Working Paper 101
Impact of Curricula on Student Learning: A Comparison of Six Chemical Engineering Programmes in Three Washington Accord Countries
Published August 2023

This paper shows the variations in the day-to-day structuring of engineering curricula in three Washington Accord countries – England, South Africa, and the United States. Herein we also show how these variations influence students’ learning experiences. The curricular parameters that we focus on include weekly contact hours, curricular rigidity, and the structure of the first year of the degree. Findings obtained through an analysis of undergraduate handbooks, weekly timetables of the different courses, and student interviews suggest considerable differences across the engineering programs along these parameters, both within and across national boundaries, which influence students’ experiences of learning engineering. A high contact time, especially during the initial years of the degree, limits students’ capacity to self-study and participate in extra-curricular activities. The ability to choose electives and specialisations allow students to diversify their skillsets. Where a program introduces a significant number of courses specific to chemical engineering from the first year, students tend to build an early understanding of the discipline. However, this limits their capacity to change majors.