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Interview of Prof. Jan van Ingen on European Aviation Engineering Education and Accreditation

Prof. Jan van Ingen, Emeritus Professor of Aerodynamics and Dean of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft, reviews, appraises and recommends, on the existing European Aviation Engineering Educational system. Moreover, Prof. Jan van Ingen expresses his views on the usefulness and potential benefits of establishing a common European accreditation system in the near future.

Brief CV of Jan van Ingen
30 January 1932: born in NL.
1949-1954: Studied Aeronautical Engineering at TU Delft
1965 Ph.D TU Delft
Main emphasis of his work was on theoretical and experimental research on boundary layers, especially transition prediction and laminarisation.
1966-1967: A sabbatical leave from TU Delft was spent at the Lockheed Georgia Research Lab working on the application of boundary layer theory to the design of low-speed airfoils using the then new "computer graphics" technique that was pioneered at Lockheed.
1967: Returned to TU Delft as professor in aerodynamics and continued research on boundary layer flows.
1991-1997: Dean of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft.
Before his retirement Jan had already been engaged in several EU research projects. After his retirement he served the EU as expert and evaluator of projects such as AWIATOR and AVERT. Later on he chaired two ACARE-ASTERA working groups.
The first group performed an "Education Study" The report:
"What changes are needed in European Aerospace Engineering Education to assure the Quality of the Future Engineering Workforce?"
was published in 2004 with Jan as its main editor.

The second study was on "Accreditation" resulting in the report (WP210-5, 2006):
"Developing a voluntary European accreditation system for higher education in aerospace engineering"
Final Report WP210 5 that was published in 2006.

In later years Jan gave several presentations to the EU-ACARE community on the results of these studies.
Earlier he had participated in meetings on Aerospace Engineering Education in the US. (SAE/AIAA, Seattle 2001 and; AIAA/ICAS, Dayton, 2003)
Reports on all these activities are available to the European Aerospace community.

Since the interview questions are closely related to the subject of the two ACARE/ASTERA studies, their main conclusions are summarized below. Although these reports have been published quite some time ago it is to be feared that not much has happened in the meantime so that some of the answers to be given may already be found in these summaries. In red I have given some recent comments on the earlier studies.

To read the main conclusions and results of the ACARE/ASTERA studies, as well as the comments provided by Prof. Jan van Ingen click here.




Q1: How would you evaluate the quality of the existing aviation engineering education in Europe? What are its main advantages and main drawbacks?

A1: The Education Study considered the quality of the existing education to be good in general, although there is always room for improvement. The success of the European aerospace industry indicates that EU graduates are capable persons. Without a new inventory and evaluation I would not dare to list drawbacks.
Important differences may be due to the set-up of the bachelor program. In many universities students interested in aerospace engineering (AE) have to start within mechanical engineering (ME). Of course the beginning of the curriculum for ME can be very similar to that for AE, especially for the fundamental subjects as mathematics, physics, structural mechanics, etc.
Also in Delft AE started in 1945 within ME and Naval Architecture, but very soon differences in the first year already were introduced and finally an independent Faculty of AE was formed. Of course the similarity for the basic subjects was maintained. However the great advantage is that already in the first year introductory courses to specific AE subjects can be taught  At present this is done in such a way that students appreciate why they have to struggle with the as difficult experienced fundamental subjects This greatly enhances their motivation. In this way in the first three years some smaller design exercises can be introduced. This all results at the end of the third year in a 10 week "Design-Synthesis Exercise" in which groups of about 10 students execute a common project. These 10 weeks are fully devoted to this project and free from other obligations. This period ends with a presentation to the tutors (also from industry) and a few days later with a one day symposium of public presentations (this year in parallel sessions because there are 22 groups). This whole process has the additional advantage that students can make a better choice between the various possibilities for their Masters.
I it would be worthwhile to make an inventory of possible similar practices at other schools and exchange best practices.
Differences in the Master programs may be not so important because due to the ever increasing student mobility (supported by the ECTS system) students can easily find a place for a Master's to their liking. Hence no need for making things equal; let us take advantage of each universities strong points with regard to specific staff competences and lab equipment.
It would be helpful for these students to make available a sufficiently detailed inventory of the various strong points.

Q2: Based on your significant experience and expertise in the field of Education, what changes do you believe should take place to the currently offered education of aviation engineers, in order to meet the evolving needs of both the European Aeronautics and Air Transport sectors?

