The Engineering Education Research landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa: Some insights

Photo of Mt Kilimanjaro by Casey Allen on Unsplash


The insights that I am sharing in this blog piece are the unintended outcome of a purely pedagogic exercise – to diversify the reading list of the MSc Engineering and Education at University College London (UCL). This MSc is designed for engineers, teachers of engineering and engineering policy makers who wish to develop innovative strategies to improve engineering education.

Over the course of the academic year, we introduce our MSc students to a diverse range of academic papers covering key topics in Engineering Education Research (EER). For instance, throughout the year students on the MSc get to engage with current thoughts and ideas in EER areas such as:

  • Entrepreneurship in engineering education,
  • Sustainability Education for Engineering,
  • Curriculum reform/transformation in engineering education
  • Ethics, equality, diversity and inclusion in engineering education
  • Innovative/transformative teaching in engineering education
  • Problem/project/challenge based learning in engineering
  • Active/Collaborative learning
  • Engineering Design
  • Internships/industrial experience,
  • Open and online teaching and learning

Background to this exercise

Most of the items on our reading list are from the West, for the simple reason that these are more readily available. Unfortunately, this tends to reinforce a primarily Western/Anglo Saxon view of current topics in EER. Engineering Education is a highly social activity, and we would like our students to explore various aspects of Engineering Education from a diversity of perspectives. We are especially keen for our students to explore through these readings, the various nuanced adaptations of standard methodologies like problem based learning across different regions of the world.

Moreover, our MSc is truly international, with students coming in from a range of countries all over the world. We want our students to bring along their own experiences and to critically evaluate these experiences in informed discussions with their colleagues who are from entirely different nationalities. Difference breeds creativity and innovation, and in designing the MSc we have specifically sought to make it a melting cauldron of diversities of opinions and thoughts, all fuelled by scholarly research from every corner of the globe. We are therefore compiling journal and conference papers on any topic in EER from regions and countries that are underrepresented in our reading list. This includes most countries in Sub Saharan Africa.

How we carried out the exercise

We carried out a search of EER articles emanating from Sub Saharan Africa. This includes countries like Nigeria, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa and Namibia. We used the following databases – African Journals OnLine (AJOL), International African Bibliography Online, African Education Research Database, JSTOR, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. Searches were limited to English language articles focussing on EER topics such as engineering education transformation, engineering curriculum reform, Conceive Design Implement Operate (CDIO), active and collaborative learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, and internships. We limited our search to articles from 2010 and onwards as our focus was primarily on current articles.

The emerging picture of EER in Sub Sahara Africa

The picture emerging from this exercise is not flattering. Most of the EER papers that we discovered were predominantly from two countries only – South Africa and Nigeria. In fact, these two countries contributed over 80% of all the papers that we identified. Some countries were not represented at all, with only single digit numbers of publications from countries such as Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Just to be sure, we visited the web profiles of academics at various engineering institutions across Sub Sahara Africa, and our results seemed to confirm our database search – very few engineering academics in Sub Saharan Africa write and publish EER articles. Invariably, engineering academics up and down the region, when they do publish, they tend to focus on hardcore engineering and science research.

We also sifted through the papers that we had identified. A significant proportion of these papers were from individual academics writing on their own reforms of the course modules that they teach. Papers on programme-wide and institution-wide EER issues, for example, curriculum reform, appeared only in a couple of South African papers.

Take-home lessons

EER is virtually non-existent in Sub Saharan Africa, except in Nigeria and South Africa. In addition, most EER papers are single-authored, ostensibly from engineering education enthusiasts. Indeed, EER in Sub Saharan Africa appears only to be a hobbyist activity, with no discernible institutional or national strategy driving it.

