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On the role of industry contact on the motivation and professional development of engineering students

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Abstract

This full research paper aims to investigate the nature of industry-related activities engineering students encounter at a Swedish university, as well as the impact these activities have on their motivation to study engineering. Over the last decade, many studies have been conducted concerning university-industry engagement which chart the landscape of activities, educational approaches, and challenges that students face when involved in industry-related activities. Despite the existing close collaboration between Swedish engineering universities and industry, it seems that not only the feedback from the industry to universities is missing, but also students' perceptions of their industry experience and their needs are not taken adequately into consideration by the other two actors. As a consequence, there is a gap among the above three actors preventing the advancement of engineering education in terms of industrial interventions. Furthermore, there is a lack of research about students' perceptions of university-industry engagement activities. This study adopts a qualitative and exploratory research perspective, intending to gain a deep understanding of students' perceptions of industry-related activities which were integrated into their education. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine master's students studying on five-year long engineering programmes in a large research-intensive Swedish university. An inductive thematic analysis was employed, and social cognitive theory was considered as an interpretive tool through which to explore student motivation. The interviews indicated that the students participated actively in various industry-related activities, such as guest lectures, field-trips, internships, summer schools, and masters' theses in collaboration with industry partners which give context to the findings which highlight how industry-related activities can either positively or negatively affect students' motivation for studying and learning in engineering education.
On the role of industry contact on the motivation and
professional development of engineering students
Panagiotis Pantzos
Dept. of Learning in Engineering
Sciences
KTH Royal Intitute of Technology
Stockholm, Sweden
pantzos@kth.se
Lena Gumaelius
Dept. of Learning in Engineering
Sciences
KTH Royal Intitute of Technology
Stockholm, Sweden
lenagu@kth.se
Jeffrey Buckley
Dept. of Learning in Engineering
Sciences
KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Stockholm, Sweden
Faculty of Engineering &
Informatics
Athlone Institute of Technology.
Co. Westmeath, Ireland
jbuckley@kth.se
Arnold Pears
Dept. of Learning in Engineering
Sciences
KTH Royal Intitute of Technology
Stockholm, Sweden
arnold.pears@ieee.org
Abstract— This full research paper aims to investigate the
nature of industry-related activities engineering students
encounter at a Swedish university, as well as the impact these
activities have on their motivation to study engineering. Over the
last decade, many studies have been conducted concerning
university-industry engagement which chart the landscape of
activities, educational approaches, and challenges that students
face when involved in industry-related activities. Despite the
existing close collaboration between Swedish engineering
universities and industry, it seems that not only the feedback from
the industry to universities is missing, but also students'
perceptions of their industry experience and their needs are not
taken adequately into consideration by the other two actors. As a
consequence, there is a gap among the above three actors
preventing the advancement of engineering education in terms of
industrial interventions. Furthermore, there is a lack of research
about students' perceptions of university-industry engagement
activities. This study adopts a qualitative and exploratory research
perspective, intending to gain a deep understanding of students'
perceptions of industry-related activities which were integrated
into their education. Semi-structured interviews were conducted
with nine master’s students studying on five-year long engineering
programmes in a large research-intensive Swedish university. An
inductive thematic analysis was employed, and social cognitive
theory was considered as an interpretive tool through which to
explore student motivation. The interviews indicated that the
students participated actively in various industry-related
activities, such as guest lectures, field-trips, internships, summer
schools,
and masters' theses in collaboration with industry
partners which give context to the findings which highlight how
industry-related activities can either positively or negatively affect
students’ motivation for studying and learning in engineering
education.
Keywords Learning in engineering education, Industry
involvement, Industry-related activities, Student motivation.
