ABET Partners UWN On Education For Sustainable Development

University World News

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ABET Partners UWN On Education For Sustainable Development

A UWN Reporter
June 3, 2023

ABET, the global accreditor of more than 4,000 college and university programmes, has agreed to a three-year partnership with University World News (UWN) to support its coverage of higher education’s contribution to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Under the agreement, ABET will be the exclusive partner for UWN’s coverage of Education for Sustainable Development on its SDGs Hub, which is being developed to provide a valuable resource on sustainability for universities worldwide.

Michael KJ Milligan, CEO of ABET, said: “Together with more than 2,200 ABET Experts, we help shape the educational experience for thousands of students around the world. Each year, over 200,000 problem-solvers graduate from ABET accredited programmes.

“Our core purpose is really to make the world a better place. We feel the way to do that is preparing this next generation of students to build a world that is safer, more efficient, more inclusive and more sustainable.

“We are pleased to be working with UWN to support the sharing of innovative ideas and best practice on how this can be done across higher education in STEM subjects and beyond that.”

Brendan O’Malley, editor in chief of University World News, said: “We are very pleased to be working closely with ABET. They share our commitment to supporting and encouraging higher education’s contribution to achieving a more just, equitable, sustainable world.

“We are also very interested in how ABET has shaped their mission towards helping the world achieve sustainability and how they see accreditation as a vehicle towards achieving that.

“This is a good example of leadership on sustainability that other organisations can seek to emulate – indeed there are increasing numbers of universities around the world that are already doing so, reframing their mission towards tackling global challenges, and the SDGs provide a framework for doing that.”

ABET’s commitment to sustainability was underlined last month when it joined the United Nations Global Compact (UN-GC) network, the world’s largest responsible business initiative, connecting around 20,000 businesses and non-business organisations worldwide.

The compact is a global initiative under which leaders of businesses and other organisations agree to adapt their process to the UN’s sustainability goals and commit to meet responsibilities in four areas – human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption – and are required to provide a ‘Communication on Progress’ on those commitments every year which is posted on the UN-GC website.

“We want to amplify what we stand for and participating in the network shows we are taking seriously what we are about,” said Milligan.

“Together with more than 2,200 ABET Experts, we help shape the educational experience for thousands of students around the world.”

ABET Accredits Programmes Globally

While UWN, a global higher education news and expert opinion platform, was set up by a group of independent journalists in 2007, ABET has existed for almost 90 years, having been established in 1932 in the United States by seven professional societies on behalf of industry.

Initially it focused on engineering, but now ABET also accredits programmes globally in applied and natural science, computing and engineering technology and its objective now is to improve the quality of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

The emphasis is on assuring quality, giving confidence to students, parents and employers alike that students who complete ABET-accredited programmes will have the skills and competences both to be ready to enter the workforce but also, reflecting ABET’s sustainability commitment, to be ready to tackle global challenges.

“Our goal is to help improve the quality of STEM education around the world,” said Milligan.

ABET does this in two ways – by accrediting its own programmes and via the operation of a global agreement on standards which it helped to establish.

The ABET programmes are accredited via the work of more than 2,200 Program Evaluation Volunteers (PEVs) recruited by ABET’s 30 or so partner organisations, which are mostly learned societies but also include industry partners.

Teams of six or seven PEVs, mostly drawn from academia but some from industry, visit programmes in the US and around the world on a six-year cycle to establish if they are meeting the criteria and can be accredited.

Milligan says in line with the urgent challenges facing the world and the changing attitudes of young people – who are more interested in what difference they can make in a job than whether it has the best salary – the criteria include sustainability.

“We have sustainability in there specifically stated, we have cultural impact, social, economic, environmental impact. You will see those words; students must be cognisant of these as part of their education system,” he said. “I think we are leaders in that area.”

Another critical element is diversity, equity, inclusion and access. “You can’t be successful in sustainability unless you have a diverse workforce. Everyone would agree, I think, that you get the very best solutions when you have people from different experiences, socio-economic backgrounds, and life experiences. And that is a thread throughout the 17 SDGs,” Milligan said.

