Development & Aid, Education, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

Argentina Will Try to Double Number of Engineering Graduates

BUENOS AIRES, May 9 2012 (IPS) - An educational stimulus programme launched in Argentina is aimed at doubling the number of engineering graduates by 2021, in an attempt to fulfil unmet growing demand from industry.

The goal set by a Strategic Engineering Plan drafted by the Education Ministry and the Federal Council of Deans of Engineering Faculties (CONFEDI) is to increase the average annual number of graduates from around 5,000 today to 7,500 by 2016 and 10,000 by 2021.

“Today we only meet 50 percent of industry’s demand,” said CONFEDI president Jorge Del Gener, the dean of the Avellaneda Regional Faculty of the National Technological University.

Del Gener told IPS that “with the economic development that Argentina is experiencing today, the boom in industry, and full employment for students, there just aren’t enough graduates.”

He added that it was necessary to stimulate interest in engineering, and take measures to ensure that engineering students continue their studies until they earn a degree.

The head of CONFEDI said advanced students are recruited by companies at an average starting salary of 9,000 pesos a month (some 2,000 dollars) before they graduate, which delays their studies or even keeps them from completing their degrees.

To turn that tendency around and cater to demand, the Education Ministry and CONFEDI propose, in first place, to awaken interest in engineering among secondary school students.

“The number of people who apply to study the different branches of engineering has basically remained steady for a long time,” Del Gener said. “We believe that is because there is a myth that engineering programmes are very difficult and very long, with a great deal of mathematics.”

To change that negative image, a publicity campaign was designed for the Education Ministry’s 24-hour Encuentro TV station, as well as a spot that will be aired during professional football matches on the channel 7 public TV station.

The ad will show the engineering works underway in Argentina, and the important role that engineering students play, in terms of contributing to the country’s development, Del Gener explained.

A new effort has also begun to strengthen links between secondary schools and universities. The Education Ministry has created a financing plan so that each engineering department will begin to build relationships with a score of nearby secondary schools.

“We want students to see the work and the tests that are done in laboratories,” Del Gener said. “Because since the 1990s, many high schools no longer have laboratories, or offer training in technology.”

CONFEDI also drew up a document to show secondary school students the math skills they need, in order to be admitted to engineering departments.

With respect to the advanced students who join the labour market before they graduate, Del Gener said that many of them fail to complete the final three or four courses, and give up after working for a year or a year and a half.

“They tell us it is frowned upon in the companies to ask for a day off to study for or take an exam,” he said. “That’s why we met with (authorities in) the Ministry of Industry, so it will intercede with the companies to get them to make it easier for their employees to complete their studies.”

In Argentina, there are 21 engineering degrees. The most popular are in chemical, industrial, civil, mechanical, electronic, electrical, metallurgical, materials and systems engineering.

There are also petroleum, mining, and nuclear energy engineering degrees, although the numbers of students in these programmes are much smaller. However, the recovery of state control over YPF, Argentina’s biggest oil company, will increase the influx of students into these degree programmes, Del Gener said.

The government of Cristina Fernández is seizing a controlling stake in YPF from Spain’s Repsol.

The dean also said they are working with the Women in Engineering Forum to fight the myth that engineering is for men. Currently, he said, there are more women than men studying chemical engineering, while there are equal numbers of women and men in industrial engineering programmes.

Del Gener said that CONFEDI is not worried that the campaign to foment interest in engineering will trigger a large influx of engineers from countries in crisis, such as European nations.

“The shortage of engineers is a problem in Latin America as a whole, and around the world. My department has exchange programmes with France, and when the scholarships end, our students are hired to work there,” he said.

To keep students from leaving Argentina after receiving a tuition-free education financed by the state, his department now has students sign an agreement promising to return and share their experience with their colleagues for four years, after their scholarships abroad end.

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