I. INTRODUCTION
The prolonged gap between higher level engineering
education and industry has been acknowledged in previous
research. On one hand, studies have shown [1]–[4] that
although engineering schools are sending students out to
industry as part of their educational experience, reforming and
developing curricula are often perceived not to be conducted in
a way that is most appropriate to meet industry needs. As a
consequence of this, the feedback interconnection between
industry and engineering schools is often reported to be
missing. In addition, masters’ students in engineering education
seem to be more knowledgeable about research than practice
[1], further strengthening the view that industry relevance may
not always be the major focus in master’s level engineering
education. On the other hand, industry collaboration seems to
be of great importance as Drysdale and McBeath [5] found that
university students who do not participate in industry-related
activities during their studies have lower academic
achievement, it is more likely that they will use shallow
learning methods, and that they are more extrinsically
motivated compared to students who have attended some
industry-related activity and gained work experience. The more
liberal perspective emphasizes that universities make change to
accommodate business needs, municipal organisations, the
government, and the community at local district and national
level, based on the belief that engineering schools should
belong to university “open-system” [6]. Even though the gap
between engineering education and industry expectations is
widely acknowledged, few studies have focused on the
students’ perspectives and their experiences of industry-related
activities during their studies. There is also a lack of knowledge
about how students’ perceptions affect their motivation for
studying and learning in engineering. Without this knowledge,
there is a risk that the gap between engineering education and
industry will grow and limit the advancement of engineering
education in terms of industrial interventions. It has also been
found [7] that when students’ are allowed to participate in
learning settings and university decisions it can help them to
develop a mastery orientation. In addition, allowing them
autonomy and control of this part of their education can support
their development of independence, leadership skills, and
responsibility. It can also have vital effects on student
motivation and learning, and further their development of self-
regulatory abilities. This study investigates students’
experiences and perceptions of industry-related activities in
engineering education. Its aim is to address the gap in
knowledge concerning what influences student motivation in
order to understand how to foster participation, collaboration,
and choice in extracurricular and co-curricular industry-related
activities through more strategic and impactful industry
interventions.
978-1-7281-1746-1/19/$31.00 ©2019 IEEE
II. BACKGROUND
A. Motivation
High motivation and engagement in learning have
significant impact on decreased dropout rates and increased
levels of student achievement as well as to professional success
[8]–[10]. However, there are a variety of factors that influence
students’ motivation and level of engagement in their learning
which universities and teachers often either ignore or have
diminutive control over [11]. One approach which can be taken
to increasing student motivation is the integration of industry
experience into their education. While such activities can fail to
adequately interest and engage all students, research has shown
that this problematic situation can be overturned [12]–[14].
According to Bandura, social cognitive theory explains that:
“psychosocial functioning in terms of triadic reciprocal
causation. In this transactional view of self and society,
personal factors in the form of cognitive, affective, and
biological events, behavioral patterns, and environmental
events all operate as interacting determinants that influence
each other bidirectionally” [15: 265-266]. Within social
cognitive theory [16], individual learning, the acquisition of
knowledge, self-regulated competency, and development are
investigated through a social context in which stakeholders and
teachers become significant actors as social models. Moreover,
learning is conceptualised as a cognitive and active process,
involving self-efficacy, learning methods, and motivation [17]–
[19]. Social cognitive theory is characterised as a powerful
theoretical framework in research due to its explanatory
capacity in attempts to understand human development, its
practicality, and its applicability to learning. Finally, these
constructs are narrowly interlinked and inspected as essential
elements for successful work performance and academic
achievement [20], [21].
There are different definitions and disagreements about the
accurate nature of motivation. Pintrich and Schunk define
motivation as:
The process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and
sustained… As a process, we do not observe motivation
directly but rather we infer it from such behaviours as choice
of tasks, effort, persistence, and verbalisations… Motivation
involves goals that provide impetus for and direction to
action. Cognitive views of motivation are united in their
emphasis on the importance of goals. Goals may not be well
formulated and may change with experience, but the point is
that individuals have something in mind that they are trying
to attain (or avoid)… Motivation requires activity-physical or
mental, such as effort, persistence and cognitive actions as
planning, making decisions, solving problems, and assessing
process [22: 4-5].
Another definition of student motivation comes from
Bomia, Beluzo, Demeester, Elander, Johnson and Sheldon that
refers to “a student’s willingness, need, desire and compulsion
to participate in, and be successful in, the learning process” [23:
1]. It also can be argued that more often student motivation is
divided into two categories. The first, extrinsic motivation,
describes that a student can be characterised as extrinsically
motivated when they engage in the learning process “purely for
the sake of attaining a reward or for avoiding some punishment”
[13]. The second, intrinsic motivation, describes that a student
can be characterised as intrinsically motivated when they are
motivated from within, actively engaging themselves in
learning out of concern, curiosity, or pleasure, as well as to
achieve their own personal and intellectual goals. Commenting
on students who are intrinsically motivated, Dev argues they
“will not need any type of reward or incentive to initiate or
complete a task. This type of student is more likely to complete
the chosen task and be excited by the challenging nature of an
activity” [13: 13]. Ryan and Deci [24] highlight the basic
distinction of motivation through questioning if behaviours are
really autonomous and self-sufficient or controlled. For
instance, whether people feel free in their actions or feel as if
they are being forced to act in some way. In other words, the
focus of action, or the insight of where the control for
someone’s behaviour resides, can have significant unwelcome
consequence upon attributions and behaviours [25].
