Educating tomorrow's engineering elites

by Maggie Tang

Vai Mang I, department head, electrical and electronics engineering
Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Macau
Photo: Courtesy of University of Macau

University offers students convenient and cost-effective options

Macau's draw does not lie solely in its gaming industry. In addition to the array of leisure activities currently on offer, Macau boasts a first-class university complete with quality higher education programmes delivered by erudite academic professionals.

Annual GDP in Macau has seen spectacular growth rates of more than 12 per cent since 2001. As a consequence, economic achievement is a permanent headline feature. However, beyond the limelight, Macau's higher education system has simultaneously undergone significant transformation. Prior to 1981, no official tertiary education institutions existed in Macau. Today the city houses 12, providing a wealth of choices for students seeking tertiary education opportunities alongside exposure to a multicultural learning environment.

Vai Mang I, department head, electrical and electronics engineering, University of Macau, believes that studying for a tertiary qualification in Macau has obvious benefits. "Macau is only an hour from Hong Kong by sea. Moreover, the cost of living here is comparatively low. For Hong Kong people, therefore, studying in Macau not only provides quality education but is also convenient and cost effective," Dr Vai notes. The university's degree programmes have recently attracted students from both Hong Kong and mainland China. "Upon graduation, some of these students have even opted to work and live in Macau," he adds.

The University of Macau was formerly known as the University of East Asia, which was established in 1981 with private funds. In 1991, after an official renaming, it became a public institution. It now nurtures more than 6,000 students each year including 1,300 postgraduates. With faculty members and students hailing from all over the world, campus life is diverse.

Historically in Macau, the mediums of instruction were Chinese and Portuguese. However, Dr Vai clarifies that, "English is the medium of instruction for most the university's courses although Chinese and Portuguese are used in certain programmes, for example, education and law."

Engineering capability

Macau's robust gaming industry has contributed to an economic boom in the city, leading to a subsequent increase in the demand for electrical and electronics engineering graduates. "The number of construction projects and the demand for consumer electronics has increased substantially. Electrical and electronics engineers conduct research in addition to designing and overseeing the development of electronic systems and the production of electrical and electronic devices. From household electronic appliances to electric power generators, they play an indispensable role. Macau is faced with an acute shortage of these professionals as economic activities surge," explains Dr Vai.

At the University of Macau, electrical and electronics engineering can be studied to bachelor's, master's and PhD levels. For example, the four-year, full-time BSc in Electrical and Electronics Engineering programme covers a comprehensive spectrum of technical knowledge, including analogue and digital circuitry, microelectronics, microprocessors, wireless communications, biomedical engineering and power systems. "Courses offered in the first year aim to help students acquire foundation knowledge in the field, so the curriculum concentrates on the science and engineering basics such as calculus, physics, chemistry and humanities. As a result, students benefit from exposure to other disciplines, including computer science, mechanical engineering, materials science and manufacturing," Dr Vai points out.

At postgraduate level, the MSc in Electrical and Electronics Engineering programme offers various specialisation areas, namely, mixed-signal VLSI design, power electronics, wireless communications and biomedical engineering.

According to Dr Vai, laboratory work is vital for reinforcing concepts learned in lectures and so the university has in place sophisticated laboratory facilities for the study of electrical and electronics engineering. He says, "There are specialised laboratories for each core course including electronics, wireless communications, power systems, microprocessors, power systems, control and automation. A biomedical engineering lab has also been planned for next year."

Future prospects

Dr Vai notes the demand for engineering talent remains strong. "Progress can only be achieved by enthusiastic, confident, talented professionals. Today, Macau still has to rely on imported talent to sustain current development," he remarks.

Although a localisation programme is in place, Macau still welcomes non-resident workers provided they hold professional positions which cannot be filled by locals. In order to work in Macau, non-Macau residents should first find employment with a Macau-registered company. Application for a valid work permit should then follow, which takes about three months.

As far as talent development is concerned, Dr Vai adds that liberalisation in the gaming industry will provide improved opportunities, including better employment prospects and higher income levels. However, he cautions that challenges remain. "As the city develops, the benchmarks in many sectors have been raised and new standards are now being implemented. As a result, the city must improve the quality of its workforce in line with contemporary international standards," he says. "The higher education sector has a crucial role to play in human capital development. For our programmes, we will collaborate with the commercial sector via internships and other initiatives to provide our students with more practical experience."


Taken from Career Times 30 November 2007
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