Future engineers have the potential to use their unique problem solving capability to play a crucial role in stewarding humanity’s future. What we teach people today and how we do it will shape the ability of future engineers to be sustainable, equitable, inclusive and ethical in all that they do.  

Responding to the climate crisis and other global challenges is not optional. So why is it optional to equip engineers to tackle these issues?

This core question was explored by 50+ change makers from 20 universities on Friday 15 September in London, as part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s first Systems Change Lab, co-delivered with Engineers Without Borders UK. With representation from all of the groups who directly shape engineering degrees, including deans, heads of department, educators, accreditors, industry players and current engineering students, the Lab provided a critical space for constructive conversations and shaping purpose-driven collaboration to improve and embed global responsibility within engineering degree courses. 

What happened at the September Change Lab?

Ellie Carey, an engineering student at the University of Bristol, opened the day with a powerful keynote that asked the Lab: is it fair to expect students to graduate into an industry tasked with fixing the climate crisis when they haven’t been adequately equipped with the skills necessary to do so? Ellie’s provocation was that a re-evaluation and reformation of the engineering education system will ensure that students graduate empowered to be the change-makers our world desperately needs. 

Following her, Santiago Mejia Rendón, Director Social Ecosystems at Ashoka, shared their experience of creating the structures to successfully support multi-stakeholder collaboration to create systematic changes across university eco-systems. 

Get involved

Help shape the future of engineering education by registering for future Systems Change Lab events.

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The day was structured around three workshops, exploring the future context graduating engineers would live and work within, the state of university education today, and how the Change Lab could accelerate transformation. Attendees also participated in live testing, through user focus groups, of various initiatives designed to support universities to make change. 

‘As educators we have a huge responsibility to equip our graduates with the knowledge and skill sets that enable them to shape a sustainable world through practices that are both ethical and inclusive. It was clear to me from attending the launch event that the Systems Change Lab is a fantastic initiative that will help universities deliver on these important globally significant aspects of an engineering education.’
Mark Gillott, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience & Chair in Sustainable Building Design, University of Nottingham
What is the scale of the challenge? 

During the Change Lab, we asked participants how their universities were educating globally responsible engineers. 

We asked them to rate themselves on the following scale: 

  • Ad Hoc: We don’t focus on educating globally responsible engineers, or when we do – it’s patchy. 
  • Add-on: We teach about global responsibility as a separate topic, course or module – it’s not a core part of our engineering degrees.  
  • Integrate: We teach global responsibility as a core part of our engineering degrees.
  • Rebuilt: We are globally responsible in all we do.  


We then asked, where would they like to be?

Their responses indicate that the majority of engineering degrees have an Ad Hoc or Add-on way of educating engineers about sustainability, inclusion or ethics, but that there is a desire to move towards an integrated approach to educating globally responsible engineers. Developing how universities can do this will be a core focus of the Systems Change Lab. 

Looking ahead

The aim for March 2024 is for the Royal Academy of Engineering and Engineers without Borders UK to understand the scale of the challenge ahead and be in position to deliver a range of co-created resources required to tackle this challenge. 

This will include an innovative toolkit that will support universities to navigate how to positively shape degrees to create globally responsible engineers – the Global Responsibility: Reimagined Degree Map. The Map translates research, advocacy and experience into a useful guide for universities. Learn more by joining the Systems Change Lab or by contacting [email protected].

The Systems Change Lab extends beyond a one-day event, forming part of a broader series of engagements from September to March 2024. It aims to unite industry, academia, and society in developing initiatives, incentives, and collaborations to transform engineering education. Get involved today and sign up for future events here.  

“The Change Lab has sparked a powerful educational movement that is working to empower students with the transferable skills, ethical awareness, and agility to co-create equitable solutions to global challenges. I’m thrilled to be joining forces with students, organisations, and fellow educators to drive this transformation.”

Sarah Junaid, Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for Mechanical & Design Engineering, Aston University



Engineers Without Borders UK is running a Systems Change Lab on behalf of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s wider project, Engineer 2030. Engineer 2030 aims to determine the foundational knowledge, skills and behaviours needed by engineers and technicians to meet 21st century global challenges and to understand the systems, cultures, and policies currently in place in the UK to deliver this.