Creating the engineer of 2020: Innovation at Eindhoven University of Technology

October 27, 2017

Tampa, Fla. (Oct. 27, 2017) - Engineering education is chronically challenged by dynamics in information technology, work environments, and the public's perception of the engineer's role in society. Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands has risen to this challenge, redesigning its entire undergraduate program in an effort to meet the demands of the 21st century engineering profession.

Rudi Bekkers and Gunter Bombaerts chronicle this journey and the lessons learned in the current issue of Technology and Innovation, Journal of the National Academy of Inventors® , with the hope that it will, in their words, "help other institutes to further develop and improve their teaching programs."

Changing Standards for Engineering Education

Over the past two decades, there has been increasing pressure on engineering and technical educators to better serve their students by offering more interdisciplinary learning. More specifically, these educators have been asked to train students more broadly so that they can effectively participate in a technology-enabled global economy. Further, society has increasingly looked to engineers and innovators to address "grand challenges" in energy, health, and beyond. These factors plus diminishing student interest in STEM majors--at a time when Dutch businesses sought more technically trained graduates--created pressures for change at Eindhoven, forming the perfect storm and opportunity for curricular reform.

What Eindhoven Did to Improve Innovation Education

Eindhoven undertook an ambitious restructuring of its entire undergraduate program with the goal of increasing humanities and social science content to better prepare engineering students for complex environments and situations where technical proficiency alone is insufficient. While incorporating humanities and social sciences, Eindhoven kept its focus on the context of technological development--its core mission--by having the additional courses emphasize aspects of technology connected to the user, society, and entrepreneurial activity (USE). The new curriculum calls for four USE courses, which represent 11% of their full undergraduate curriculum.

Case Study: Patents and Standards Course

A novel course introduced at Eindhoven that exemplifies the curriculum redesign at Eindhoven is Patents and Standards, a three-course series offered to a diverse group of undergraduate engineering students. While patents were not new subject matter, this course taught the material in an innovative manner, both in content and in delivery. The course designers used the paradigm of the user, society, and entrepreneurial efforts, focusing on improving students' critical thinking skills and multidisciplinary flexibility and supported these content efforts with novel pedagogical strategies and exemplary technological education tools.


Eindhoven underwent a comprehensive independent assessment in 2015 to evaluate its results. The assessment team praised the university for its substantive and multi-dimensional reforms, which affected every course, every teacher, and every student. Moreover, Eindhoven saw a significant increase in student intake, rising from 1,000 in 2010 to 1,900 by 2015. Of course, challenges remain, and Eindhoven continues to dedicate itself to improving curriculum coherence and increasing course rigor, but it has already provided increased opportunities for students and a valuable model for other universities looking to improve their own engineering education programs.
The National Academy of Inventors is a 501(c)(3) non-profit member organization comprising U.S. and international universities, and governmental and non-profit research institutes, with over 3,000 individual inventor members and Fellows spanning more than 200 institutions, and growing rapidly. It was founded in 2010 to recognize and encourage inventors with patents issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society. The NAI offices are located in the USF Research Park in Tampa. The NAI publishes the multidisciplinary journal, Technology and Innovation.

University of South Florida (USF Innovation)

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