To make the green transition, take advantage of digitalisation

Op-ed by Anders Bjarklev: Take advantage of digitalisation and offer students a high-level engineering education throughout the country.


Op-ed by President Anders Bjarklev in the independent political online newspaper Altinget:

In a new proposal with six initiatives, which correspond to the political agreement on the relocation of study places, DTU proposes establishing a digital engineering education to ensure more engineers for all of Denmark.

The proposal also calls for a collaboration with the vocational colleges on a DTU STEM teacher’s education to strengthen the supply chain for STEM educations. Finally, DTU will establish and move educations to Hirtshals and Kalundborg.

Education and research are prerequisites for Denmark to live up to its ambitions to break the global greenhouse gas emissions curve. With the prospect of a decade of a technological sprint to reach the government’s goal of a sustainable planet for future generations, the education of more engineers and research at an international top-level is not to be missed.

Conflicting needs

The world’s top leaders returned from COP26 in Glasgow a few weeks ago without more concrete plans for how they will stop emitting CO2 and methane. In Denmark, Minister of Climate Dan Jørgensen (S) returns to Denmark and the government’s plan “Tættere på - Flere uddannelser og stærkere lokalsamfund “ (Closer - More education and stronger local communities, -red.).

The meeting between global climate plans and national development reforms reflects that Western societies and Denmark have conflicting needs: We must develop new green fuels and energy systems. All the while, there is a broad political desire to do something about the centralisation and thinning in local communities that market forces bring with them.

DTU currently has campuses and activities at six locations in Denmark and plans to relocate educations and expand activities in several places in Denmark. DTU has also been at the forefront of proposals to establish residential colleges throughout the country in collaboration with other universities. This has been done in collaboration with Roskilde University, Guldborgsund Municipality, Lolland Municipality and the regional and local business community on Lolland-Falster in connection with the establishment of the Fehmarnbelt connection. Another example is the collaboration between DTU and GreenLab Skive, which houses the world’s first green industrial park.

Sustainability is an integral part of any engineering education at DTU, and 80-90 per cent of the research at DTU has something to do with the green transition.

But the political wishes to speed up ambition and action depend on the research facilities and elite research environments that DTU has built in the university’s main campuses near the major university cities.

Need for CO2 reduction and more engineers
"We must develop new green fuels and energy systems. All the while, there is a broad political desire to do something about the centralisation and thinning in local communities that market forces bring with them."
President Anders Bjarklev

Suppose climate efforts are to take off in earnest and consist of more than ornamental greenery. In that case, technologies such as CO2 capture and new sustainable fuels must be developed and scaled. Politicians must take a stand on massive investments in new infrastructure.

DTU already has many ongoing research activities, from basic research to large scale pilot experiments with Danish and foreign companies and universities. DTU is active in several EU projects and expects to make a significant contribution in Denmark through the new initiatives, for example, the ‘innomission’ CCUS on CO2 capture, utilisation and storage.

In the government’s climate program, CO2 capture and storage are attributed to potential reductions of 4-9 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030. Innovation Fund Denmark has been tasked with investing DKK 700 million in one or more green partnerships that support the focus areas in Denmark’s climate agreement. However, it requires an overview of what projects and challenges need to be addressed and in what order. And DTU, in collaboration with several stakeholders, has now come up with a proposal for this overview.

The investments in the climate effort must be made simultaneously as the government has asked the universities to relocate education. DTU already has educations in several places in Denmark and in Greenland. In a new proposal, DTU proposes six initiatives to ensure that Denmark educates the engineers necessary for society to fulfil its climate efforts.

Denmark needs more engineers -not fewer engineers. In the latest forecasts from the interest group IDA, the shortage of candidates is estimated at 6,500 in 2025.

DTU proposes to establish a digital engineering education, Digital Twin University, an engineering education for everyone who can and wants to - regardless of where they live in the country.

The education is an offer for a different segment than the students who typically apply to DTU and can thus contribute to educating more engineers at a high professional level throughout Denmark.

Opportunity to stay in the local area

The proposal is based on DTU’s own and international universities’ experiences. DTU has taught on digital platforms for several years, including the Wind Energy Master program, like other universities. In addition, digital education has been tested on a large scale in Australia, Brazil and Canada.

One of the most remarkable qualities of offering a digital education is that it gives students great flexibility during their studies. They also have the opportunity to stay in their local area for most of their studies. It may be an offer for the electrician who wants to further their education while picking up the children and being close to their family.

It may be an offer for those who want to maintain proximity to a network and connection to a workplace in their local community while studying. In short, it is an education for those who can and want to. At the same time, the program opens up new opportunities for production companies throughout the country. They can have closer relationships and collaborative projects with engineering students, who may later want to hire.

Today, it is possible to deliver a high-quality digitally based engineering education, where students can stay in the local community and have short stays on a university campus in selected periods, where they can gain hands-on experience and conduct experiments.

At the same time, physical presence for short periods is necessary to support a virtual study environment. In the same way, digital educations can be combined with a physical presence in company projects later in the education and strengthen the students’ networks in the local area.

Suppose we are to make the green transition. In that case, we need to take advantage of the opportunities of digitalisation and provide an educational offer where students throughout the country can receive an engineering education at a high academic level. All forces are needed - and more engineers.

See DTU´s proposal: More engineers to all of Denmark