The history of engineering in Aarhus

The engineering degree programmes in Aarhus have been a significant driving force for the local, regional and national business sector for a whole century. Developments in the degree programmes available and their academic content tell the story of Denmark’s industrialisation, and give a detailed historical understanding of the innovation needs of society and the business sector in the course of time.

The first engineering programme in Aarhus was established as an electro-technical degree in 1915 at the Aarhus Technical School. Setting up the new school was the result of industrial development in the early twentieth century and a growing economy based on finer electronics.

A rapidly growing school

The electro-technical degree was taught in a building in Ingerslevs Plads in the centre of Aarhus, and it grew considerably as the number of new students increased. Space was added at Dalgas Avenue, with the extra square metres and new laboratories housing the sensational experimental facilities of the period.

Technical school education based on training as a tradesman stood out from the polytechnical education in Copenhagen, with a very strong focus on practical work. This focus has continued right up to the present-day Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree programmes at Aarhus University.

In 1944, the Aarhus Technical School was extended to include a building construction degree. There was a massive housing shortage after World War II, which led to an acute need for engineers, and they developed new building techniques and materials that gradually changed construction conditions in Denmark.

In 1964, a new mechanical engineering degree was established. At that time, Denmark was riding on a wave of economic prosperity with increased international trade and a lack of manpower. The new degree needed to match industrial needs for mechanical solutions to more efficient mass production.

Low- and high-voltage electricity and the modern world

Another innovation in 1964 was that students taking the electro-technical degree were divided into low-voltage and high-voltage classes. The new low-voltage students focused particularly on the very first types of information and communication technologies, which were developed in the 1960s by data researchers affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Later on – in the early days of digitisation – low-voltage education was further differentiated and divided into two independent degree programmes, one of which focused on electronics and the other on computer technology.

High-voltage engineers from Aarhus had a crucial impact on the development of the Danish high-voltage grid, which was among the most advanced in the world. In 2015, the degree programme in high-voltage engineering changed its name to electric energy technology, as a symbol of a paradigm shift in energy history, characterised by a focus on sustainability and integrating solar and wind power in the intelligent electricity network.

The wet disciplines saw the light of day

In the period 2000–2010, there was a significant increase in the number of engineering degree programmes being offered. In 2004, the School of Engineering was able to offer a new degree programme in bioprocess technology (biotechnology), which was to help provide the growing pharmaceutical industry and other chemical process industries with qualified manpower.

In 2008, the School of Engineering established a new degree programme in healthcare technology and subsequently an MSc in Engineering degree in biomedical technology. The first students graduated in January 2012 and currently play a key role in a comprehensive technology-based conversion of the health sector.

In 2015, the first group of chemical engineers began their studies at Aarhus University. They will help cover the business sector’s need for knowledge about the environment, raw materials, new materials, fuels and medicine in an industrial development dominated by exponential growth technologies.

Admission course for 50 years

The admission course is an important chapter in the history of the engineering degree programmes. It was introduced on 1 November 1965, when the entry level to technical schools in Denmark was raised to an upper secondary school leaving examination in mathematics, physics and chemistry. At the same time, one-year training schools were established for upper secondary school pupils who wanted to study to be engineers without a background as a tradesman.

The admission course still has a strong position as a basis for engineering degree programmes in Aarhus, and approximately one in every five engineering students graduating from Aarhus University has a background as a tradesman.

From technical school to school of engineering

In 1993, an engineering reform in Denmark led to completely new ministerial orders for the engineering degree programmes. In this connection, the title ‘technical engineer’ was abolished. It was based on admission to the higher education system via a background as a tradesman. The title ‘graduate engineer’ was also abolished. This was based on admission to the higher education system via a background at an upper secondary school.

A common degree programme was introduced instead, with a completely new ministerial order – the Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree programme. In this connection, the Aarhus Technical School changed its name to the Engineering College of Aarhus.

Amalgamation with Aarhus University

At the beginning of the new century, the role of the engineer on the labour market underwent a major transition historically, where traditional professionalism was challenged by increasing task complexity, new forms of organisation, globalisation and outsourcing production.

In 1999, Aarhus University entered into a collaborative agreement with the Engineering College of Aarhus, aimed at strengthening the engineering degree programmes in Aarhus. In 2007, it became possible for the first time for Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) students to continue to a Master of Engineering (MSc) degree at Aarhus University. In 2011, the university opened the Department of Engineering, with tasks that included taking over the technology-based parts of the university’s research portfolio in agricultural sciences.

On 1 January 2012, the Engineering College of Aarhus amalgamated with Aarhus University, and their collaborative agreement was replaced by a fully departmental structure at the Faculty of Science and Technology. The basic idea behind the amalgamation was to create optimal conditions for modernising the engineering degree programmes, with more research-based solutions in accordance with the needs of the business sector.

AU Engineering and engineering studies

Following the amalgamation, the field of engineering at Aarhus University was based in two organisational units. The Department of Engineering (ENG) brings together all research and development activities in the technical science area, as well as the MSc degree programmes. And the Aarhus University School of Engineering (ASE) unites all the BEng degree programmes.

The two departments have a number of overlapping business and strategic aims, and they therefore decided in 2015 to intensify their successful collaboration in one single new brand – AU Engineering.

AU Engineering currently has 3000 enrolled engineering students distributed in four campus areas, and an emerging student population and research environment – in terms of turnover, external funding, number of PhD students, publication activity and entrepreneurship.