A2: One should keep in mind that educational institutes operate at such a timescale (4 to 5 years) that an immediate adjustment of the curriculum to the short term wishes of industry is not possible  As long as the industry is not willing to guaranty a certain number of jobs over the next (say) 5 years, universities have to adjust the curriculum to a wider job market. It is a very interesting observation that existing curricula at AE faculties are in general appreciated in this wider job market. Let us cherish this.
More and more our graduates should be prepared for life-long learning. We have to teach them "how to keep learning" more than trying to provide them with today's toolkit that may be outdated within a few years.
Regular meetings of (e.g.) PEGASUS and EASN with representatives of the industry and research establishments should keep the universities informed about the changing requirements. This then may result in gradual adjustments of the curricula.

Q3: What, in your opinion, would be the usefulness and ultimate benefits of creating an integrated Europe-wide aviation system, by harmonizing the content of the curricula for aviation engineers?

A3: The answer to this question depends on the definitions of "integrated Europe-wide aviation system" and" harmonizing". Personally I do not see the usefulness and benefits of such a system. A certain degree of harmonizing in the bachelor phase as far as the basic subjects are concerned will come naturally. Certainly in the Master's program there is no need for "harmonizing" if that means "making things more or less equal".
Rather than using the word "harmonizing" I would prefer to talk about "exchanging views on best practices" as already discussed under A1 for both the bachelor and Master phases.

Q4: Currently, there is no commonly accepted accreditation system applied in the European Academia. Understandably, it may still take a long time to reach a European education accreditation system that would have a legal status. It is highly recommended, nonetheless, to implement a voluntary accreditation system for aeronautical education recognizing the diversity of the national education systems. Which do you believe would be the utility of applying such an accreditation system in Europe? What, in your opinion, should be its main attributes?

A4: In the Accreditation Study it was indeed concluded (as formulated in the question) that it will take a long time before a European wide legal accreditation system will come into being. And yes it was suggested that a voluntary accreditation system for AE should be developed. As already stated in my comments on the Accreditation Study at present I believe that formal accreditation systems do not bring much. Moreover they tend to become ever more costly and time consuming.
European AE education should take Stanford University as an example. They do not take part in the US ABET Accreditation system (at least not a few years ago), because they consider that their reputation is high enough.
Due to the already very good contacts between European AE education and industry (as always meant in the broad sense also including the research establishments) the industry will be well aware of the quality of the graduates from the various schools. PEGASUS and EASN may play a more formal role in this respect. In the accreditation study it has been suggested that the PEGASUS acceptance criteria might be taken as a starting point for a quality assurance system. This implied that schools not yet satisfying these requirements should receive support from the others to eventually reach that status. (I have no information about the present situation).
In my comments in red in the summary of the accreditation study, the reader may find more about my present views.

Q5: How do you think could such a common accreditation system be applied in European countries that do, on the one hand, feature high-quality Universities but, on the other hand, are less developed in Aeronautics?

A5: As stated before I do not expect a European common accreditation system to be in place in the foreseeable future. The AE community should forget about accreditation and concentrate on quality assurance and reputation building as already explained in A4.

Q6: It has been realized during the recent years that the next generation of Europeans does not consider a potential Aeronautics related career interesting nor fascinating. In this context, could you suggest a few potential measures and actions that could be implemented in order to attract more young people (of both genders) to studies leading to aviation professions?

A6: The statement in this question does not reflect the situation in the Netherlands. In March 1996 when Fokker broke down it was the general feeling in the media that also the AE Faculty at TU Delft would go down. Being the Dean at that time this black period is of course still very vivid in my mind. Immediately we have invited all prospective students (they had already preliminary registered) with their parents in a period of two weeks for a discussion at the faculty. In these meetings we explained that "Aerospace Engineering" means much more than just building aircraft at Fokker's. In fact in the preceding years only a very small percentage of our graduates went to work for Fokker. This approach has been very successful. Only two of the prospective students did not show up at the start of the academic year in September. Since then the number of first year students has been growing to such an extent that the University had to decide to put a limit on the number of students that are admitted.
It is suggested to investigate this Delft phenomenon in further detail. Also an investigation of recent experiences in other countries may be useful.
Further measures to be taken may be found in the (summary of the) education study report.

Date posted: July 8, 2014, 2:30 pm

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