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The Maschinenhaus and its sub-projects

Thomas Gessner / Marc Wittenborn

The “Maschinenhaus – the campus for engineers” is VDMA’s initiative for increasing student success in engineering degree programs.

Challenges in engineering programs

The German mechanical engineering industry, universities and departments and schools of engineering in particular are facing three fundamental challenges:

  • The drop-out rate in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering degree programs remains very high. Too many young people leave university without a degree and too many resources are being lost. There is a high demand for engineers in companies, who often have trouble filling these positions. Technological changes and the need for replacements due to demographics are creating even greater demand.
  • Mechanical engineering is currently in a phase of technological transition. The digitalization of production – generally summed up by the keyword Industrie 4.0 – will transform business models, produce new innovations and force companies to adapt their structures, products and production. This will require highly-qualified employees, with qualifications and abilities that differ from those needed in the past. Engineering degree programs will have to react to changes in technology and to the increasing demand for a stronger practical orientation voiced by many companies.
  • Universities and the academic system are facing diverse challenges in their duty to educate engineers: An increasingly heterogeneous student body, the digitalization of teaching, further internationalization of the academic landscape and demographic changes are just a few of the challenges that universities will face and be affected by.

To take on these processes of change and ensure a sufficient number of engineers with top notch education, VDMA launched the initiative “Maschinenhaus – the campus for engineers” in 2013.

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Goals of the Maschinenhaus initiative

“Maschinenhaus” is where VDMA works closely together with departments and schools of engineering throughout Germany and supports them in improving student success. There are two aspects to take into account here:

  • One the one hand, greater student success means curbing the high drop-out rate in engineering degrees, thus bringing more engineers onto the labor market.
  • But on the other hand, it also means ensuring the high-quality standards of German education and its practical application in the later personal and professional lives of university graduates. In the digital age, this means that courses and curricula need to be adapted continuously to reflect the latest technology.

Subprojects of the Maschinenhaus initiative

Forming the basis of the Maschinenhaus project, five scientific studies and surveys systematically analyzed the topics of drop-outs, quality management in teaching and the need for improvement in teaching. The studies’ findings are to be implemented into practice at the universities and more improvements in university teaching and quality management are to be made possible together with the experts on campus. This will be achieved by means of five subprojects:

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The transfer projects are the largest subproject of the VDMA Maschinenhaus. In them, VDMA offers individualized consultation and discussion with departments and schools of engineering at all German universities.

Within a transfer project,

  • representatives of the VDMA Education Department
  • experts from the HIS-Hochschulentwicklung institute of university consultation (HIS-HE)
  • representatives from corporate practice

visit the universities and conduct tailored workshops with them. The goals of the workshops are to identify areas of improvement with regard to teaching and to develop and implement measures to achieve this. VDMA provides individual feedback to universities based on the results of the studies of the Maschinenhaus project, the exchange of information with other universities and examples of good practice from the toolbox. Furthermore, VDMA leads the discussion and exchange processes within the university.

 

Project phases

A typical transfer project consists of a series of five workshops:

  • In the opening workshop, the “Maschinenhaus – the campus for engineers” project is presented and the steps of the individual transfer project are discussed. VDMA and the university agree on the goals and approaches, keeping the individual needs and requests of the universities in mind. A corporate representative explains the importance of high-quality education for the industry and what businesses require from aspiring engineers.
  • In the status quo workshop, the individual situation of the school or department is ascertained. Interviews supported by guidelines are held in three different groups – teaching staff, those responsible for the degree program and students – and their individual perspectives identified. The idea is to find out what the three groups think supports and hinders student success.
  • In the third workshop, the reflection workshop, the results of the status quo survey are passed on to the university by the VDMA experts and the HIS-HE. What impression did the VDMA representatives gain of teaching practices? What do the three surveyed groups think? Where are areas of action in which teaching can be improved? Discussions with the university are held on whether this is a realistic portrait of the school or the department, what areas could be improved and where the university would like to become active.
  • Specific measures for improving teaching at the university in question are then discussed and developed in the follow-up workshop. These discussions incorporate the experience gained from the entire Maschinenhaus project and take the individual conditions and requirements of the university into consideration. This is to ensure that the solutions are perfectly tailored to the university’s needs.
  • The final workshop wraps up the transfer project. The results are summarized again here and reflected or presented to a wider university public or representatives from other schools or the university council. Further steps for the future and other open questions may also be discussed. VDMA honors the university’s participation in the transfer project by presenting a certificate and the title of “Transfer University”.

If you are a university representative and are interested in taking part in a transfer project with VDMA, please contact us and apply for a transfer project.

More information

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Two to three times a year, VDMA invites university representatives to discuss university-level teaching, university didactics and the quality assurance of teaching at the Maschinenhaus exchange of experience. The events are geared towards players committed to improving teaching and increasing student success – from members of the executive committee to professors and research associates up to students who are active on the student council. The focus is on dialog. Two or three speakers make a brief presentation, but the core element of the events is discussion, networking between university players and the exchange of opinions and ideas. VDMA contributes its perspective as an industry association, invites corporate players to the exchanges and initiates contact to political representatives. The results and findings of these exchanges also provide important feedback for VDMA to improve other elements of the Maschinenhaus project. Practical examples are included in the toolbox and information on political obstacles is further analyzed in the subproject on framework conditions, for example.

Exchange of experience events with keynote speeches

The exchanges are usually held at the VDMA headquarters in Frankfurt/Main from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The number of participants is limited to 40 in order to ensure an effective exchange and discussion. Every exchange of experience event focuses on a specific topic, which is also addressed in the keynote speeches. So far, topics included “projects in the course of university studies”, “digitalization of universities and industry” and “extracurricular measures for university entrants”. In addition to the national exchanges of experience, there have also been events with an increased regional focus in Dresden, Potsdam and Dortmund.