Many studies demonstrate that intrinsic motivation is
strongly related to successful students’ academic achievements
[26]–[29], whilst other studies have shown that the use of
extrinsic motivators to encourage students in learning process
can both negatively affect student motivation and lower
academic achievement [11], [13]. Furthermore, students who
are intrinsically motivated are more likely to continue studying
long after external motivators have ceared to exert influence,
and are more likely to be lifelong learners [30].
B. Industry-related activities
University–industry collaboration is an essential component
in the successful preparation of engineering students for their
professional efforts. This collaborative relationship empowers
students to engage in up-to-date industry practices, learn more
about their discipline, and develop skills to be more effective
students and future engineers [31]. It is well known that
universities incorporate a variety of teaching methods and
learning strategies, because certain knowledge, skills and
values align with different teaching methodologies. According
to Graham, Tripp, Seawright, and Joeckel (2007), learning
techniques which allow students’ active participation in the
educational process have a positive effect on their academic
achievement [32].
Trowler [33] discusses student engagement as the process
of students’ participation in in-classroom activities or/and out-
of-classroom learning activities such as industry-related
activities. For this study, industry-related activities are defined
as student’s active participation in various university-industry
activities, such as completing a masters’ thesis in collaboration
with a company, a guest lecture from a person directly involved
in industry, an industry field trip, an internship, attendance at
summer schools, or industry-focused courses with, for
example, industry associated problem-solving activities that are
conducted as a part of the curriculum. With regards to
internships and cooperative experiences with industry, previous
studies [34]–[37] have shown that students who experienced a
real workplace environment and culture gained motivation to
learn, developed their interpersonal skills and communication,
gained work experience, and also gained valuable real-world
problem-solving experiences while discussing and observing
industry’s employees. Several studies [38]–[40] have described
positive student learning outcomes from industry field trips,
such as students observing a production process environment,
engaging in workplace culture, developing manufacturing
competencies, acquiring multidisciplinary skills, seeing daily
routines of the employees and managers, and learning about
new technologies. With respect to guest lectures, students listen
to the guest speaker during a lecture and afterwards they can
share their work experiences and patents, engage in teamwork
and problem solving, and learn about communication, self-
management, enterprise and initiative [41]–[43]. It has also
been argued that students who participate in industry-related
activities can develop problem-solving skills, analytical skills,
collaborative abilities, build communication skills, and become
more motivated to learn through the use of case studies [44],
[45].
III. PURPOSE AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The purpose of this study is to explore the nature of
industry-related activities that students encounter within
engineering education at a Swedish university. The study also
seeks to understand what impact these activities have on
students’ motivation when studying engineering. Based on this
objective, following research questions are posed:
1. For context, what industry-related activities did the
sample of engineering students engage with during
their studies?
2. How did the students perceive these industry-related
activities to affect their motivation to study and
learning?
The results of this study can contribute an insight into
students’ perceptions of their motivation for studying and
learning in higher level engineering education.
IV. METHODOLOGY
This study sought to investigate students’ perceptions of
university-industry engagement activities. Due to the nature of
the research questions, an explorative, qualitative strategy was
employed. In addition, the purpose of this research was to
understand and gain knowledge about students’ experiences
and hence an inductive approach was applied. Reiter argues that
exploratory research can “produce valid and insightful findings
in the social sciences, if conducted in a transparent and self-
reflexive way. It can also profit from applying dialectical
thinking” [46: 129]. In this study, semi-structured interviews
were conducted to obtain direct answers from students about
their beliefs and insights concerning industry-related activities
which they experienced as part of their formal education in
order to gain an understanding of their perceptions on how these
influenced their motivation to continue studying.
The protocol for the semi-structured interviews included
questions and sub-questions divided into thematic categories so
that the research questions were covered [47]. According to
Bryman “what is crucial is that the questioning allows
interviewers to glean research participants’ perspectives on
their social world and that there is flexibility in the conduct of
the interviews” [47: 469]. Due to the characteristics of a
qualitative research study [47], [48], purposive sampling was
used. In this technique, a sample is purposefully selected that is
satisfactory to specific needs of the research [48: 115].
