What Should Future Engineering Graduates Learn? – A Comprehensive Framework of Desired Attributes

Posted on January 6, 2016


Author:   Sanjay Goel, last updated on 27th Feb 2018

Target Audience: This article will be useful for

  1. Engineering Institutes wanting to redesign their educational programs with a view to provide Outcome based Education.
  2. Engineering students in planning their approach to their education and learning.


The Objective/Outcome Based Education (OBE) model has become almost mandatory for Engineering as well as management education mainly  because of the requirements of the accreditation agencies  like ABET (USA) and NBA (India).  The design of OBE starts with identification of appropriate graduate attributes keeping in mind the prescribed attributes by the accreditation agency, need assessment with all the stakeholders,  institute’s and department’s vision and mission statements, and program objectives. World over almost all accreditation agencies, including NBA, India, have more or less adapted the ABET prescribed set of graduate attributes.

The following framework of Engineering graduate attributes is an expanded and more structured articulation of NBA recommended graduate attributes (2013).  It has been developed using lot of contemporary research in engineering competencies, emerging job requirement, emerging societal challenges, and also feedback from the industry.  My earlier papers and blog articles on this issue can be seen at:

  1. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a755194900~frm=titlelink
  2. http://www.jite.org/documents/Vol5/V5p027-052Goel88.pdf
  3. https://goelsan.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/graduates-desired-competencies-some-classical-and-contemporary-recommendations/
  4. https://goelsan.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/graduates-competencies-some-theretical-models/
  5. Engineering Graduates’ Desired Competencies: Recommendations by Accreditation Boards of Some Countries
  6. Computing Graduates’ Desired Competencies: Some Professional Recommendations
  7. Software Developers’ Desired Competencies: A Comprehensive Distilled View

The distinguishing features of this  framework wrt the NBA (2013) prescriptions are as follows:

1. Competency level differentiation for UG, PG, and Doctoral students.

2. Re-ordering by starting from the generic competencies to engineering competencies further going upto the highest levels of engineering innovation, entrepreneurship and research.

3. Further elaboration of many attributes

4. Regrouping of attributes into eight main categories with sub items.

Target Audience: I hope that it will be useful for

  1. Engineering Institutes wanting to redesign their programs with a view to provide Outcome based Education which is now mandatory as per NBA criteria.
  2. Engineering students in planning their approach to their education and learning.

This framework has two part.  Part ”A’ defines the levels   of competencies that can be developed for each attribute.  The second part lists the attributes in 8 broad categories and assign the level of competencies for each attribute.  Different levels of competencies are proposed for UG, PG, and Doctoral programs.

A.    Levels of Competence to be developed through engineering education:

  1. Not relevant
  2. Novice:   Knows objective facts, features, and rules for determining actions without being context sensitive. Focus on syntax etc. Learnt through memorization and drill.
  3. Advanced beginner: Recognizes common situations that help in recalling which rules should be exercised, starts to recognize and handle situations not covered by given facts, features and rules. Learnt through problem solving and repeated practice with common situations.
  4. Competent: Performs most standard actions without conscious application of rules after considering the whole situation. Handles new situations through appropriate application of rules, can design systems. May lead. Learnt through advanced problem solving, projects, extensive practice in common and exception situations, and participation in professional networks.
  5. Proficient: Effortlessly deals with complex situations, no longer has to consciously reason through all the steps to determine a plan, appropriate actions come from experience and intuition. Design and mange complex systems, ingenious solutions. Learnt through apprenticeship to experts, coaching, putting self into wide range of situations, membership and contributions to professional networks. Teaches others.
  6. Expert: Consistently inspiring and excellent performance. An expert generally knows what to do, based upon mature and practical understanding. Performance standards are well beyond those of most practitioners. Extensive experience with large systems, appreciate subtle and indirect design issues and customer concerns, leads well. High productivity. Learnt through apprenticeship to masters, advanced coaching, and development of breadth. Years/decades of experience.

The remaining two highest levels of competence – Master and Legend, are developed through professional practice only.   For a more detailed discussion about these levels, refer section 4.5.1, Table 4.7 of my PhD thesis at http://eric.ed.gov/?q=sanjay+goel&id=ED516414

