Why is business viewed as a STEM

Industrial engineers: The smarter business people?

They are considered to be egg-laying woolly sows: industrial engineers. The subject is becoming increasingly popular, but now there is a dispute over the content.

First, students learn how to organize a party. The "Caipi-Night" is the initiation rite for prospective industrial engineers at Reutlingen University. Students from the first and second semester plan the celebration for more than 1000 guests, take care of drinks, service and security. After all, what better way to learn project management than through a project that needs to be managed?

What begins with the party continues with ever larger tasks until the sixth semester students build a powered airplane. "We want to encourage commitment and curiosity right from the start," says Jochen Brune, course director for International Project Engineering, as the subject is called at the university.

The students seem to like that, because in the new university ranking of the Center for Higher Education Development (CHE) the University of Reutlingen occupies a place in the top group in the category "Overall study situation" - together with the University of Furtwangen, the University of Harz / Wernigerode and the University of Technology and economy in Saarbrücken. In the field of industrial engineering, universities of applied sciences are clearly ahead, only the University of Bayreuth makes it into the top group in three of the categories shown. The universities of applied sciences have proven themselves particularly in "contact with professional practice".



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Industrial engineering is now one of the most popular subjects nationwide. No wonder, since their graduates are among the top earners among academics. The number of students enrolled in the subject has risen sharply in recent years. Within two years it grew from around 56,000 to 65,000 - more than in any other engineering discipline. This means that the subject is just about to make it into the top ten of the busiest subjects in Germany. The universities are also offering more and more courses. There are around 300 bachelor's degree programs at German universities and technical colleges, more often only electrical engineering and mechanical engineering can be found.

The interdisciplinary course "Economics and Technology" was introduced at the Technical University of Berlin-Charlottenburg 90 years ago. But it wasn't until the 1980s that the subject really took off. And the likelihood is high that industrial engineering will become even more important in an increasingly interconnected world.

Industrial engineers are generalists. "The course is tough," says Professor Robert Schäflein-Armbruster, Dean of the Faculty of Industrial Engineering at Furtwangen University. "Because only a few are equally good in technology, business and communication skills." At the Furtwangen University, the students are therefore closely accompanied by professors and mentors. Industrial engineers need to see the big picture, explains Schäflein-Armbruster. This enables them to take on management positions later. A claim that many students of the subject bring with them: 62 percent of all UAS graduates from an industrial engineering master’s degree would like to work in a management position, according to a study by the German Center for University and Science Research.

The course is either part of the technical, business or its own faculty. However, a mixture of 50 percent technology and 50 percent economy has proven itself.

But there was just an internal dispute about this point. Who is allowed to use the professional title "Engineer" is in the engineering laws of the federal states. From 2015 onwards, all state laws had to be revised due to a new EU requirement. The chambers of engineers advocated stipulating at least 70 percent Mint proportion in the course - i.e. mathematics, engineering and natural sciences as well as technology. "Our aim is to ensure quality and protect the consumer," says Martin Falenski, General Manager of the Federal Chamber of Engineers.

The Faculty and Department Day Industrial Engineering replied that the courses were already subject to quality assurance. The Association of German Industrial Engineers also sharply criticized the concentration on the mint area and even saw the Chamber's advance as an attempt to "expand its influence".

"There were heated discussions with the chambers of engineers," says Lars Funk, who is responsible for education at the Association of German Engineers. If the 70 percent had been stipulated in law, then the industrial engineering course would no longer have a chance to use the professional title in the future.

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The result is a compromise. The law has already been revised in 15 of 16 federal states, the new wording is that the course must be "predominantly" characterized by Mint subjects. This leaves enough leeway so that business engineering courses can also train to become "engineers".

What industrial engineers should have been called otherwise in the future, whether "technically adept generalists" or "the smarter business people" - nothing about that has leaked out.