This is a pilot study including nine masters’ students who
were studying on five-year long engineering programmes at a
large research-intensive Swedish university. In Sweden, a
Master’s program consists of a two-year program, the final two
years of the five-year programme, containing both courses and
a Master’s research project within the final semester. All of the
interviewed students met the criteria of having encountered
industry-related activities during their study time. The selected
students were studying either on the first or the second year of
their master’s studies. In addition, all the selected students had
participated in several industry-related activities since these we
included into their master’s programmes. Open-ended
questions were used during the interviews to allow for
flexibility, with interviews lasting approximately 45 minutes.
All students were interviewed in English. All interviews were
recorded and transcribed immediately and verbatim to check
the saturation of the data. All students voluntarily participated
in this study.
V. DATA ANALYSIS
An inductive analysis was conducted on the transcribed data
using NVivo software. Emerging and compatible themes were
identified mainly related to the research questions. According
to Braun and Clarke, inductive thematic analysis aims to
“generate an analysis from the bottom (the data) up; analysis is
not shaped by existing theory (but analysis is always shaped to
some extent by the researcher’s standpoint, disciplinary
knowledge and epistemology)” [49: 175]. Furthermore, Willig
claims that “while experience is always the product of
interpretation, and, therefore, constructed (and flexible)… it is
nevertheless ‘real’ to the person who is having the experience”
[50: 13].
More specifically, the thematic analysis was conducted in
the following stages: a) transcription of the data, b) reading and
familiarization of the transcribed data while creating initial
notes on pieces of potential interest, c) coding by creating
“nodes” across the entire dataset, by coding papers individually
and then reviewing once all initial nodes were created, d) nodes
were incorporated into themes, and a thematic map was created
to aid in visualising and understanding the relationships and
links between them, and e) defining and naming themes
reflecting the data [49], [51].
VI. RESULTS
The inductive thematic analysis process that was applied to
the transcripts derived several key concepts. These concepts are
considered to be crucial in determining the students’
understandings. The concepts have been divided into two main
categories, or themes, defined as “encouraging elements of
industry-related activities”, and “discouraging elements of
industry-related activities”. Thus, the key concepts are
considered sub-themes of each of these two categories. The
category “encouraging elements of industry-related
activities” has sub themes of:
‘future working expectations’
‘real problem-solving’
‘inspirational role model’
‘practice oriented knowledge’
The category “discouraging elements of industry-
related activities” has sub-themes of:
‘lack of collaboration’
‘marketization of higher education
‘lack of relevance to students’ interest areas’
‘lack of connection between students and
company’s R & D’
A. Industry-related activities
Based on the analysis of the data, the industry-related
activities which the students had engaged with were: a) guest-
lectures, b) internships, c) master’s thesis in industry, d)
summer school, e) field-trips, and f) job-student fairs. Below,
the findings demonstrate how the students perceived these
industry-related activities to affect their motivation to study and
their learning.
It is important to highlight that there are prospects of the
students’ narratives that overlap across these two categories.
However, this should be seen as an interpretation of
understandings and attitudes in general, which are not isolated
perceptions but which are interrelated to each other.
B. Encouraging elements of industry-related activities
This category describes different aspects of the participants’
experiences of industry-related activities which positively
affect the students’ motivation to study and their learning in
engineering education. The positive impact of these industry-
related activities on students’ motivation is discussed
sequentially through generated key concepts, and quotes from
the transcripts are presented to illustrate the analytical claims.
1) Future working expectations
Students explained it was a positive experience when they
were able to figure out the demands of the companies, which
motivated them to clarify the field that they would like to
specialise in in the future, to gain better understanding of their
studies, feel more confident, get significant work experience
(more practical-oriented) during their studies, and place
themselves professionally in the future. Internships were
argued by the students to have one or several of those effects.
The internship was very helpful to figure out what the
expectations from the company are, what they need from
you. I did not have any previous work experience from the
industry, so I learnt a lot of things about the working
environment in a company, it helped me to clarify the field
that I would like to specialize in, because I was confused
during my studies in electricity.
Student 3
However, after doing the internship I realized I don't care if
programming gives me better opportunities in the future, I
want to do design. So, it helped me take the right decision,
and this could be reflected in my focus in the next semester
at KTH.