B.  Engineering Attributes and Levels of Competencies for Engineering Graduates of  UG, PG, and Doctoral programs

Graduate Attributes Desired level of minimum competence  (as defined in A above) 
BE/BTech ME/MTech PhD
1.     Life-long learning:
1a. Demonstrate the ability to appropriately ‘transfer’ what has been learned in a context, to different situations and application domains. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent Proficient/ Expert
1b. Demonstrate the enthusiasm, preparation and ability to engage in higher education as well as independent, collaborative, reflective, experiential and life-long learning in the broadest and ever evolving context of diversified and expanding application domains and also technological, organisational, economic, and socio-political changes. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient  Expert
1c. Demonstrate the self confidence and belief in challenging oneself Competent/ Proficient Proficient Expert
2.     Social and environmental responsibility and professional ethics:
2a. Demonstrate respect and support for diversity, equity, and social justice Competent/ Proficient Competent/ Proficient Expert
2b. Demonstrate a sense of social responsibility for sustainable development and also understand the impact of the professional engineering solutions in societal and environmental contexts. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
2c. Apply reasoning informed by the contextual knowledge to assess societal, health, safety, legal, cultural, inequality, globalization, and environmental issues and the consequent responsibilities relevant to the professional engineering practice. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Proficient/ Expert
2d.Demonstrate commitment for professional integrity and excellence and respect for ethics, responsibilities and norms wrt public, clients, users, employer, product, management, colleagues, and professional judgement as prescribed for the engineering practice. Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert



3.     Technical competence:
3a. Demonstrate clear conceptual understanding of fundamentals of engineering and technology specialisation. Competent/ Proficient Proficient Expert
3b. Apply engineering thinking and the knowledge of engineering specialisation, computing, information technology, mathematics, engineering fundamentals, management as well as social and physical sciences to the solution of complex engineering problems associated with design, development, debugging, review, testing, evaluation, deployment, operation, maintenance, and re-engineering of engineering systems. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
3c. Create, select, modify, and apply appropriate components, subsystems, techniques, best practices, standards, resources, and modern computational, engineering, productivity, communication, collaboration tools including prediction and modelling to complex engineering and social activities with an understanding of the limitations. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert


4.     Complex problem Solving competence:
4a. Demonstrate the ability to understand aspects, interrelationship, interconnections and implications of modification of systems to locate system failures, outline failure solution, analyze/dismantle system to individual components, and   synthesize/design subsystems linkages to a whole. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
4b. Identify, anticipate, formulate, research literature, analyse, and represent complex engineering and technology problems, also having multiple stakeholders with divergent views, in diversified contexts and application domains to arrive at substantiated conclusions using first principles of computing, mathematics, as well as engineering, social and natural sciences. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
4c. Pay attention to details, observe and track the situation to identify patterns and trends of behaviour that go below the surface, and also identify and consider ambiguities, nonlinearities, complexities, uncertainties, complications, and risks Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
4d. Conceive, Define, Design and develop solutions for complex engineering and technology problems and design components, system or processes that meet the specified needs with appropriate concern for the quality, reliability, performance, tradeoffs, user experience, elegance, optimisation, extensibility, scalability, system life cycle, and also ‘social and environmental responsibility and professional ethics. Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
4e. The ability to prioritise and plan effectively one’s own work, as a member and leader of a team, to manage projects and in multidisciplinary environments. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
4f. Use reflection to improve the engineering and technology solutions and problem solving practice, to re-understand their own role, and to support users in reflecting on their work and lives.


Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
5.     Individual and team work:

Readiness to work in national and international organisations effectively as an individual, and as a member, leader, or mentor in diverse, small, large, and  virtual teams, and in multidisciplinary settings for carrying out complex engineering and technology activities.

Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
6.     Communication:

Communicate effectively on complex engineering and technology problems situations and activities using verbal, textual, and pictorial elements with the colleagues, engineering community, users, clients, policy makers, and with society at large with understanding, empathy, and clarity.

Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
7.     Critical thinking and research:
7a. Identify, analyze, synthesize, evaluate, review, and consider the purpose, problem, concepts, information, assumptions, inferences, interpretations, points of view, implications, consequences, context, criteria, and method in the light of the clarity, specificity, relevance, logical, significance, consistence, breadth, depth, accuracy, precision, fairness, and completeness. Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert
7b. Use research-based knowledge and research methods including design of experiments, analysis and interpretation of data, and synthesis of the information to provide valid conclusions. Advanced beginner / Competent Competent/ Proficient Expert


8.     Innovation and entrepreneurship:
8a. Demonstrate enthusiasm and passion to improve and create incremental, evolutionary and innovative engineering components, systems and processes. Advanced beginner Competent/ Proficient Expert
8b. Demonstrate creativity in restructuring the problem/decision task, generating alternatives, defining/selecting decision criteria and strategy, evaluating alternatives, and pruning engineering components, systems and processes Advanced beginner Competent/ Proficient Expert
8c. Identify opportunities and translate research in engineering and technology specialisation and other disciplines to conceive, design, and develop innovative and commercializable engineering products and services. Advanced beginner Competent/ Proficient Proficient/ Expert
8d. Demonstrate capability of conceiving and planning new ventures either as start-up businesses or within existing corporate structures in the business sector of engineering and technology. Advanced beginner Competent/ Proficient Competent/ Proficient

This framework can be further refined and adapted wrt the needs of the specific engineering programs in view of the vision and mission of the respective institutes and department, and also the program objectives.

In my next post,  I shall present a summary of its adaptation for computer science engineering/Information technology programs.


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