasingly be maintained only for élite groups, while a bargain basement type of training emerges for the masses at the local level. I offer some reasons why this arrangement would be both socially disastrous and professionally damaging to engineers. Australians may be able to offer a useful contribution to the development of a broader perspective on engineering. The engineering context in which our students and academics work has allowed us, in a range of innovative approaches, to experience and give voice to cultural diversity. This variety includes some approaches that my own university has adopted in order to incorporate international issues and awareness in our programmes. I offer some ideas about how we should be preparing engineering students to think through global issues so that, as individuals, they are culturally sensitive and inclusive and can take justifiable pride in their profession's international role.