DR BARNA HANULA: SZÉCHENYI ISTVÁN UNIVERSITY INITIATES A TREND IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION

Using international examples and his own talent management experiences, Dr Barna Hanula, Dean of the Audi Hungaria Faculty of Automotive Engineering has developed a paradigm-shifting method for modernizing engineering education with the team of Széchenyi István University. The renowned researcher and engine developer revealed what the new, student-friendly and success-oriented programme was like.

When you were appointed dean five years ago, you stressed that you were declaring your own strongly held beliefs in practice-oriented engineering education.

Already in 2011, the reason I came to Széchenyi István University was because the Institution and Audi Hungaria Zrt. had decided to take this route. That is why, as an engineer with both business and industrial experience, I was approached. In education, a practice-oriented approach - in agreement with the University management and our key industrial strategic partner - is my guiding principle.

Dr. Barna Hanula

Why do you consider this approach important?

In the last nine years, I have had the opportunity to map the current situation in Higher Education and in engineering training. I have met a lot of colleagues, and during final exams and lectures I also got acquainted with managers and students of other institutions. In addition, during my career, my former job in Germany provided me with the opportunity to get involved in various projects on several continents - from Japan through the United States and Brazil to several European countries. This is how I was able to get in touch with professionals from different cultural backgrounds. I found that the theoretical education of Hungarian engineers is good, but they have mostly to acquire their practical competence in their first job. If in higher education students only have to remember the content of the lectures and give it back in the exam, then that is still only the base of the building, of the Bloom pyramid. An engineer working for a company is only really valuable when he is able to apply the acquired knowledge. The aim of the Master's and doctoral programmes is to enable an engineer to analyse this knowledge and, on this basis, to create something new. 

Dr Barna Hanula: Our goal is for engineering students to complete all levels of the Bloom pyramid seen here by the end of their master’s degree.

 

What has been achieved from your initial plans?

Little by little, we have changed a lot in the educational philosophy of Széchenyi István University. For example, we have introduced project-based courses within which students must work together. We have tried a lot to improve the emphasis on communication and presentation skills, because it is not enough to know something, it has to be presented, it is necessary to convince another party about its success - even in a foreign language. It’s interesting to see that a person who represents themselves well is the one with the ability to “sell” products. In England, a 4-year old can already imitate the weather report, and at school they learn to present their project tasks in front of teams. By the time a British or American student gets into higher education, they are already a professional lecturer, the presentation becomes a part of his life. In contrast, in January 2012, I was at a final exam in Hungary, in which the candidate was taking an oral exam for the first time in his life. You can feel the difference, can’t you? It was then that I vowed that we have to focus on these competencies in higher education. Fortunately, this cannot happen at the Széchenyi István University in Győr. Today, language skills are also a basic requirement, as if a student does not understand English, he or she cannot negotiate with 99% of engineers and cannot read 100% of the contemporary technical literature.

Dr Barna Hanula with the Bugatti Veyron V16, 1001 hp engine block, the development of which can also be linked to his name.

How does Széchenyi István University support students in the development of these competencies?

It is exemplary how the University supports student competition teams. I see that even a German university does not have the conditions for a Formula Student team like we have here. We also help our teams with workshops, coaching and contacts, through whom they can find suitable sponsors, acquire tools, and their professional and personal knowledge can grow exponentially. We also support their work and projects by making use of them not only at Scientific Student Conferences, but also in the form of credit-bearing courses. Thus, more and more practical elements are being introduced into engineering education, in which every engineering student already has a project subject. It is motivating to learn or work for something that has a stake, a result, and also if we know that, in a real industrial situation, our solutions can benefit society and the economy. And the process is far from over.

 

It certainly is not, since you and your colleagues have been working on the renewal of engineering programmes in the recent past. What methodology have you been contemplating with your team?

Practice-oriented education is important not only for students but also for university management and my teaching colleagues: we want to implement this process together. I had gained a lot of experience by the time I articulated exactly what should be changed in the programme and how. The breakthrough and the solution were on the one hand brought about by my invitation to the Junior Uni Children's University in Germany. On the other hand, I was made very aware by the Audi Development Camp, jointly organized by Széchenyi István University and Audi Hungaria Zrt. that is, the University’s international talent development summer course, at which one of the mentors was, for example, Luca Marmorini, a former engine boss for Toyota and Ferrari’s F1 team, whose professional stories were eagerly listened to by groups of engineering students surrounding him.  

The philosophy of both programmes included the intention to show the original form of learning was curiosity, play, and competition. In young talent I’ve seen that when they get enough motivation and stakes, they don’t even want to stop working. I know from experience that today’s young people are also interested and open, you just have to understand their language.

Our ideas are therefore built on projects based on experience of the talent development programme, which we would give to the students already in the first week of the academic year - thus arousing their interest. They will face obstacles due to a lack of theoretical knowledge, so as they are also driven by the spirit of competition, they will definitely want to solve the task and so they will have questions. If we answer their questions then, they will better understand what has been said, master it and be able to apply it immediately. In addition, in the name of efficiency, we want to focus on the strengths of students instead of their weaknesses. And a prerequisite for this is to map out their abilities, for which I want to make time, because it is worth it. The method also includes, among other things, an emphasis on simulation exercises that meet the needs of Z and alpha generations, as well as on developing the necessary teamwork skills. In addition, communication and personal development exercises will continue to be important. It is also a significant change that the grade obtained for the project task can stand as the final result.

The new methodology is already being applied at Széchenyi István University in Győr.

As far as I know, they started teaching in September in the spirit of the new methodology.

We still have work to do to fine-tune the method, but we are already applying the new approach and courses in the English-taught Vehicle Engineering BSc programme. If the start is successful, with the agreement of the University’s management I would like us to apply the method later in all our engineering programmes, the introduction of which will be facilitated by the process of the model change and its benefits.

In an almost unparalleled way within Hungarian higher education, Széchenyi István University’s excellent industrial relations are also symbolized by the fact that there are now a dozen degree subjects offering dual training programmes, the basis of which is that the student can apply his / her acquired knowledge in a real industrial environment.

Dual training has a great advantage, in that it allows students to gain work experience, but only a limited number of engineers have the opportunity to develop in this form of education. That is why we are introducing the new methodology.

If you had to choose a career today, what programme would you opt for? 

I would think the same way I did in 1977, when this was relevant to me. I would look at where the highest quality engine development engineering education was available in Europe and apply there. We Hungarian institutions compete with each other, although in the fight for the best students, our competition is not the Hungarian technical universities, but foreign ones.

If I am guessing correctly, this marks the direction for the further development of the methodology. Exactly. We are not trying to get ahead in the traffic jam driving in the inner lane towards Lake Balaton, but we are looking for a new, alternative route that can be attractive to anyone in the world. This is our dream.

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