“You can’t be successful in sustainability unless you have a diverse workforce.”

Setting Global Standards For Engineering

ABET’s global influence stems also from its involvement in 1989 with a group of partners around the world in creating the Washington Accord, which sets global standards for engineering education.

The accord is focused on two primary areas. “One is mobility, meaning students can come and go, be educated in one country and work in another, making that much easier. But also there is a focus on the professional licensing part of it,” Milligan said.

There are now 22 signatories globally, including Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey, UK, US – and most recently Indonesia.

ABET has helped create a lot of the accreditation bodies it works with globally, for instance the Accreditation Board for Engineering Education in South Korea, but also others in Mexico, Peru, Japan, Hong Kong and elsewhere, and now attention is turning to the demographically fast-growing African continent, where South Africa is a member and Nigeria is showing interest.

The Washington Accord is in effect a global agreement on what each graduate should be able to demonstrate and the skills they ought to have by the time they complete their degree, Milligan explained.

“What that means is that if you hire an engineer, say, in Lebanon, New Zealand or Canada, and bring them for instance to the UK, you can be sure that they will have the right attributes to be able to do the job, you will know what kind of talent they have,” he said.

A key factor in enabling ABET programmes to be successful over a wide number of settings – from big state universities, to private universities, faith-based, military and other specialist education institutions – and others in different geographical and cultural contexts was a decision 30 years ago to focus the criteria on outcomes, what skills and competencies students acquire, rather than what content they are taught.

Milligan, himself a one-time associate professor of engineering in the US Air Force Academy, sees the criteria ABET sets as a driver of global change by helping to shake up education to be fitter for our changing world and the challenges it faces.

So, in addition to recognising the growing value of experiential learning and transdisciplinary learning, he says engineers, scientists and IT personnel need to be equipped with education in ethics, for instance.

“Students are going to face ethical dilemmas in engineering practice pretty regularly,” he said, citing the case of the VW system that was proactively monitoring and changing vehicle emissions data coming out of computers.

“That was a prime example of a lot of people at a corporation making the wrong decision, there were a lot of engineers and scientists on the way that were either forced to go along with it, or went along with it, and that was an ethical dilemma.

“For sustainability, ethics is an important part. You can make a lot of bad decisions, not worry about the environment, trying to maximise the profits. That is why we are working with several partners to help promote sustainability in education.”

Milligan said one of the easiest ways is to give faculty members examples of how to do it. One of ABET’s partners, Lemelson Foundation’s Engineering for One Planet initiative, has developed a framework of how to implement sustainable topics into curriculum, taking ABET criteria and mapping it and provide examples of how to implement what ABET requires in the curriculum.

Five US universities – Arizona State University, Oregon State University, University of Central Florida, University of Maryland, Villanova University – have been given a pilot grant to integrate the framework into their courses and programmes.

The objective of the EOP initiative is to be instrumental in shaping implementation models and learnings for broader adoption among engineering programmes across the US and globally – so that future engineers will be equipped to design, build, code and invent with the planet in mind.

“For sustainability, ethics is an important part. You can make a lot of bad decisions, not worry about the environment, trying to maximise the profits.”

Shared Mission To Support Sustainability

Milligan said ABET is regarded as the gold standard in accreditation and decided to work with UWN because the two organisations have shared values and share a similar mission in promoting higher education’s contribution to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the internationally agreed Agenda 2030.

“UWN has that integrity and authenticity and focus – I think it is one of few platforms or publications out there doing something like the SDGs Hub and that is what attracted us.”

Both partners recognise there is no time to lose in pressing universities to do more on sustainability, he said, citing as an example his recent experience, when in conversation with a student on oceanography and engineering, he discovered that she didn’t know what the SDGs are.

“We are running out of time [to achieve sustainability] and sometimes it is hard to understand how slowly academia moves. I think anything we can do to help promote the SDGs is a good thing,” said Milligan.

“Clearly UWN’s SDGs Hub is going to be a big opportunity to talk to many thousands of people around the SDGs and why they are important and why there is urgency. That is why we have become a partner with UWN.”

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