How does a country produce new generations of engineers equipped with the skills that are in demand in the real world once they graduate from university? Nearly two decades ago, a group of engineering schools set about tackling the widening gap between engineering education and market demands, and created the CDIO initiative to develop a new vision of engineering education. One of the founding members of that initiative was MIT Professor Ed Crawley, who is also the founding president of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech).

Delegates of the CDIO European regional meeting outside the new Skoltech campus on Thursday. Photo:

This week, Crawley’s two brainchildren came together as Skoltech hosted the European regional meeting of CDIO, which takes its name from the premise that engineering graduates should be able to conceive, design, implement and operate complex engineering systems.

“This is a bit of a personal journey for me today, because in 2000, along with a group of colleagues from Sweden, we started CDIO, and in the summer of 2011, along with some colleagues from around the world and Russia, we started Skoltech, and here we are with CDIO at Skoltech,” said Crawley at the opening of the CDIO meeting on Thursday.

“It’s like your children from your first marriage and your children from your second marriage meeting each other,” he joked.

Skoltech's founding president, MIT Professor Ed Crawley, speaks at the conference's opening. Photo:

Crawley describes CDIO as “a framework of 12 effective practices” that were discussed during the conference and its various workshops.

“For me, CDIO is the philosophical basis for PLM [product lifecycle management], because PLM is a real tool for engineers, a set of different software tools,” Skoltech president Alexander Kuleshov, who took over from Crawley in 2016,  told the delegates at the CDIO European regional meeting.

“CDIO is not only very important for engineering and innovations development, it’s also very important from the point of view of education … Additional professional education is getting more and more important because technologies are changing very quickly. Sometimes things that were very important don’t even exist 10 years later,” said Kuleshov.

Skoltech president Alexander Kuleshov said CDIO principles are crucial for educating engineers. Photo:

The quest for educational excellence and successful graduates aside, there is a very practical motivation to implement the CDIO practices: one of the reasons that governments fund universities is because of their role as drivers of economic development, said Crawley, who is currently writing a book on the subject.

From 2000 to 2007, MIT embarked on a partnership with the University of Cambridge to stimulate economic development in the U.K. based on the strength of the university’s system, he recalled. The initiative’s finding was that what was needed was “the constructive interplay of education and research and innovation catalyst, all engaging with industry.”

That idea was precisely the thinking behind the creation of Skoltech, a graduate research university funded by the Russian government, at the Skolkovo innovation centre in 2011.

“It’s inside Skolkovo, in Moscow for a very specific reason: to make the connection between the deep scientific and technological base in Russia and the innovation spirit of Skoltech. We have a bridging function,” Crawley told the conference.  

Skoltech's main corridor curves in a ring around the labs, encouraging maximum collaboration. Photo:

The case study of Skoltech was one of the main topics of the two-day conference, along with adapting the CDIO framework to support more research and innovation-based education.

Conference delegates were given a tour of Skoltech’s state-of-the-art campus, which is still under construction in another part of Skolkovo to the building from which Skoltech currently operates. The new campus, designed by the Herzog & de Meuron architecture bureau, is due to open at the beginning of the next academic year. Skoltech vice president for real estate and facilities, Gary Wentworth, took CDIO delegates on a tour of the campus’s main circular building, covering 136,000 square metres.

Video: Skoltech.

Just under 60 percent of the usable space is dedicated to the research function, said Wentworth. The building will feature cutting-edge laboratories with reinforced floors where necessary, an auditorium where large-scale events such as graduation ceremonies will be held, teaching rooms, cafes and more. A continuous ring-shaped corridor connecting teaching rooms, research facilities and an outdoor courtyard is designed to encourage the maximum interaction and collaboration between all of those studying and working at Skoltech.

The building’s basement will house a huge student workshop and shared resource centres. The total cost of the campus is $65 million, which was provided by the Russian government.

The university also plans to build a residential complex at Skolkovo for Skoltech students in the future. Currently, students use their government stipends to rent apartments in suburbs close to Skolkovo or closer to central Moscow, said Wentworth.