The Faculty of Engineering and Surveying at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) has more than 2500 students enrolled in its three undergraduate engineering programs: the four-year Bachelor of Engineering, the three-year Bachelor of Engineering Technology and the two-year Associate Degree in Engineering. More than 80% of the students in these programs study off-campus through the distance education mode. Most of these students study part-time as they work full-time in the engineering industry.
At USQ a program consists of a number of courses and leads to an award such as a degree. Full-time students normally study eight courses in a year and part-time students study four courses. Students normally do an average of about 165 hours of work to satisfactorily complete a course.
As shown in figure 1, USQ's highly articulated suite of programs offers existing members of the engineering workforce, and those who are new to engineering, a range of educational options to achieve their career goals, with many students, particularly part-time students, beginning with a two-year program and then articulating into higher level programs.
The Faculty also offers a similar suite of undergraduate spatial science programs, with majors in surveying and geographic information systems. These programs are also offered on-campus and by distance education.
In 2002, following a call for expressions of interest, the Articulation Committee of Engineers Australia requested the Faculty to consider the development of a distance education program that would enable experienced engineering technologists to become professional engineers. The key criterion was that students should be able to use their workplace learning to demonstrate achievement of the objectives in up to half of the courses in the program. Such a program would provide an alternative to the only existing option, a Bachelor of Engineering program, a pathway that often required experienced engineering technologists to study basic engineering topics that they had previously studied or learnt in their workplace.
Importantly, the members of the Articulation Committee recognised that the graduates of the proposed program would have different knowledge and skill sets than those of graduates from traditional Bachelor of Engineering programs. They also recognised that while these graduates would be different, their knowledge and skills would be at the level required for them to practice as professional engineers in their chosen field. The acceptance of this principle enabled Engineers Australia to, firstly, encourage the development of this ground breaking program and then, secondly, to provisionally accredit the program prior to its implementation.
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During 2003, a conceptual model for the Master of Engineering Practice (MEP) program was developed and endorsed by the Faculty's Program Development Team, which included members of Engineers Australia's Articulation Committee. It was agreed that the entry requirements for the program would be:
* a Bachelor of Engineering Technology (or an equivalent award) or membership of Engineers Australia at the engineering technologist level
* at least five years of relevant experience in the engineering industry.
In 2004, the MEP program was accredited by the university and provisionally accredited by Engineers Australia. It was offered for the first time in Semester 2, 2004, and granted full accreditation by Engineers Australia in 2009 once sufficient students had graduated from each major. The program addresses a niche market that may not be sustainable in the longer term, particularly with the decline in the number of engineering technologist programs in Australia.
Internationally, the only other similar programs appear to be those offered under the "Gateways" project in the United Kingdom, which began in 2008 under the auspices of the UK Engineering Council (Engineering Council, 2010). …