Full report available for download to pdf.

Executive Summary

Humanitarian engineering (HumEng) in Australia and New Zealand has rapidly grown in the last five years, with universities now offering courses specifically in the specialisation. Accompanying these new programs are organisations, such as Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and university HumEng societies,  which deliver experiential programs, often in the Asia-Pacific region. Since 2006, EWB Australia has been driving much of this growth, and now universities are delivering many of these programs independently.

This report examines the state of HumEng in Australia and New Zealand, developed through desktop research and interviews. It catalogues the various educational offerings offered by universities and outlines the current and future challenges to the ecosystem as identified through interviews with key academics.

This research finds one diploma, one major and three minors in HumEng are currently offered by universities in Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, one university offers a social impact undergraduate stream and five others offer bespoke subjects or experiential learning programs. It also catalogues various design and innovation centres, conferences and NGOs actively operating within the ecosystem.

Key findings from the interviews include:

  1. Differing opinions on the term and definition of HumEng.
  2. A lack of established pathways available locally for students interested in HumEng careers or further studies.
  3. The increased need for collaboration among academic institutions.

Key student and faculty insights include:

  1. Prevalence of EWB Australia as the initial touchpoint for students that pursue further HumEng opportunities.
  2. The unanimous reflection of graduates that HumEng exposure was of benefit to their career, despite not pursuing a career in it.

Key opportunities and challenges include:

  1. The need for alignment on the terminology and definition moving forward, to avoid a splintering of completing groups in the existing ecosystem.
  2. Clear communication of student competencies and skills acquired through HumEng coursework to industry, such that employers understand the benefits of this growing cohort to their organisations, and thus student employability grows with it.
  3. The development of a framework that guides universities to deliver work adhering to good HumEng principles, such that the harms and risks associated with poor community development are mitigated.

Key pathways forward include:

  1. The establishment of an Engineers Australia (EA) Humanitarian Engineering Community of Practice (HECoP) that brings professional recognition to the area.
  2. The establishment of a broader series of “EWB Challenges” engaging students from first-year to post-graduate level.
  3. The recognition of HumEng field placements as satisfying 12 of the 16 EA Stage 2 Chartered Competencies.

Key recommendations include:

  1. Engaging the large traditional engineering firms to better communicate the value of the skills developed through HumEng pathways.
  2. Establishing a national work experience or internship platform that aggregates the community of employers and students/graduates in one place.
  3. The continued collaboration among universities, with the goal of establishing cross-teaching and cross-enrollment capabilities.

Figure: Timeline of the development of Humanitarian Engineering in Australia and New Zealand (Figure from the full-length report).

Edited by: Grace Burleson, E4C Jr. Program Manager, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Additional Contribution by: Cris Birzer, Senior Lecturer, Univ.  of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia; Nick Brown, Lecturer in Humanitarian Engineering, RMIT Univ., Melbourne, Australia; Eva Cheng, Senior Lecturer, Univ. of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia; Mariela Machado, E4C Program Manager, New York, NY, USA; Charles Newman, E4C Expert Fellow, New York, NY, USA; Aaron Opdyke, Lecturer in Humanitarian Engineering, Univ. of Sydney, Sydney, Australia; Jeremy Smith, Senior Lecturer, Australian National Univ., Canberra, Australia; Alison Stoakley, Engineering Education Manager, EWB Australia, Melbourne, Australia; Jennifer Turner, Director of Community Partnerships in the STEM Practice Academy, Swinburne Univ. of Technology (SUT), Melbourne, Australia.

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