Student 5
This internship was a revelation to me in what we were
studying and how it applies to the industry. In a sense it was
putting all the pieces together from my first and second
semester giving me a better perspective on what I was
actually studying and where I want to focus my efforts. I
think it was the best part of my studies as of yet.
Student 5
2) Real problem-solving
Students stated that it was great to meet the industry and
participate actively to real problem solving. More specifically,
during summer school the students engaged with different
industry-related activities, met people from companies, there
were guest-lectures on the campus, meetings, discussions, and
reflection activities between students and business-oriented
people in a holistic way.
I took a project from start to finish, started from scratch
with the conception of an idea to some actual deliverables,
and presented it in front of a business jury with investors, so
this whole procedure and some tight time constraints was
extremely helpful and I enhance my skills in problem
solving, conceptualizing, working with other
people/collaboration.
Student 5
The organizers were 2 or 3 people from industry, they
visited us, gave talks and lectures, and in evenings they were
even helping us with our assignments. Of course, they could
not help so much, but they could give us 2 or 3 hours a day
to ask them stuff and we could always contact them
afterwards to ask anything. It was a very nice experience.
Student 4
Furthermore, the students participated in various field trips
or study trips where they visited different companies or
businesses that cooperated with the university. The students
who had been on field trips considered that there was a close
relationship between their study visit and their education since
they had to engage with real problem-solving activities within
the companies and write a report as an assignment for their
university courses. It seemed that these activities can increase
students’ motivation to learn.
We also had a very practical course called material for
accounting, there we had a case from a company called xxx
(paper company), we actually got to visit them and after that
analyze their material and energy flow within the
company/industry and understand how it can be improved.
The whole course was group work on this, how to improve
the material and energy flows at xxx. And that is pretty
much all in terms of industry related activities that I had.
Student 3
For the “powerplant”, we had an interview with the person
in charge and we went on a little trip to see all the
components and how they were working. We got to ask this
guy everything related to cleaner production and how it
works, so that we could write the paper on it.
Student 7
3) Inspirational role model
Students believed that these industry-related activities
inspired them to be successful engineers in their future careers,
motivated them to continue study engineering and complete
their studies at the university, and inspired them to explore the
production process in the industries. More specifically,
inspirational guest lectures, internships, and field trips could
contribute to the above individual role model.
Having industries integrated from the first year already in
some courses could be very interesting as it inspires
students about what actually happens in the industries…
Role models, is a good idea. People like Mark Zuckerberg
or Elon Musk, that are super inspiring changing the world
with engineering solutions. I feel like role models are the
first motivation, particularly for kids to get into engineering
world.
Student 3
They were inspirational visits. It was cool to actually see
what is happening in the process and the production…Then
we went to their office and talked to people that worked with
different things. It was not watching the process, it was
more going to the office and getting inspired by what they
were doing and meet a lot of people.
Student 8
4) Practice oriented knowledge
Students thought it was beneficial to be exposed to more
practice-oriented knowledge than the normal theoretical
knowledge which they could get through the courses at the
university. They stated that industry related-activities such as
internships and summer schools were examples of activities
that give these types of experiences. In addition, the obtained
practice-oriented knowledge can affect positively to students’
motivation to learn.
I would say although we learn more theory at the university,
practical knowledge is more appreciated in the industry…So
I got some practical knowledge through summer school.
Student 5
I think that you need very specific knowledge in the
processes that you want to work with. But maybe more the
knowledge about how to solve problems and where to find
information. I don’t think that I will remember specific
information that much from the courses only, in my case. I
will more have a feeling of how to solve problems. I don’t
think that theory will help that much in practical ways, at
least in my case. The internship was a great experience that
get a lot of practical knowledge.
Student 8
C. Discouraging elements of industry-related activities
This category describes different aspects of the participants’
experiences of industry-related activities which decreased their
motivation towards engineering education. The negative impact
of these industry-related activities on students’ motivation is
also discussed sequentially through generated sub-themes, and
data extracts presented to illustrate the analytic claims.
1) Lack of collaboration
Students argued that there is a lack of collaboration and
communication between their supervisors at the university,
themselves, and student’s advisor at the company, where they
are doing their master’s theses for approximately six months.
Furthermore, because of this lack of collaboration, the student
interviews indicated that their motivation to pursue further
studies at higher level decreased, and when they expressed
dissatisfaction with company staff, they said they would be less
likely choose these companies to work for in the future.