What does this mean for Engineering Education in Sub Saharan Africa? This gives rise to several possibilities – the most pessimistic being that there is a dearth of national and institutional strategies aimed at improving the quality of Engineering Education in Africa. This would be sad, given the thousands of engineering graduates in Sub Saharan Africa who emerge every year from engineering institutions without the skills required by industry, and who are therefore destined to a life of joblessness or underemployment [See Mohamedbhai (2015): Improving Engineering Education in Sub-Saharan Africa]. A less pessimistic possibility is that engineering institutions in Sub Saharan Africa do care about the quality of Engineering Education, and do carry out periodic curriculum reviews and reforms, but they do not always write about their activities. This would then raise several other questions: To what extent are Engineering Education reforms in Sub Saharan Africa research-based? Do reforming engineering institutions in Sub Saharan Africa share best practice, and if so, how do they do so, and with whom do they share the information?

Agreed, this exercise that we carried out is akin to an aircraft passenger looking out of the window at 38 000 feet and trying to identify landscape features far down below. But even then, this would suggest that there are currently no Mount Kilimanjaros in the EER landscape of Sub Saharan Africa. Hopefully, however, there are emerging hills and mole hills of EER activity taking place in Sub Saharan Africa, although they are still too small to make an imprint on the international EER radar.

UK-based Engineering Education Research (And Related) PhD Theses (2000 -2021)

Over the years there have been a lot of conference publications by UK-based authors  in the field of Engineering Education. There has also been a growing number of journal publications by UK-based authors. This implies that more and more UK academics are now seriously engaging with the field of Engineering Education. However, the number of PhD theses focussing on Engineering Education and related fields, including such fields as Engineering Practice, still lags behind most academic disciplines. In this article I list all these PhD theses that I could find that have been awarded to UK-based students since the year 2000.

Why should we be interested in the number of PhD theses in Engineering Education, you may wonder. There are severa reasons, but the most important one is that the number of PhD theses in a particular field indicates the level of serious thought, research and innovation taking place within that field. According to the website FindAPhD, a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) is an advanced postgraduate degree  involving three or more years of independent research on an original topic that is carried out with the support of one or more expert academic supervisors. Hence the publication of a PhD thesis is indicative of a sustained period of research collaboration on a particular topic by two or more people. It also indicates the growth in the number of experts in that particular research field.

I have carried out a search of the British Library E-Theses Online Service (EThOS)  to identify Engineering Education related theses that have been awarded in the UK since the year 2000. Some of them focus on the History of Engineering, whilst some focus on Engineering Practice. I believe that by bringing all these theses in one place they can serve as a useful quick reference for someone who needs to have a quick overview of the current and recent work  that has been taking place within the UK Engineering Education Research  and related fields.

I’m sure this list is not comprehensive. If you know of a PhD thesis that I have missed, let me know via the comments section and I will add it to this list.

McCrone, Georgia2021Further Education lecturers’ early career development and identity : policy, practice, and discourseLancaster University
Fletcher, Ashleigh Jane2020Development and evaluation of open-ended learning activities to support chemical engineering students’ developmentUniversity of Strathclyde
Olukayode Olusola, Awonuga2020Skills gap assessment to enhance the delivery of technical and vocational education : a case study of electrical installation graduates in Ogun and Kaduna states of NigeriaUniversity of the West of England, Bristol
Mabley, Seren2020A qualitative analysis of students’ naturalistic learning processes during their first experience in problem-based learningUniversity of Strathclyde
Jahangiri, Nooshin2019An exploration of female students’ choices, experiences and future aspirations of studying undergraduate mathematics and engineering programmes in IranUniversity of Manchester
Ismail, Norhariati2019An analysis of staff perceptions of their preparedness for the implementation of active learning in Malaysian engineering education : exploratory approachAston University
O’Toole, Chris2019The lived experiences of ICT and Engineering Faculty teaching in higher education institutions in Ireland and the United Kingdom, who adopt and implement mobile technology enhanced learning initiatives : a phenomenological investigationLancaster University
Zainuddin, Suhaiza2019Investigation into the effectiveness of practical work in achieving curriculum objectives for engineering studies in secondary educationUniversity of Lincoln
Onyia, Uzor2019Improving the supervisory and managerial skills and competences required in construction management in NigeriaLondon South Bank University
Grover, Robert2019A critical issue? : educating for sustainability in the architectural design studioUniversity of Bath
Atesh, Manal Habeeb2019Assessing ethics education effectiveness in engineering programmes : a multi-phase approachUniversity of York
Snape, Kirsty2019An exploration of students’ experiences of placement in computing and engineering : a sociocultural analysis of learningUniversity of Huddersfield

