DATA BLOG: The state of engineering? Not too shabby

The supply of skilled engineers may not yet be being met by the education pipeline, but the evidence base required by the sector to make sound strategic decisions is met in abundance within the annual Engineering UK: The State of Engineering Report. Having worked with HE data for a very long time, I feel gifted to be presented with such a complete showcase of context, policy and data analysis covering the full engineering lifecycle.

I have lost count of how many university meetings I’ve endured where planners’ careful analyses of institutional data and sector benchmarks meet academics’ equally considered deliberations about definitions, interpretations and nuances in the data. Often, those on the ground delivering the programmes don’t recognise the student, staff or survey information presented to them, and the discussion descends into whose data is right, how to present it differently, and which upstream process has failed in order to bring us to here!

What this report gives us is a collective and comprehensive insight into each stage of the engineering skills pipeline. It’s a baseline, tried and tested over many years, and a practical springboard to more detailed analyses, specific research and, most importantly, evidence-based decision-making and strategy formulation. This is the coordination between activities and evidence – analogous to the sector’s explosion of engineering initiatives – which enable academics and policy-makers alike to navigate this complex landscape.

What this systematic presentation of evidence is not is common sector practice. It’s an engineering slam dunk. So, let’s practice what we preach and truly help ourselves to make best use of our resources as a community and tackle the skills shortage more effectively. Let’s take the evidence and continue the conversation.

To download the report, access supporting Excel resources which includes further detail not in the report and read a think piece by the EPC Chief Executive on why Engineering HE must deliver employability not employment visit the Engineering UK website (see p225).

Statement on strike action over USS Pensions

As the EPC represents both institutional members and individuals, we cannot directly take sides in supporting or opposing the current strike action. That said, we understand this is an issue of profound importance to our members and to the future of the Engineering HE sector and hence it is an issue on which EPC should not remain silent.

The EPC believes universities should try to maintain the conditions of employment under which academics were originally employed. That includes pensions. Many academics – and engineering academics in particular – forgo potentially better salaries and conditions outside academia because of their commitment to teach the next generation and to push back the boundaries of understanding through research. Universities cannot and should not take this dedication for granted. Ensuring that the sector continues to attract the brightest and best to academic positions is the right thing to do for the academics’ sake, for the benefit of students and for the country’s engineering skills needs.

We hope the dispute will be resolved speedily and welcome the efforts by, for example, the Director of Imperial College London, to have an independent, expert-led discussion informed by evidence with the employers accepting their existing risk in the meantime.

For the time being, this is the only statement the EPC is in a position to make. However, we would greatly appreciate it if members would like to make their thoughts known by commenting below or contacting the Chief Executive so we can continue to adopt a representative and informed position.

Getting to and staying at Harper Adams University

Welcome to the EPC Congress 2018. We’re delighted you are thinking of joining us.

Harper Adams University is well serviced by local rail and road networks. We will be scheduling shuttle busses to and from Telford Central for key trains (please note, this is not an on-demand service). Further details will be provided nearer the time.

A limited number of on-campus en-suite rooms can be booked with the EPC on the conference booking page. Once these are reserved, or if you prefer to stay off campus, please book all other accommodation directly. Corporate rates are available.

Travel directions and campus maps

Local accommodation



DATA BLOG: UCAS Engineering applications down but applications from women up

UCAS’ latest application data released today gives us a first glimpse into this Autumn’s enrolments into HE (15 January deadline).

Applications to Engineering (totalling 144½ thousand) are down by 1.7% since the same time last year. This includes a decline in applications from the UK of 2.5%, not the increase in home grown talent required to reduce the skills shortage, ensure a home-grown skills pipeline, and deliver the Industrial Strategy.

This fall is both:

  • greater than overall decline in applications (-0.9%);
  • and only the second drop in Engineering applications at this point in the cycle in the last ten years; January 2012, when the introduction of tuition fees tangibly shook applications sector-wide, saw a 1.3% drop in Engineering applications.

The overall data shows there has been a rise in international applications including a 3% rise from the EU – which some have read as a rush to study here before Brexit. But, no rise for Engineering applications from within the EU (-1.7%).

Engineering applications from outside the EU are up, by 1.2% (from 26,520 to 26,850 applications). That said, non-EU international students applied for almost all the subject groups in greater numbers (there were almost 40% more applications to Computer science courses from non-EU students than there were last year, and 16% more applications to Biological sciences). 

But, it’s not all bad news. At 1 in 5 (or 19.1%) women are better represented in Engineering applications that at any point in the past 10 years. Progress, especially for those applying from England. This is also boosted by international applications, the EU in particular from where over ¼ of applications to Engineering are made by women.