In general, I have to say that there were differences in terms
of setting the goals of my thesis between the people from
[university] and from the company. Furthermore, there was
a lack of communication between me and one of my
supervisors from [university]. He was missing for a long
period while in the USA. So, it was very difficult to meet all
together or discuss issues all together for the progress of my
thesis.
Student 1
I did, I asked from the coordinator of [xxx] in Stockholm,
and he was very polite and offered to meet me at his office,
but the only support he provided was a pep talk or
motivational speech. “Be passionate” and stuff like that, but
he didn't provide any more help. He also contacted the
coordinator of my masters, this guy who was a big head,
and they didn't even reply to my emails. These were
professors at [university]. No help from them.
Student 5
2) Marketization of higher education
Students expressed a negative attitude towards being
exposed to companies’ advertisements, staff
commercialisation, sponsorships, and industry’s marketing
profiles during their engagement with industry through guest
lectures, master’s thesis projects, field trips, and internships.
This exogenous privatization of higher education appears to
negatively impact students’ motivation to study and their
learning as they do not like this relationship with industry and
disagree with this kind of advertisement when collaborating
with people at these companies.
In my other course some companies came just to present
themselves, as guest lecturers. But I do not come to a 2
hours class to receive a marketing talk from a
company…Yes, most companies play the game. For
example, when I was at the student union, and there were
companies paying for events, some were just advertising
themselves…
Student 3
The company that we meet should not only be trying to make
itself look good in front of the students, but it has to be a
more open approach. We are there to learn, not only to be
recruited. We can also criticize their work, which can also
help them, because we can come with new ideas…Because
the industries have more power, as in money. And maybe
that’s where you could have the biggest change. But at the
same time also kind of questioning the morale of industries
more.
Student 6
3) Lack of relevance to students’ interest areas
Students claim that there is a lack of activities’ relevance to
their studies and discipline’s courses. Some of the guest
lectures, career affairs, and field trips they have experienced are
not related direct to the courses at the university, which seem to
make students motivated to attend these lectures and field trips,
as they feel bored or/and these activities are not interesting to
students. It can be argued that this phenomenon can affect
negatively to students’ motivation to learn.
There are the career fairs, like [xxx], where you mingle with
companies…I mean, the lunch lectures that the students
arrange are not that specialized. It is more about the
companies’ offerings. But guest lectures are more specific,
for example, you can use our electrochemistry topic to
develop a new thing in batteries, and so on. However, guest
lectures also would maybe not be as much marketing for the
companies as these are now, but you see what you can
actually do with your learnings.
Student 8
I think some of them were boring, now that I remember.
Some visits in companies where people talk- for example we
visited a company called [xxx] both in Spain and Sweden
and they gave a super boring presentation. And I think that
it is a challenge for them to put people to talk who are
interesting and energized.
Student 4
4) Lack of connection between students and company’s R
& D
Student’s also expressed the missed opportunities to engage
with the people who work in research and development (R &
D) at the companies where they were doing their master theses,
internships, or/and field trips. They highlighted that it is vital
for their studies to have connections to people within R & D
especially for their master thesis.
It was argued that the contact people at companies may not
be able to provide useful information or share knowledge that
could help students’ research and studies. It is therefore argued
that the lack of connection between students and R & D
negatively effects their motivation to continue studying.
For someone to want to do a PhD, he/she would have to be
interested in R&D, so research and development. So, if you
reach the R&D part of the company, then students would be
intrigued to learn more about research, and maybe figure
out that they want to work in research and not just any
conventional job. So, focus on R&D departments, they must
do that, it is very important, but they never do at least in my
case. I can’t speak for everyone…In big companies, the
R&D department, normally students don't get to meet those
people. They meet people that can ‘talk’, so they are
marketing people/executives or the company's
representatives in the outside world.
Student 5
I remember that it was in the middle of my thesis that I was
stuck and the model could not work and nobody could help
me, neither the company nor KTH professors. There was a
big ‘gap’ amongst me, KTH and the company. The third one
that I have to say is the people from the company were not
so willing to provide me the data to use in my thesis. They
had to face the issue probably with the confidentiality, and
the information from the markets. They have a lot of data
but they are unpublished and it causes many problems to the
students who are doing a research in the company.
Student 1
VII. DISCUSSION
The results described above highlight some important
findings regarding students’ perspectives on what is
“encouraging” and “discouraging” about industry-related
activities towards their motivation for studying and on their
learning in Sweden. It is interesting to note that the findings on
encouraging elements in this study can be confirmed by
previous research, whereas it is more difficult to find reports
from previous studies on the discouraging elements.
