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Six driving forces that will fuel change in TU Delft education 2018-2024

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

TU Delft Vision on Education 2018-2024 and Strategic Framework 2018-2024. I have deboned the texts to its essentials, read between the lines, “read the air”, and compare my understanding and interpretation with my “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World” (the symbol ∇ in this post refers to it).

In my previous postWill these conspicuous statements in TU Delft’s Vision on Education 2018-2024 fuel any change?” , I discussed the vision statements about study culture, durable skills development, outside-in mentality, innovation and employability. I doubt that these will fuel constructive change in Delft’s education. In this post however I address six forces that will fuel change, but only if they get the support and enforcement from higher management.

Online Education and Open Educational Resources

Open Education Global Conference 2018 (Source: TU Delft)

TU Delft has developed as a forerunner in Open and Online Learning. Over the past six years the lobby at TU Delft to invest time and money in the development of open and online education has been intense and phenomenally successful. The vision documents indicate it will remain strong and probably be intensified. It bears the risk of more robbing of innovation initiatives of on-campus education.

Although it is not stated in the vision documents as such, I sense that something big is going on. I imagine that the university will use the coming period to prepare for a major transformation of its education. Where Bachelor education may transform in student-centred education through a blend of personalised online learning and on-campus experiential learning. Where online Master degree programmes may transform into a delivery for students off campus, anywhere in the world, in addition to the traditional research Master programmes on campus. And where professional education for lifelong learners may grow into hybrid formats of online learning with bursts of experiential learning in special boot camps.

TU Delft strives to publish all course materials under an open license that allows the reuse of courses and course materials for non‐commercial ends. The Open Education Consortium has given the Open Education Award 2018 to TU Delft’s Strategic Framework 2018-2024 for its leading open policy. The university considers open education as its contribution to how educational institutions deliver their public mission.

Teaching staff is increasingly stimulated to develop more online courses and publish all materials under an open license. Indeed there are many benefits and opportunities in sharing educational materials on institutional level. In this area I may be conservative. I miss any incentive for the individual lecturers to make their unique and outstanding educational materials, including intellectual property, freely available to anybody in the world, while taking the risk of falling victim to charlatans who take advantage of the unique content in a new market.

I do see another potential benefit of Open Educational Resources though: fewer commercial study books for the students and fewer costly off-the-shelf eLearning tools and software suites. It is going to reduce the dependence on the commercial publishers.

Interdisciplinary thinking

In the engineering profession, mono-disciplinary expert thinking will shift to more multi- and interdisciplinary systems thinking. Collaboration and multi- and inter-disciplinary thinking that cross the borders of engineering become increasingly important in research, innovation and design of solutions for complex societal and technological problems.

The new vision reads that one of the driving forces for change at TU Delft will be a shift from mostly individual and mono-disciplinary to more multi- and interdisciplinary teamwork in education. “We will train students to apply and integrate knowledge and skills in interdisciplinary tasks and cooperate with students from different disciplines and backgrounds in order to solve multidisciplinary tasks”. “All Bachelor and Master graduates shall have a good mastery design skills and have learnt to collaborate in interdisciplinary and intercultural teams”. The vision announces that the university will create new opportunities for new multi- and interdisciplinary Master degree programmes.

In a previous post I wondered if traditional universities, like TU Delft, structured in monodisciplinary silo’d faculties and departments, will be able to successfully transform within ten years, and deliver interdisciplinary education, without being highly interdisciplinary themselves. It will require a major mind shift and upskilling of staff, higher management and programme bodies.

Challenge-based education

In line with the shift to more multi- and interdisciplinary teamwork, the Vision on Education also gives a direction for “challenge-based education”. The inspiration and engagement of the highly successful student-led but extracurricular “DreamTeams” will be copied into the curricula. Students will be inspired to collaborate in interdisciplinary team projects, jointly with other engineering and non-engineering disciplines (e.g. with the partner universities in Rotterdam and Leiden), and apply and transfer their scientific and engineering knowledge to the infinite contexts of real life. Connective spines of design or research projects in curricula will bring together students and staff from diverse disciplines, hopefully also non-academic stakeholders of engineering business and NGO’s. They will stimulate community building and move towards more outward-facing curricula.

Mindsets in curricula will shift from “Learning knowledge-as-a-thing” to “Learning knowledge-for-purposeful-application”

In case the university succeeds in implementing collaborative interdisciplinary projects and challenge-based education at scale to large student cohorts within the Bachelor and Master curricula, many of the vision statements I wrote in my report pp. 46-51 will be brought to life. Curricula will then transform from subject-based learning into needs-related (problem- and more practice-based) learning. Curricular mindsets will shift from learning “knowledge-as-a-thing” to learning “knowledge-for-purposeful-application”.