Broadbent, Rebecca
2019Children’s experiences of engineering education activities in rural schools in England at age 9/10 : the implications for engineering education and our approach to building engineering career aspirations in young peopleAston University
Jackson-Cole, D.2019Navigating toward success : Black and Minority Ethnic students in postgraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses in EnglandUniversity of East London
Jenns, Caroline Louise2019Understanding Emirati women’s reasons to study the STEM-related subject of engineering : lessons from Dubai
University of Liverpool
Tang, W. F. F.2019An investigation into how the Science and Engineering curriculum in higher education institutions supports undergraduates entering the Testing and Certification industry in Hong Kong upon graduationNottingham Trent University
Mavromihales, Michael2019Enhancing teaching-learning effectiveness in Mechanical Engineering education through structured interventions and Action LearningUniversity of Huddersfield
Mahmud, Mohd Nazri2018Interdisciplinary learning in engineering practice : an exploratory multi-case study of engineering for the life sciences projectsUniversity of Cambridge
Pg-Ya’akub, Dk S. R.2018The impact of online learning : mechanical engineering education perspectivesLoughborough University
Shawcross, Judith Karen2018Manufacturing excellent engineersUniversity of Cambridge
Nyamapfene, Abel Zvamayida2018Teaching-only academics in a research intensive university : from an undesirable to a desirable academic identityUniversity of Exeter
Dziallas, Sebastian2018Characterising graduateness in computing education : a narrative approachUniversity of Kent
Akeel, Usman2018Engineering sustainability : devising a suitable sustainability education intervention for the Nigerian engineering curriculumUCL (University College London)
Moffat, Kenneth Alexander2018Unexpected journey : from autoethnography to a Bourdieusian analysis of engineering educationUniversity of Edinburgh
Derr, Katja Susanne2018Mathematics for engineering students in the ‘Dual System’ : assistance in study start-up and conductUniversity of Plymouth
Jackson, Noel R.2018Comparing active and didactic pedagogies in electronic engineeringStaffordshire University
Sani, Maryam2018Women’s representation in STEM related education and careers : a case study of female university students in Saudi Arabia Staffordshire University
Varga-Atkins, Tunde2018Designing curricula to develop digitally capable professionals in engineering and management : the case in two universitiesLancaster University
Larson, Adam Howard2017Becoming technicians in the ‘hydrocarbon state’ : transitions into post-compulsory vocational education and training in the State of QatarKing’s College London
Vijay, Venkatesh Chennam2017A Knowledge Based Educational (KBEd) framework for enhancing practical skills in engineering distance learners through an augmented reality environmentBirmingham City University
White, Carol2017A critical review of evidence for the claims and perceptions of a shortage of science and engineering graduates in the UKUniversity of Sussex
King, D. C.2017The Engineering Council’s influence on Building Services Engineering education and qualifications : towards an internationalist education and training modelLiverpool John Moores University
Morgan, Thea Rose2017Constructivism, complexity, and design : reflecting on group project design behaviour in engineering design educationUniversity of Bristol
Shah, Raza2017Property inference decision-making and decision switching of undergraduate engineers : implications for ideational diversity & fluency through movements in a Cartesian concept design spaceUniversity of Cambridge
Bull, Christopher Neil2016Studios in software engineering education Lancaster University
Abul-Ola, Mohammad Mahmoud2016How can the education-industry partnership within the Qatari oil & gas industry facilitate engineering graduates’ transition from school to work and enhance their engagement with the labour market? University of Leicester
Hill, S.2016The entrepreneurial engineer : an investigation into the relationship between humanitarian engineering and entrepreneurshipCoventry University
Bataw, Anas2016On the integration of Building Information Modelling in undergraduate civil engineering programmes in the United KingdomUniversity of Manchester
 Sivapalan, Subarna2015Engineering education for sustainable development (EESD) for undergraduate engineering programmes in Malaysia : a stakeholder defined framework University of Nottingham