Information on the next exchange of experience can be found here.

The university award honors concepts and ideas that improve the quality of teaching, didactics and quality assurance and increase student success. With the award, VDMA is pursuing three goals:

  • Departments and schools should be offered an incentive to get involved in university-level teaching, quality assurance of teaching and didactics.
  • The award-winning ideas and concepts should highlight that more student success is possible – with the right ideas and necessary commitment – and can come down to the universities’ individual activities.
  • The university award is intended to strengthen the importance of university-level teaching. Awareness that high-quality teaching is an essential part of good universities should be raised among the public, policymakers, university teaching staff and students.

The winning departments and schools are selected by a top-notch jury of representatives from academia, industry, associations and politics. In 2017, the university award jury consisted of 21 members.

 

High prize money and public recognition

The university award was presented for the third time in 2017 and is endowed with a total of EUR 165,000. The winner of the “Best Maschinenhaus 2017” received EUR 100,000, and the two universities in second and third position received EUR 35,000 and EUR 15,000 respectively. Prize money amounting to EUR 7,500 was given out for two special awards. In addition, all five departments were handed out a certificate made of stainless steel as well as a Maschinenhaus statue.

The awards are presented during a public ceremony in Berlin attended by more than 100 guests from academia, industry and politics as well as the media. In 2017, Dr. Johanna Wanka, the Federal Minister of Education and Research gave the welcome address to the awards ceremony. Theresia Bauer, the Baden-Württemberg Minister of Science and Art, and Prof. Siegfried Russwurm were among the guests participating in the discussion panel on “Increased student success – A joint task for universities, industry, policymakers and students”.

More information

Goals of the Maschinenhaus toolbox

The toolbox is an important component of the VDMA initiative “Maschinenhaus – the campus for engineers”. It is a practice-oriented collection of tools and measures for how university-level teaching can be organized and improved, particularly for engineering disciplines, and how a coherent quality management system can be established. Aimed at providing all universities with access to the findings, the toolbox is based on insights gained in transfer projects, the university award and the exchanges of experience.

A short flyer contains more information on the content and goals of the Maschinenhaus toolbox.


Structure and navigation of the toolbox

The structure of the toolbox is based on the individual phases of a degree program. It starts before studying begins and moves on to the introductory phase of the degree, the core phase, graduation and the transition into professional life. Each chapter is divided into three sections:

  • Section “A – Conception” provides the theoretical background and possible approaches for each tool.
  • Section “B – Materials” offers practical checklists that help to introduce and implement selected tools.
  • Section “C – Good Practice Examples” describes the measures that have already been established by various universities and briefly presents their experiences and assessments.

The toolbox is designed as an interactive PDF file. Bookmarks on the left-hand side and hyperlinks in the texts (highlighted in orange) or the table of content enable users to jump to the desired sections of the toolbox. Unfortunately, the PDF format does not support the “Back” functionality known from web browsers.

“Chapter 12: Attachments” includes a series of tables and overviews of the contents of the toolbox and their arrangement. This is to help users find out at a glance which section of the toolbox includes answers to specific questions, what goals there are checklists for and where to find good practice examples for specific challenges.


Feedback on and contribution to the toolbox

The toolbox represents some kind of snapshot of the VDMA Maschinenhaus project. It takes into account numerous contributions, information and examples provided by university representatives. Without the support of numerous individuals, the toolbox would not have been possible. We would like to thank you all for your commitment!

The fact that the toolbox is designed as a snapshot also means that it has its shortcomings – e.g. good practice examples are missing or information is not as detailed as it could and should be. We need your help to further develop the toolbox and close any existing gaps: What do you think of the toolbox? What aspects do you like and what could be improved? Would you like to contribute your own personal experience? Are there any tools that did not prove practical and that should be removed? Have you implemented one of the tools at your university and would like to provide a good practice example? We look forward to receiving your feedback on these and other questions! Please don’t hesitate to contact us so that we can include your response in a potential new edition of the toolbox.

The “(political) framework conditions” subproject focuses on factors that are outside of the universities’ sphere of influence in order to increase student success. This is done in two ways:

 

 

 

Raising the profile of university teaching

 

 

 

One of the goals of this subproject is to raise the public and, more importantly, political profile of commitment and efforts in the field of university teaching and launch a debate on incentives for and recognition of achievements in this area. The German university and research landscape offers Leibniz prizes for excellent research, salary bonuses for securing particularly large amounts of research funds or reaching target agreements with professors on publications. Achievements in teaching are only recognized on rare occasions, if at all. Academic careers and the reputation of universities almost exclusively come down to research activities. Our goal is to incite a debate on this topic and instill an awareness of the relevance and value of university teaching in the public and the political sphere. This is why we are highlighting and promoting best practice examples from the world of teaching.

Analyzing fields of political action

The second goal of this subproject is to identify concrete fields of political action and levers for how policymakers can succeed in improving the framework conditions to ensure increased student success. Universities can do a lot to improve teaching and increase student success, and already do so in many places. But even they reach their limits sometimes, as legal barriers, a lack of financing or the wrong incentive system hamper their efforts to increase student success. At this point, the conditions for universities need to be adjusted and measures and activities from the outside used to support the universities’ efforts. This could take the form of new provisions for student loans, a special funding program for teaching or an adjustment to the financing system. VDMA identifies and analyzes such fields of action and voices its opinions and recommendations on these matters.

To achieve this, VDMA actively engages in the political debate, holds talks with policymakers and ministry staff, and participates in public hearings and events on university and science policies.