To revive interest in engineering, start earlier: German dons

To revive interest in engineering, start earlier: German dons

MUNICH - Engineering has regained its appeal in Germany to become one of the most sought-after fields of study and work.

Its brightest students head for engineering courses in universities and stay in the profession for a lifetime, said Professor Wolfgang A. Herrmann, president of the Technical University of Munich (TUM).

It seems that Singapore could do worse than to follow Germany's lead.

Surveys in Singapore show that young people think engineering is "boring" and a "hard slog with little reward". Attracted by higher pay, some engineering graduates are even choosing to become bank executives.

Though the number of students in engineering in Singapore has remained stable - about 20,000 graduate each year with science and engineering degrees and diplomas - most top students opt for law, medicine, finance and business.

Prof Herrmann told The Straits Times: "For some time, young people were more interested in business but this has changed in the last five years.

"Students know there is big demand for engineers in all kinds of industries. Even consulting companies hire engineers because they know they are technically skilled.

"Science and industry have developed side by side and the automobile, mechanical and chemical industries are strengths of the German economy."

Established in 1868, TUM has 13 faculties ranging from engineering to the natural sciences and has produced 13 Nobel laureates. It has also had a presence in Singapore since 2002.

The German Institute of Science and Technology-TUM Asia (TUM Asia) is located at Pixel Building in Buona Vista.

It runs five master's courses in partnership with the Nanyang Technological University and National University of Singapore, and offers two bachelor's courses with the Singapore Institute of Technology.

The idea is to bring German expertise in engineering to Singapore and the region, said Professor Markus Waechter, managing director of TUM Asia.

There is growing demand in the aerospace, biomedical, transport and logistics, and chemical industries in Singapore, and the Republic is moving in the right direction by increasing its research and development efforts, he said.

But reviving the interest in engineering has to start earlier and more should be done to "awaken" young people's hunger for it.

For instance, a TUM Asia initiative gives pre- university students who are beneficiaries of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund the chance to visit its campuses in Germany.

"One problem here is that the subjects you study for the A levels or diploma more or less determine what you can and cannot study," Prof Waechter said. "But some people need time to find themselves and, often, these are the better engineers and inventors."

He added: "Engineers drive the developments out there - be it your cars or mobile phones. Scientists do the fundamentals, but you need engineers to translate those into real-life applications and products."

The "German engineer" is almost like a trademark, said Prof Herrmann, a chemist by training. "People associate them to be precise and reliable experts who master complex technical systems.

"It is fascinating to participate in creating the world of tomorrow, and that's done by engineers."

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