one year after

It the beginning of my second year in Information Engineering of the Hamburg's Technical University. I spend a lot of time during the summer break on reflecting upon my choice to study here. Many things were very unexpected, both good and bad. What really surprised me was that I was not the only person that wandered what could be be better and why some things went wrong, many of the faculty's members also wanted feedback from the students, which is a very good sign.

But let me first put things into context for those who are not acquainted with the situation. In Germany, engineering is very unpopular among students, but very popular among employers. Also is one of those unfortunate big european countries (along with UK, France, Spain and Italy) where the population is usually incompetent to hold a non-casual conversation in a foreign language. This creates a very weird situation in all engineering departments, where half the students are foreigners. A solution tried was the creation of bilingual and even strictly english departments (like mine), but these were quickly filled out with more foreigners. German students that pursue in their home country an academic degree continue to choose the easiest options (whether based on language or field). Now since most of public universities have strong ties with industries, not providing the required human resources (because the vast majority of foreign students return to their homelands) or by providing german students who can not read an english manual or communicate with their abroad, puts them in very awkward position and threatens this successful relationship.

In my opinion there is a number of reasons that this situation came to be. In general some have to do with the universities themselves and the way they operate and on the other hand there are some structural problems in modern german society (some though are pan-european) . Engineering by itself is considered a boring and complicated subject, since it requires an advanced knowledge of the infamous mathematics, usually combined with physics and/or chemistry. And though there is no way to make them easier (and shouldn't), it can be made much more accessible, if the teachers and professors stop just filling the students heads with endless formulas and excersises and for a change make them understand what and why they are learning. Most students finish university and even then they don't understand basic concepts, like the correlation between integrals & surfaces or derivatives, rates & tangents. Most attention is being paid on the ability to solve standardized exercises quickly then understanding the principles of science and thus beign able to solve and most importantly understand complex and advanced problems.

Another problem is that many teachers consider their work in university only as means of gaining a lot of money and social status. Especially this hurts education, since they don't really care about the education of the students, but their image among the rest of their peers. Fortunately this is not such a common occurrence in Germany as it was in Greece, but one such person in a key subject is enough to create a lot of damage. For example in electrical engineering, if the teacher isn't capable of making students understand a couple of concepts and principles, all his students however good they performed in the final exam, the y are bound to spend endless hours in analog & digital electronics, system theory and so on learning what they should have, but didn't. This has the follow up effect of alienating the students from their professors, instead of seeing them as their assistants, they begin to perceive them as hindrances of their future. Even more examples can be found in primary and secondary education.

Another important point where Technical Universities fail miserably is that their greatest asset, the laboratory training, becomes their most obvious failure. Practical training is imperative for engineers, but most students before having at least some lab experience think that it is forced and unnecessary. Most even have no idea what and why they are doing the labs. One way around this is the integration of lectures and labs, if this can be coupled with in a project that will gradually cover the subjects material, it would make lab work interesting and sought, as well as the lecture attendance will increase. Another closely related point is the practical examination of a students skill and not an exam disconnected from practical reality. Most graduates are paralyzed when they first have to work because they might be able to solve an exercise in paper, but never realized the bond this has with real practical problems they face at work.

And as this is not enough, TUs have some incomprehensible names for their departments so that no student can understand what he is studying until he is half way through. Who knows the difference between communication and information engineering or between the later and informatics. This has such an easy solution, one of my professor just show a mobile phone and explained which engineer develops what part of the the phone. If in any of those presentation this took place it would give a very clear picture about what we study and then it would very easy to explain what is interesting and challenging.

Obviously there are two sources for these problems, society and management. In a limited state-control mass-consuming society, social recognition is dominated by the "american dream", fast and easy money. This has a profound extent to education, easy subjects become popular, finance/management departments become popular. Whatever needs seer intellect is a turn-off, even engineering becomes a combination of theoretical science and simplified application. It is no surprise that during the last decade engineers recycle and improve old technology instead of making new inventions. On the other hand, universities market their studies instead of informing students about them. They point out how advanced equipment they have, how many parties they throw, how cool are their dorms and so on. They never explain what an information engineer does for a living, they never explain what and more importantly why students learn and study their subjects.