Herman, Clem2015Gendered careers in science, engineering and technology : transforming spaces and changing identitiesOpen University
 Kenan, Thuraya2015Improving the effectiveness of e-learning implementation in the School of Engineering at Tripoli UniversityUniversity of Huddersfield
Byroms, Richard2015William Fairbairn : experimental engineer and mill-builderUniversity of Huddersfield
Vickerstaff, Rebecca2015Implementation of technology enhanced learning pedagogy and impact on employability and learning within engineering education frameworksUniversity of Plymouth
Mohammed, Abdul Majid2014Integrated technologies instructional method to enhance bilingual undergraduate engineering studentsBrunel University
 Kockelbergh, David2014The origins of student misunderstanding of undergraduate electrical machine theoryLoughborough University
Johnson, Anthony2014Sustainability – its incorporation into the mechanical engineering design processUniversity of Huddersfield
Morley, Helen Ruth2014What can be done to improve the ethical decisions made by engineers?University of Leeds
Routledge, Patrick2014A strategy for enhancing the learning experience of Indian marine engineering students in transnational educationUniversity of Sunderland
Tan, Joyce2013Negotiating the occupational landscape : the career trajectories of ex-teachers and ex-engineers in SingaporeInstitute of Education, University of London
 Tudor, Jenna2013An exploratory investigation into the context specific perceptions and practices of second year mechanical engineering undergraduatesNorthumbria University
Liyanage, Lalith2013A case study of the effectiveness of the delivery of work based learning from the perspective of stakeholders in Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences at Northumbria UniversityNorthumbria University
Sach, Rien2013The impact of feedback on the motivation of software engineersOpen University
Zhang, Dan2013Effective teaching of technical teamwork to large cohorts of engineering students in ChinaQueen Mary, University of London
Woodrow, Michael2013Educating engineers for a holistic approach to fire safetyUniversity of Edinburgh
Hamblin, Katy Joanne2013Men of brain and brawn and guts’ : the professionalization of marine engineering in Britain, France and Germany 1830-1914University of Exeter
 Phuong, Nguyen H.2013Engineering education for sustainable development in Vietnamese universities : building culturally appropriate strategies for transforming the engineering curriculum towards sustainable developmentUniversity of Gloucestershire
Al-Hamad, Salah Madhi Ahmad2013Blended learning system for further and higher education mechanical engineering courses in BahrainUniversity of Huddersfield
Hunter, Kathleen Allison2013Gender and science in twentieth-century British engineering : an interdisciplinary analysisUniversity of Oxford
Tan, Kia Ann Aaron2012Learning patterns of engineering students in a Singapore tertiary education context and the implications for continuing education in the field of engineeringDurham University
Gartland, Clare2012Cultivating rough diamonds’ : a study of student ambassadors’ contribution to widening participation schemes in engineering and medicine at two contrasting universitiesInstitute of Education, University of London
Gao, Mingyi2012A theoretical model for the effectiveness of project-based learning in engineering design educationLoughborough University
Carter, Alan2012Assessment-in-action : a study of lecturers’ and students’ constructions of BTEC national assessment practice in a college engineering programme areaUniversity of the West of England, Bristol
Tzanakou, Charikleia2012Beyond the PhD : the significance of boundaries in the early careers of highly qualified Greek scientists and engineersUniversity of Warwick
Cockerton, Caitlin2011Going synthetic : how scientists and engineers imagine and build a new biologyLondon School of Economics and Political Science (University of London)
Mokhtar, Mahani2011Exploring the intentions, expectations and experiences of female Ph.D. students in the fields of education and engineering at one university in MalaysiaUniversity of Bristol
Taylor, Annette Louise2011Engineering mathematics and virtual learning environments : a case study of student perceptionsUniversity of Plymouth
Gallagher, John P.2011Changing relationships of the state, the professions and higher education in contemporary Ireland : the examples of medicine, law and engineeringUniversity of Sheffield
Soltani-Tafreshi, Fakhteh2010The impact of industrial sponsorship on students, academia and industryLoughborough University