I’ve downloaded the data available, so if you have any specific questions or want precise figures for your reports I’ll do my best to advise you. Please note only domicile and sex are available by subject in this set of data and bear in mind that I work part time!

UCAS’ analysis report can be found here

DATA BLOG: New year, new data? Can aging stats really help today’s strategies?

Last week, UCAS completed its suite of 2017 data when it published detailed stats for last autumn’s undergraduate admissions to the UK’s largest universities and colleges. But while the accepted applicant data reaches us only four or five months after the event, the applications were generally made around seven months earlier. So, as we enter the crucial months of the 2018 recruitment cycle, only now is UCAS data giving us a snapshot of what happened up to a year ago.

Then we have HESA data. The first release of HESA’s official student enrolment data for 2016/2017 also came this January. Now we have ‘new’ data relating to the previous year’s UCAS cohort; that is, those enrolling at our universities in Autumn 2016.

But while these figures may seem hopelessly out of date, the trends behind the numbers are still highly relevant to our work in the coming months. (And trust me, I know from experience how much work goes into collecting and collating both sets of outputs!)

Over the coming weeks I’ll be updating the HESA student data on the EPC website and sharing some of my favourite engineering soundbites with you.

For example, did you know that one-in-three Engineering and technology students in 2016/2017 were international (32.5%) with one-in-four coming from outside the EU (24.9%)? HESA has published an introduction to their student (and staff) data on their website highlighting an increase in the number of students in higher education, a decline in part-time students, and over a quarter of first degree graduates gaining a first.

And a reminder of the UCAS engineering trends for last year…

  • Most subject groups had a reduction in applications, with applications to Engineering holding their own of sorts by decreasing by just 1.6% in 2017.
  • Relatively speaking, it was a good year to be an Engineering applicant, as acceptances to Engineering fell by a relatively smaller 0.6%,
  • Overall, the odds of successfully applying to university are at their highest level for nine years.
  • Between 2008 and 2017, the proportional change in acceptances to Engineering makes for healthy reading.
  • Any surprises that nearly 5 men were accepted for every woman in Engineering (4.9:1)?

UCAS also publish data reports plus downloads on their website.

Nomination for REF 2021 Engineering Panel

The Engineering Professors’ Council is a nominating body for the Research Excellence Framework and, as such, we have been invited to nominate members of the engineering panel.

If you would like to be nominated by the EPC or would like to propose someone to be nominated, you should find all the details you need below. For anything, please contact the EPC Chief Executive Johnny Rich.

Please note that although the Funding Council’s deadline for the EPC to submit our nominations is 20th December 2017, the EPC has its own procedures to follow and so, any proposals must reach us by midnight on 4th December 2017.

What are the nominations for?

The EPC has already submitted its nomination(s) for the Engineering REF Panel Chair. The EPC is now seeking to nominate individuals to be:
  • additional main panel members (with expertise in leading, commissioning or making use of interdisciplinary research, leading research internationally, or senior level experience in the commissioning, use or wider benefits of research)
  • sub-panel members and assessors (including practising researchers, individuals with expertise in commissioning, applying or making use of research, and interdisciplinary advisers).

How to propose someone for nomination by the EPC (including proposing yourself)

Please complete the form at this link ( no later than midnight on 4th December 2017. If you are proposing someone else, please ensure that know that you are proposing them, that they understand the level of work involved and that they are willing to undertake that commitment.  (Please read the section below on ‘What does it involve to be on a REF expert panel?’ and the linked documents.)

How the EPC will decide whom to nominate

The Research, Innovation & Knowledge Transfer Committee (RIKT) has determined the procedure for nominating and will decide whom to nominate. It is likely that several individuals will be nominated, but that may not be everybody who applies to be nominated, nor even everybody who applies to be nominated and meets the criteria.

RIKT have agreed a selection panel of three senior academics representing a range of institutions, disciplines, backgrounds and experience. After the deadline (4th December) they will review the applications for nomination and assess how well they meet the EPC’s criteria and those of the funding bodies. The selection panel will then decide who to nominate, bearing in mind the need to maintain diversity across the range of nominees.

The following criteria will be used by the RIKT selection panel:

To be nominated by the EPC, any individual:

  • Must be research active with publications in the current REF period;
  • Should be known to Engineering Professors’ Council Board – ie. they should be able to demonstrate active engagement in EPC activities and be a member of staff at a university that is a member of the EPC;
  • Should have some of the following attributes:
    • Already served on an RAE/REF Panel;
    • Extensive experience of assessing research quality (e.g. chair of University Research Committee, internal University Research Assessor);
    • Evidence of awareness of REF requirements;
  • Should show evidence of unbiased support for the Engineering Higher Education Research Community (for example, having served on Education/accreditation committees of PEIs, Editors/Associate Editors of International Engineering Research Journals, etc);
  • Should have acted as an assessor for EPSRC or other major research funders.