Digital skills

“Globalisation and digitalisation” is one of the driving forces in the VUCA world (∇ p. 11-13). Machine learning enables systems to learn from data without being explicitly programmed and get smarter  through the exposure to more data. It means that intelligent systems will be able to discover patterns not easily seen, and improve at predicting future results. There can be no doubt that any engineer shall be data literate, i.e. have a good working knowledge of and skills in algorithmic thinking and programming, statistics, predictive analytics, domain knowledge about smart manufacturing, sensors, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, data visualisation techniques, cybersecurity, etcetera, in order to operate successfully in an increasingly “data–rich” engineering environment (∇ p. 29).

But data literacy is only part of the game. Also technological literacy will get new accents. It will be crucial for every engineer, no matter the discipline, to gain a grounding in computer languages and the basics of computer sciences. The inclusion of these Industry 4.0 related skills will be a driving force for educational change in all Bachelor and Master degree programmes at TU Delft.

Personalised learning paths

Many of today’s Bachelor and Master curricula have rigid structures and leave little freedom of choice for the student. Master programmes train students to become an expert in technical analysis through individual intellectual efforts in ever smaller corners of their discipline. It leads to a lack in holistic thinking and relationship skills and unintentionally prevents talented students from reaching their leadership potential.

A major driving force for change in TU Delft’s vision will be the creation of learner-led choices, opportunities for students to personalise their graduation profile and pursue their own ambition and interests. The professional roles developed by the “Free Spirits Think Tank” (4TU.Centre for Engineering Education activity in 2015) may for instance be used to guide the choice of personalised study paths. These are particularly orientated towards future professional needs.  More conservative programmes may provide study paths that prepare for the role of research engineer, technical engineer or entrepreneurial engineer, or for roles that distinguish themselves by their achievement, i.e. Best product (performance quality), Best cost (operational process), or Best value (customer intimacy). More progressive programmes might explore study paths that match with different types of engineering behaviour in future society, without being connected to specific products or activities (currently being explored by the Delft team of 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education).

Academic careers with an accent on education

It is a bit of a shortcoming that TU Delft’s vision hardly addresses the perspective of the teaching staff. If we want to achieve change, staff will have to change first. I often hear “How do they want us teachers to be?”

Indeed, lifelong learning also applies to teaching staff. They have to routinely update their pedagogy and develop new learning environments based on proven practices. My vision reads on ∇ p.52 “Strengthening the didactic professionalism of and trust in teaching staff has to become the norm.” But reality is obstinate. Educational achievements have been highly undervalued in Delft career promotions since many decades.

In the new vision TU Delft presents the aim to flip the existing culture of promotion on the basis of academic excellence (read research). In the 2018-2024 period the aim is to create a culture and structure in which teaching excellence and leadership in education will be weighed on par with research excellence, and where career paths will be developed for academic staff who have an accent on education. I wholeheartedly support this initiative (see my post about university career frameworks) and hope it will spark a renewed interest for innovating and experimenting in on-campus education.

This could be a driving force for change with high impact. How long will it take to flip the existing academic culture which is loosely coupled and grown in a bottom-up culture with great autonomy and freedom? It will require an enormous perseverance over the next 10 to 15 years.

An active and engaged change-maker

The most important force that will drive educational change in 2018-2024 will be interdisciplinary thinking, also contained in challenge-based education. The Delft vision leaves it vague if only disciplines of engineering sciences and technology will be combined, or that wider social, political and economic aspects will also be taken into account. Such perspective would connect engineering education to the real-world and transfer knowledge to real-life context. A shift to more interdisciplinary teaching and learning can only be successful with open-minded staff who are open to upskilling and prepared to build interfaculty collaborations or cross-university networks in the domain of engineering education rather than research in technical disciplines.

This force of interdisciplinary thinking could very well converge with a couple of other forces for change, such as the inclusion of knowledge and skills that prepare for Industry 4.0, the integration of durable skills, the inclusion of societal and business context, the accommodation of personalised learning paths, and last but not least the increasing engagement with industrial needs and societal challenges. For many teaching staff such radical ideas will require a step change towards cross-faculty cooperation and acceptance of top-down institution-wide change. Leadership by higher management, ambition by programme bodies and flexibility by Boards of Examiners are the prime enablers for such changes.

The developments in online education and open educational resources will for sure have impact on the evolution of the on-campus education. In 10 to 15 years time it is probably way too expensive and time consuming for young students to learn basic content that can also be picked up online through personal learning. Although it’s not explicitly written in the vision documents, I imagine that TU Delft will use the coming period for the preparation of a massive transformation of its education in 2024-2030. Thus TU Delft will prove it earns the reputation of an active and engaged change-maker in the emerging landscape of 21st century engineering education, also in the next decade.


This post and my previous post “Will these conspicuous statements in TU Delft’s Vision on Education 2018-2024 fuel any change?” give you the full picture of my critical review of TU Delft’s Vision on education 2018-2024.


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