NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Electronics design has changed
in fundamental ways, but engineering education is much as it was 30 years ago,
charged Raman Unnikrishnan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer
Science at California State University, Fullerton.
In a keynote speech at Savant Company's First
International SoC Conference, Unnikrishnan warned that change must come, and
soon, if engineering schools are to fulfill their responsibility to provide
useful engineers to industry. The dean said engineering is about creating
intelligent products, much of which is in the form of software.
"The things that used to be fundamentals are less
important now," Unnikrishnan said. "But new things, like the stages in the IC
design flow, are vital." More changes are coming, Unnikrishnan said, including
the intersection of biological sciences and microelectronics.
Unnikrishnan said that at a purely practical level,
universities needed access to modern design tools, the training to prepare
educators to teach their use, access to hardware and software IP and access to
chip fabrication facilities. "Today we must typically spend $300K to have a test
chip fabricated," he observed.
Unnikrishnan said engineers face a future where old,
pat answers to familiar problems won't work. He contrasted curricula that
instilled a narrow range of skills to a new curriculum that teaches
problem-solving. To do this, Unnikrishnan proposed an education program that
began with basic educational requirements and then moved on to add basic
knowledge in software, nanoelectronics, biological sciences and systems
"But training in design must be integrated throughout
this," he explained.
The dean warned that such a curriculum would probably
mean abandoning what he called the ''fictitious four-year degree."
"It takes students five years to complete their
undergraduate degree already," Unnikrishnan said. "Perhaps we need to consider
that the first degree in engineering will be the Master's. This has already been
proposed at MIT, but I think it would be a very hard sell in most other places."
Unnikrishnan warned that change would not come easy.
"It is very difficult to change the reward structures that exist now," he said.
"So I'm offering a challenge to industry. Pressure us. Engage individual
professors, one-on-one. Bring them into your world, and show them what you need.
That will bring about change.''