Just because an individual meets these criteria, it does not mean they will necessarily receive the EPC’s nomination.

We have been urged to nominate individuals to cover the full breadth of engineering research interests and from a diverse range of backgrounds, institution types and geographical region. We would be particularly keen to nominate individuals from groups previously under-represented on assessment panels, including women, people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, and people with disabilities.

The Funding Councils have also told us “We would like to receive nominations of individuals who have served previously on REF or Research Assessment Exercise panels, as well as those for whom this would be a new experience. Heads of HEIs may not be nominated as panel members.”

We know that the number of applications to be nominated is likely to far exceed the number that the EPC can reasonably nominate and that we won’t be able to nominate some highly able candidates. The RIKT selection panel’s decision however will be final.

Regardless of whether the EPC is able to nominate them or not, we would encourage applicants to seek nomination from other nominating bodies without waiting to hear about the EPC’s intentions. Not only is there no limit on the number of nominations an individual can have, it is also likely to improve their chances if more than one nominating body has put forward their name.

Can I be nominated by more than one nominating body?

The EPC is just one of a number of nominating bodies recognised by REF.

We have already received a large number of  proposals for nominees – far more than we can reasonably nominate. Indeed, sadly, not only will we not be able to nominate everyone, we probably won’t be able to nominate everyone who meets our criteria or the Funding Councils. Furthermore, the schedule for our selection process probably won’t allow time for you to approach another nominating body after we have advised you of our selection panel’s decision.

With that in mind, we suggest that, if possible, you contact other nominating bodies to seek their nomination as well. Not only is it permissible to be nominated by more than one body, our understanding is that it adds strength to applications if they are.

What is the background to the selection of the REF Engineering Panel?

The REF is the system for assessing the quality and impact of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). It was first conducted in 2014, and replaced the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The REF will be undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

The REF exercise will be completed in 2021 and the results will be used by the four funding bodies to drive their allocations of research funding to HEIs. It will also provide useful benchmarking information and reputational yardsticks, and provide accountability for public investment in research and demonstrate its benefits.

What does it involve to be on a REF expert panel? 

The REF will be undertaken through a process of expert review. HEIs will be invited to make submissions which will be assessed by 34 subject-based expert sub-panels, working under the guidance of four main panels. Further information on the panel structure, the roles, responsibilities and workload of panel members and the Funding Councils’ criteria for appointment can be found in the publication ‘Roles and recruitment of expert panels’ (REF 2017/03).

High-calibre panel chairs and members who command the confidence of the academic community and wider stakeholders will be essential to the success of the REF. The four main panel chairs have been appointed (their details are available at and the Funding Councils are currently in the process of appointing the sub-panel chairs.

Individuals who are nominated will need to confirm that they are willing and able to serve as a panel member, before their names and contact details are put forward.

A guide for research users taking part in the REF is available here.


We will treat any information supplied to us as confidential as far as possible and proposals for nominations will not be made public, however, the EPC reserves the right to make public the names of individuals that we do choose to nominate. That decision will be taken by RIKT.

Please also be aware that proposals for nominations will be circulated among the members of RIKT who are currently as follows: Nathan Gomes, University of Kent; Stephanie Haywood, University of Hull (EPC Vice-President); Simon Hodgson, Teesside University; Barry Lennox, University of Manchester; Long-yuan Li, Plymouth University; Linda Newnes, University of Bath; Eann Patterson, University of Liverpool; Johnny Rich (EPC Chief Executive); Alan Smith, Sheffield Hallam University (Chair); Sarah Spurgeon (EPC President); Tony Unsworth, University of Durham; Tanya Vladimirova, University of Leeds. On behalf of the EPC executive, Vicky Elston and Stella Fowler act as observers to the committee.

Further information

Further information about the REF can be found on the REF website at
To promote someone for nomination now, please complete the form
before midnight, 4th December 2017
















Party Conferences 2017

From Johnny Rich, EPC Chief Executive…

The Party Conference season is an opportunity to bend the ears of politicians, policymakers and thought leaders at a time when they’re relaxed and open to a lively discussion of ideas.

For that reason, we like to try to get to the main parties’ conferences, but not to the big set-piece speeches that make it on to the news. The real opportunities to influence the discussion take place in the fringe – the cavalcade of presentations, round tables, panels, receptions and other formal and informal events that take place in and around the conference venue over the course of the few days that the political parties descend on their host cities.

