LiS plans to offer bachelor degree in Applied Precision Engineering

Mikroniek-artikel van Aad van Strien (bestuurslid LiS) (Mikroniek, nr6, 2012)

There is increasing demand for skilled technical specialists who are able to bridge the gap between innovative ideas and their realisation by actually constructing functional precision instruments and prototypes. Precision engineering aims to design and construct products with high accuracy of shape and dimension, or quick and accurate positioning. The Leiden Instrument Makers School (Leidse instrumentmakersschool, LiS) plans to build on its illustrious heritage to develop a Bachelor of Engineering degree in applied precision engineering that specifically addresses this competence gap in industry and research institutes within the top sectors high-tech & materials and life sciences & health.

Hindsight

Scientific research used to be a gentleman’s pastime. Around 1900, Professor Heike Kamerlingh Onnes of the Leiden University physics department turned his considerable entrepreneurial energy into improving access to modern research instruments. This required him to educate craftsmen able to translate the musings of academics into real-life instruments of research. To that end he started the Leiden instrument maker school in 1901 – the LiS. In his 1913 Nobel Prize acceptance speech he explicitly thanked his senior instrument makers for their invaluable contributions in discovering superconductivity. Today the LiS is an independent, well-regarded, small but growing Dutch MBO school of about 200 students. During four years of intensive technical education and training its students become well regarded and sought-after precision technology graduates.

Insight

The availability of excellent craftsmen who can bridge the gap between esoteric, ill-defined academic ideas and reality by actually constructing functional precision research instruments proved to be an extremely successful innovation for Dutch science and engineering. During the long history of the LiS more than two thousand highly qualified craftsmen who can build complex, innovative precision instruments were able to fulfil the ever increasing demand by universities, research institutes and high-tech industries.
Maintaining a strong focus on quality and excellence of education rather than on growth allowed the LiS to deliver the required excellent technical specialists. The explicitly nurtured links between universities, research institutes, high-tech businesses and start-ups allows the LiS to continuously improve its curriculum and teaching approach, and to continuously realign to ever changing demands.

These links also help close the ever-present financial gap between governmental education funding and the high cost of maintaining modern machines and hiring the excellent educational staff necessary to keep up to date with technology developments. Explicit integration of selected commercial projects into the project roster of students further ensures alignment of education with demands of future employers.

During discussions with researchers, high-tech industry managers, top sector directors and governmental representatives it became clear that there is a growing demand for excellence, depth and breadth in precision engineering specialists. Combining the traditional LiS topics, for instance, glass with precision mechatronics, or micro precision milling with photonics, or digital electronics and ceramics, or new materials and additive prototyping, significantly increases the demands on students and educators alike.

Foresight

These increasing educational demands from the field have led the LiS board to decide that enhancing the school’s educational portfolio needs to be undertaken. This resulted in a number of activities to add to its current Research Instrument maker degree (level 4 according to the European Qualification Framework) a precision engineering associate degree (level 5) and a bachelor degree (level 6). All are applied technology degrees and will have the same level of excellence and quality that the LiS has offered for more than a century.

Mission

The mission of the LiS is to provide outstanding middle and higher level education in applied technology aimed at:

Conceiving, designing and building innovative high-tech precision devices that integrate various technologies into a unique instrument of high quality.

Life sciences and health technologies will be the initial focus of the new degrees. LiS graduates have always excelled in their unique competences to conceive and create a wide range of innovative multidisciplinary precision instruments. For example, integration of different technologies in precision instruments as used by high-tech companies, universities and research institutes in life sciences and health specific applications.

Vision

Building on its foundational insight that excellent craftsmanship is vital to research, development and innovation, the LiS will enter into productive collaborations with other scientific and technical education institutes and businesses to enable an innovation bridge between idea and reality. LiS graduates especially excel in:

  • Innovation: conceive, design, and make unique innovative precision instruments
  • Precision: unique integration of multidisciplinary technologies with high accuracy in shape and dimension, and rapid and precise positioning
  • Excellence: connecting science and craftsmanship, keeping up to date on many state-of-the-art technologies, and developing new applications

The combination of different teaching levels that build on each other results in an educational environment that is conducive to innovation and meets the increasing demands of businesses and research institutes alike.

Strategy

This, of course, is easier said than done. Therefore the implementation strategy is one of stepwise refinement and continuous adjustments. The LiS strategy can be summarized as follows:

  • Developing, in partnership with potential employers, a modern curriculum that emphasizes turning ideas into reality; the first curriculum contours are already visible
  • Offering a few specifically developed extra-curriculum modules starting in 2013 and growing into a fully-fledged bachelor degree three years later
  • Adding specific focus on life sciences and health technology applications
  • Appointing most staff on a part-time basis, allowing them also to work in high-tech business and research institutes to maintain their own competences
  • Closely cooperating with universities and other colleges to enable a quick start-up, ensure excellence and high quality

Conclusion

The newly conceived LiS-HBO will take several years to mature. During this period significant effort will be invested in developing a modular curriculum that uses modern didactic approaches embracing project-based practical learning, and leverages the existing LiS infrastructure of staff, machines and equipment. The aim is to become a national institute offering educational excellence in precision engineering.

Readers who are interested to help shape and implement the strategy by contributing their time and expertise or sponsoring in other ways are invited to contact Aad van Strien at strien@lis-mbo.nl

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