Hopkinson, Viviana2010Why do I have to do key skills? : accounting for year one engineering college students’ perspectives on work and vocalisational education : a case studyThe Open University
Russell, M.2010A personalised assessment programme in engineering educationUniversity of Hertfordshire
Grierson, Hilary J.2010Towards principles and project memories for distributed-design information storing in engineering design educationUniversity of Strathclyde
Powell, Abigail2009The (un)balancing act : the impact of culture on women engineering students’ gendered and professional identities Loughborough University
Hasan, H.2009Exploring engineering employability competencies through interpersonal and enterprise skillsCoventry University
Pei, Eujin2009Building a common language of design representations for industrial designers & engineering designersLoughborough University
Cowley, David2009Student perceptions of the impact of Science and Engineering AmbassadorsUniversity of Brighton
 Thompson, Mark S.2009The rise of the scientific soldier as seen through the performance of the Corps of Royal Engineers during the early 19th centuryUniversity of Sunderland
 Shin, Inyoung2008English for Korean postgraduate engineering students in the global academic community : perceptions of the importance of English, skills-based needs and sociocultural behaviours Institute of Education, University of London
Phillipson, A.2007The business of engineers’ : the organization and education of military engineers during the eighteenth century University of Portsmouth
Arbuckle Araki, M. H.2007Japanese engineering and Scotland : Ryūgakusei and Oyatoi between 1865 and 1900University of Edinburgh
Cooke, Robert Stewart2006The use of alternative energy technologies in buildings : the influence of engineering consultants Brunel University
Oriogun, Peter Kehinde2006Towards understanding and improving the process of small group collaborative learning in software engineering education London Metropolitan University
Webster, Michele Marie2006Key skills and personal attributes in the engineering technicians’ curriculum : a study of two further education institutions in Hong Kong and EnglandUniversity of Leicester
Fang, Woan Pin2005Teaching and learning in higher education : a case study of engineering students learning economicsDurham University
Phipps, Alison Elisabeth2005Women’s education in science, engineering and technology : researching the arena of activityUniversity of Cambridge
 Sng, Bee Bee2005Academic staff’s responses to educational changes in a School of Engineering in a university in SingaporeUniversity of Leicester
Robinson, Paul.2004Contributions to multidisciplinary engineering education and trainingUniversity of Hull
Butchers, Ann Marjorie2004Learning off the job : engineers and professional educationUniversity of Sheffield
Tan, Hock Soon2003The use of a virtual environment in the education of engineering studentsDurham University
Koutsantoni, Dimitra2003Rhetoric and culture in published and unpublished scientific communication : a comparative study of texts produced by Greek and native English speaking engineersUniversity of Birmingham
Doyle, S.2003Differences and similarities between minority groups in U.K. undergraduate engineering coursesUniversity of Cambridge
Cooper, Timothy2003Science-industry relationship: the case of electrical engineering in Manchester 1914-1960..University of Manchester
 Nasr, Atef Ali Mohamed.2002A reading improvement programme for engineering trainees in Egypt University of Ulster
Ahmad, Abdul Rahim2002An investigation of major change in the future world of work for engineers and the consequences for educational practicesLoughborough University
McDermott, Anne Patricia2002Internet delivery mechanisms for the continuing professional development of the marine engineerUniversity of Plymouth
Rivera Martell, David F.2002Introducing environmental concerns within an undergraduate engineering curriculum: A case study of innovation in a Mexican universityUniversity of Sussex
Awang-Ngah, Zainab.2001Exploring the factors related to academic publication productivity among selected Malaysian academic engineers.Loughborough University of Technology
Brooks, Donald Andrew John2001Training the military engineer : a study of assessment and its validityOpen University
 Brown, Keith Bordinel.2000A case study of the changes to engineering education in the UK from 1987 to 1999.University of Lancaster
Intaraprasert, Channarong2000Language learning strategies employed by engineering students learning English at the tertiary level in ThailandUniversity of Leeds
Alias, Maizam2000Spatial visualisation ability and problem solving in civil engineeringUniversity of Surrey