Educating The Socially Responsible Engineer

Dr. Ketan Kotecha, Director, Symbiosis Institute of TechnologyAn exceptional academic leader, Dr. Ketan has over 23 years of experience and is at the helm of the Symbiosis Institute of Technology. He has a firm grip on the steering of the institution towards desired vision and mission. He is also the Dean of Faculty of Engineering at the University.

The society we are a part of today, faces a series of transformations that emphasises knowledge as an agent of development. These changes are restructuring the way we live and necessitate a system of higher education that addresses the needs of society. Social responsibility is part of every profession. The engineering profession is no different. Engineering plays a multifaceted role in society and is among the key influences that shape our lives. Engineers aren't just professionals who work with machines and electronics. Their innovative inventions have a significant impact on making our lives better. Engineers aren't merely technical service providers; they are leaders of change who have a deep understanding of human, environmental, societal and cultural challenges and the consequences of professional activity.

The domain of engineering exists within the realm of social interests. It has an inherent and unavoidable impact on society, which makes it a discipline that should serve the community in a manner, which is socially responsible and sustainable. Today's engineering students are the change bringers of tomorrow. These graduates will need not only awareness, but also an embedded ethical philosophy that forms the foundation of their learning during their study of engineering.

The next wave of engineers must be responsible, ethical, and aware not only of the cultural and environmental impacts of their professional activity, but also cognisant of the contribution engineering design can make to societies and quality of life. For this profession, social responsibility can be understood as placing public safety & interests over & above any other considerations.

Some social responsibilities of engineers include:
1. Ensuring the safety & well-being of the public
2. Taking care to employ funds and resources of society related to judiciously technology
3. Considering the impact of projects on society coupled with individual & organisational concerns
4. Committing to develop & design sustainable technologies

Educational institutes that impart engineering education must work to
fulfil the responsibilities mentioned above as our future depends on this. The engineer of tomorrow will be in a unique & informed position to drive the inevitable changes in the product design and manufacturing environment, as companies struggle to deal with new & complex challenges.

To do so effectively engineering students are required to develop an understanding of their professional responsibilities early on at the college level. Students often develop a code of conduct during their academic career, which gives them the opportunity to integrate their `professional code' into their regular work in college. Being able to internalise their responsibilities, as well as getting an understanding of their obligations and their consequences benefit the budding engineers. College is the best time for them to examine and adopt best practices regarding their professional conduct and social responsibility. Engineers hold the weighty responsibility to think about the interaction between technology and society. They must think about the effects of their actions and creations, especially if they affect society.

When the idea of social responsibility and awareness is a guiding principle in the process of designing this vision, only then will we be able to transform existing structures to bring about fair and equitable development

A larger number of engineering institutes in India and all over the world regard social responsibility with importance and include it in their research and teaching activities. The belief is that, higher education is better off when it gives back to the society that funded it. Universities can be sustainable only if they are socially responsible. Serving the community is a critical component of a socially responsible university. For institutes of higher learning imbuing a spirit of giving back to society & community in young & talented engineers is necessary to help them realise the power they have to make a difference as a generation.

Following are some of the guiding principles to understand the social responsibility of engineering:
1. Uphold the Dignity of Man: The dignity of man is a fundamental value of our society that never should be violated by engineering design. When design or operation of a product fails to recognise and prioritise the importance of individuality, privacy, diversity, and aesthetics, engineering fails to uphold the dignity of man, and thus doesn't fulfil its purpose in society.

2. Avoid Uncontrolled Side Effects & By-products: The challenge to engineering is how to meet its social purpose, while controlling the side effects and by-products of a design or invention. This requires a preliminary examination to obtain insight into how to solve a problem, while achieving a defined social purpose. This problem gets complicated because of the multitude of pressures leading to the development of a design or a technology. These could be political, economic, or intrinsically technological. These pressures can lead to unwise outcomes that are beyond the potential of engineering to solve.

3. Be Closely Involved in Formulating the `Why' of Technology: Currently, engineering is poorly equipped in our country. There is still a separation between those who have developed the philosophy of technology and those who teach the subject in schools. This separation between the subject and the philosophy has repercussions on our entire society.

Engineers have the power & opportunity to shape an environment where people are at the heart of every engineering. Engineering needs to go beyond pure technology, and potential engineers are required to be guided by a more definite sense of the meaning and evolutionary role of technology in addressing matters embedded in the social & economic fabric of society. When the idea of social responsibility and awareness is a guiding principle in the process of designing this vision, only then will we be able to transform existing structures to bring about fair and equitable development.