The present study adds additional credibility to findings
about individual learning, which is conceptualised as a
cognitive and active process involving motivation, in which
stakeholders and teachers become vital actors as social models
[16]–[19]. From the findings, the provision of inspirational role
models was one of the encouraging aspects of industry-related
activities, such as inspirational guest lectures, internships, and
field trips. This appeared to motivate students to continue
studying engineering and inspired them to explore the
production process in the industries.
Furthermore, the results demonstrate that through
“encouraging” industry-related activities, such as summer
schools and guest-lectures, students can be engaged by real
problem-solving, making decisions, and planning for future
goals [41]–[45]. In that case, the use of extrinsic motivators can
positively impact students learning [5], [11], [13] and increase
their persistence when trying to understand key concepts [22].
In line with previous studies, the findings show that through
“encouraging” industry-related activities, students gain more
practice oriented knowledge than theoretical, interpersonal and
communication skills are trained and their motivation to learn
is increased [34]–[37]. Moreover, the results demonstrate that
students can better understand their future working
expectations through these “encouraging” industry-related
activities, since they can observe the daily routines of the
employees and managers as well as the workplace culture [38],
[40].
However, it is worth discussing the facts revealed in the
thematic analysis in the “discouraging” industry-related
activities category. On one hand, the results confirm that there
is often a lack of collaboration among the three actors
(university-students-industry), since the students claimed that
during these industry-related activities, such as master theses,
the feedback interconnection from the industry to engineering
schools and vice versa was missing [1]. As a consequence, in
this study, this “discouraging” fact made the research process
difficult and it did not foster students’ motivation to continue
learning and studying at higher level. In addition, the results of
this study indicate the existence of industry-related activities
are sometimes perceived by students not to be relevant.
From the thematic analysis above, two concepts have been
revealed that has not been extensively studied before; the
marketization of higher education and the criticality of the
connection to company’s R & D departments.
It can be argued that Swedish education illustrates almost
all the features of internal, marketization or ‘hidden’
privatization that have been observed in many other countries
all around the world [52], [53]. Marketization of higher
education is a global phenomenon [54], [55] based on neo-
liberalist ideology. Many education researchers have analysed
the ways neo-liberalism influences education policies and
practices. Neo-liberal marketization presumes a
commodification of education and training provision.
Regarding student’s motivation, Beaty, Gibbs, and Morgan
[56] suggest that universities need to focus on students intrinsic
motivation to increase the chance of an emerging interest and
love of the subject-matter or discipline. They argue that a
student’s orientation and motivation is both influenced by the
university environment and the method taken to learn and
study. Moreover, that universities should offer space and time
for reinvention and reflection, and fascinate students who
endeavour to be challenged and changed as humans. However,
marketization undermines and weakens this above role:
for vocational institutions particularly, it can be all too easily
eradicated. Where there is an explicit focus to satisfy a desire
for job-related skills, efforts to address other concerns may be
dismissed by both the institution and the students. Indeed,
some students consider theory to be pointless. The possibility
of understanding a subject ‘for its own sake’ is lost [57: 281].
From the above it seems that when industry-related
activities take place in a way that emphasises the promotion of
a company, this discourages students’ motivation to study and
learn, which is also found in this study.
Finally, from the findings of this study there is an apparent
lack of a critical connection between research students and
company’s R & D departments. Students’ desired cooperation
and help from the company’s research departments during their
engagement with different industry-related activities, particular
their master’s theses, and not getting this experience clearly had
a negative impact on their motivation. More specifically, the
students suggested that it would be great motivation for them to
learn more and engage more with the research process if there
was direct connection with the people who working in the R &
D. This is seen as something important that it should be taken
into consideration by both university and industry in the future
when designing these types of activities.
VIII. LIMITATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
The context of study is constrained to a research-intensive
university in Sweden. As a consequence, this could be
considered as a small-scale study. For this reason, the
production of generalizations is not the scope of this research.
Instead, this study provides an insight of students’ perceptions
of industry-related activities in terms of the impact they can
have on their motivation to study and on their learning.
However, future investigations are necessary to validate the
conclusions that can be drawn from this study. Pertinent
research questions for future work can be derived from the
categories and key concepts generated from this study to
investigate, in a deeper and more holistic way, the impact of
industry-related activities on students’ motivation for studying
and learning in engineering education.
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