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Engineering and Energy Discipline, College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia
Received: 13 December 2019 / Revised: 3 February 2020 / Accepted: 11 February 2020 / Published: 13 February 2020
There is an urgent need for educational institutions to produce graduates with sufficient skills to meet the growing global demand for professionals in the sustainable energy industry. For universities to move forward in meeting this global demand from industries, universities need to ensure that their curriculum and pedagogy are relevant. The use of benchmarking is an important way of achieving this and bridging the gap between university curricula and the practical needs of industry. The purpose of this paper is to provide a methodology for benchmarking a bachelor’s degree in sustainable energy engineering against curricula recommended by industry standards and pedagogy. This approach uses Murdoch University’s Renewable Energy Engineering course as a case study. The results show that the learning outcomes for renewable energy engineering units are generally well aligned with the learning outcomes recommended for a full sustainable energy education as suggested by the Australian Government’s Office of Learning and Teaching. In addition, the assessment tasks and marking criteria for the major unit are aligned with the standard for Australian universities. Developers of new or existing sustainable energy engineering programs can use a similar approach to benchmarking to meet the curriculum and teaching standards required by industry and academic peers.
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Recent significant changes in the global climate change policy environment are increasing the demand for professionals with sustainable energy skills, particularly in Asia Pacific and Australia. Among the driving forces are international agreements on carbon emissions, which were agreed at the COP21 conference in Paris at the end of 2015 and the creation of a green climate fund of 100 billion dollars a year to help developing countries adopt emission reduction techniques to cope with climate change. In 2018, the global renewable energy sector was driven by 700,000 new jobs in demand for professionals . Several authors (e.g. [2, 3]) have highlighted the urgent need for educational institutions to prepare to provide appropriate and relevant training to produce graduates with sustainable energy skills in line with job demand.
In the growing literature on renewable energy education, several authors point to gaps between university curricula and the practical needs of industry [4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. Lucas et al.  examine the impact of education and training gaps in renewable energy industries worldwide. The authors state that the skills gap urgently needs to be addressed as it has emerged as a barrier to technology adoption, given the industry a bad name and/or led to less than economically viable use of renewable energy. The authors found that there are many higher education courses in renewable energy (RE) that do not provide the training needed to address skills shortages in the RE industry. For example construction, installation and operation and maintenance. Even for religious education project manager roles, there is evidence that employers prefer practical experience over e.g. Postgraduate religious education degrees with specialization in management. The increase in online degree offerings also raises the question of whether students are graduating with sufficient practical experience.
Comodi et al.  It states that new “green collar” workers require long and expensive periods of motivation and professional development because the knowledge and skills taught at university do not match the needs of industry. The authors present ‘The Crux’ project, an initiative of three European universities and six Latin American universities, which “seeks to develop modern content and teaching methods to produce a new type of engineer with a deep professional educational background in renewable energy engineering. .” . Many Latin American countries are hiring undergraduate engineers to cope with the increase in the number of renewable energy projects underway due to the modernization and rapid expansion of the sector. The authors distributed a questionnaire on the needs of the RE industry and received responses from 60 stakeholders with different business activities in the sector. The survey found that employers found their current employees’ knowledge of renewable energy unsatisfactory, particularly lower than those with a bachelor’s degree. McPherson and Karne  point to the need to develop “sustainable energy systems mindsets” among students to address the global challenges of energy transition from centralized energy systems driven by fossil fuels to decentralized, sustainable, utility-based smart energy systems. . The authors highlight the flexibility of integrating the level of “systems thinking” and argue that basic technical units can be replaced by content that addresses political and economic factors governing the energy system as well as the social context. This echoes the arguments of Jennings , who states that “modern renewable energy education should be a comprehensive package covering studies of technology, resources, system design, economics, industry structure and policies, rather than adding optional renewable energy units to a traditional engineering education”.
The call for more graduates in sustainable energy applies to many disciplines and levels of education. There are many university courses in sustainable energy, most of which are postgraduate programmes. In 2013, Schneider reviewed postgraduate programs in sustainable energy available throughout Europe . Between 80% and 90% of all graduate and postgraduate courses lead to a Master of Science (MSc), sometimes a specialization (eg architecture, urban planning, engineering management, etc.) or even a double degree. Thomas and others. 2008 reviewed renewable energy (RE) courses in Australia and New Zealand  and found that most universities offer one or two undergraduate units in renewable energy as part of their science or engineering courses, but only three universities offer full bachelor’s degree in the field of sustainable energy. Most of the literature on renewable energy or sustainable energy courses is related to postgraduate programmes, e.g. [16, 17, 18], and literature on sustainable energy engineering programs or undergraduate renewable energy is rare.
The purpose of this paper is to provide a method to benchmark a bachelor’s degree in sustainable energy engineering against industry-recommended curricula and deliver the pedagogical standards required by academia. The benchmarking approach applies to developers of new or existing undergraduate sustainable energy engineering programs to compare standards required by industry, government and their academic peers. Murdoch University’s Bachelor of Renewable Energy Engineering is used as a case study in this benchmarking exercise.
The structure of the article is as follows: Section 2 provides an overview of the materials and methods used in this study. Section 3 presents the results of the literature review and describes the review of the case study. Section 4 deals with benchmarking the case study against relevant curriculum frameworks and teaching standards. Finally, Section 5 concludes and summarizes the study findings.
This study was designed as an evaluation study of the curriculum, assessment, and materials for undergraduate programs in sustainable energy engineering.
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