We live in an increasingly complex world and we are at a critical juncture at which humanity must make some serious choices about the future. Our current model of development poses significant challenges when it comes to achieving a more just society based on respect for nature and human rights, and demands a fairer economy and greater solidarity towards different cultures and future generations.
Ignoring this reality when educating and informing future citizens, and therefore future professionals, could have severe consequences. It is undeniable that the world and its cultures need a different kind of engineer, one who has a long-term, systemic approach to decision-making, one who is guided by ethics, justice, equality and solidarity, and has a holistic understanding that goes beyond his or her own field of specialization.
Education supports a process of self-discovery and learning about the world, encourages personal development, and helps individuals find their roles in society. However, education is also a commitment to improving society by strengthening communities and stimulating social progress. This reality forces us to reconsider the purpose of our role as social actors, in particular as educators, and to construct a way of responding to these challenges.
Education, and particularly higher education, is a vital tool to be used for facing today’s challenges and for building a better world. Higher education is essential if we are to achieve sustainable development and therefore social progress. It also serves to strengthen cultural identity, maintain social cohesion, reduce poverty and promote peace and understanding.
Higher education institutions must not restrict themselves to generating disciplinary knowledge and developing skills. As part of a larger cultural system, their role is also to teach, foster and develop the moral and ethical values required by society. Universities need to prepare future professionals who should be able to use their expertise not only in scientific or technological context, but equally for broader social, political and environmental needs. This is not simply a meter of adding another layer to the technical aspects of education, but rather addressing the whole educational process in a more holistic way, by considering how the student will interact with others in his or her professional life, directly or indirectly. Engineering has responded to the needs of society and without a doubt, today’s society requires a new kind of engineer.