This year, we’re attending both Conservative and Labour Party Conferences and I’m delighted to report the highlights…

Labour Party Conference, Brighton

The most interesting event at the Labour Conference in Brighton was an invited round-table discussion hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute and the UPP Foundation. UPP had published research on the ‘brain drain’ that operates away from regional universities as graduates move to larger cities – particularly London – in search of work.  How then can we better support the aims of the Government’s Industrial Strategy by ensuring universities contribute to their locality economically and culturally?

The main recommendation from UPP’s report was the need for graduate accommodation, but the discussion ranged more widely: the need for R&D spending in the area; business spin-outs; spin-ins (companies setting up partnerships with university departments); industrial links with students through placements and work-related learning; innovation centres; supply chain; etc, etc, etc. I couldn’t help feeling – and so I said to the meeting – that what we’re talking about more than anything is the impact of engineering departments as key drivers of higher education’s regional (and national) impact.

Another important fringe event was a UCU-sponsored panel with Gorden Marsden MP (Labour’s shadow universities minister), Shakira Martin (NUS President) and Sally Hunt (UCU’s general secretary). This was a debate on the funding of HE and tuition fees in particular. The political climate feels ready for change. At the last election, Labour’s policy to axe fess was a vote winner and the Government is looking for an approach that’s politically acceptable to their ranks and which defuses the issue.

Before the Labour Conference, chancellor Phillip Hammond had already floated the possibility of reducing the fee cap to £7,125 and lowering the interest on repayments and, during Conference, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said they were willing to support the  Government with good proposals. McDonnell may just be being canny rather than kind. He is staking a claim on any movement by the Conservatives as a victory. The political bomb of fees will still be primed as the Conservatives are cornered into either a total climbdown or allowing Labour to say they’re on the run, but aren’t going nearly far enough.

At the Fringe event, Marsden was keen to point out that the issue is not just about fees, but about repayments and, importantly, maintenance. The question is, however, will any political movement in this area put further financial pressure on the funding available for high costs disciplines like engineering?

Conservative Party Conference, Manchester

The Conservative Conference kicked off with a slew of policy announcements about student finance in England (which some commentators were rushed out so they’d be something for the PM to say on the Andrew Marr Show on the first day of Conference). There were three main points: the freezing of the fees cap at £9,125; the raising of the repayment threshold for student loans to £25k; and a major review of HE funding.

The first two of these are going to cost the taxpayer around £2Bn a year and there is fear the Treasury will try to claw some of this back through cuts elsewhere to the higher education budget. Furthermore, while fees of £9,125 may seem steep to students, they are still lower than the cost of running most engineering degree programmes. There is talk of finding ways to reduce the fees for cheaper courses; that would put pressure on the ability of universities to cross-subsidise engineering.

I was at the Conference for the Monday only. By then, the “major” HE funding review had shifted from an announcement to a description of business-as-usual. At an LSE-backed fringe event on the sector after Brexit, Jo Johnson, the Universities & Science Minister, looked distinctly irritated to be asked about the review. Would it a be a full independent commission (like the Browne Review) or an internal DfE review? “We always keep the system under review”, he insisted. And then he repeated that line. Twice. And then at other fringe events too.

But by Theresa May’s now notorious speech-cum-Frank-Spencer-impression on Wednesday, the review was clearly intended as an initiative with a specific start and end: “We will undertake a major review of university funding and student financing. We will scrap the increase in fees that was due next year, and freeze the maximum rate while the review takes place.” There are many possible explanations for the inconsistent messages: Jo Johnson is being kept out of discussions relating to his brief; the policy is being made up on the spot; or, more charitably, flags are being raised while expectations dampened in order to flush out the appetite for a review.

Ultimately, promises that the PM makes at the lectern will probably trump the Minister’s softly-softly remarks on the fringe, but that depends how long she keeps her job and in the meantime, since the Conference, there has been radio silence from Government on when the review might take place or what form it might take. 

At another LSE-backed Brexit-related fringe event – this time on skills gaps – the Immigration Minister, Brandon Lewis made a fleeting visit to justify the continued inclusion of international students in net migration figures by repeating the Government’s line that they have to include them because of UN definitions. While this may be technically true, it doesn’t explain why they need to be included in net migration targets which the Government still insists it will reduce to “tens of thousands”. (The latest figures were over 300,000.)

While justifying the definition of international students as immigrants who the Government is seeking to limit, Lewis also said that there is “no cap” on them. He extolled the benefits of international students and indeed expounded the necessity of attracting them to fill skills gaps, particularly in engineering.

Meanwhile, there was an enlightening juxtaposition of comments from two other speakers. In a display worthy of ‘Just a Minute’, Economist Vicky Pryce explained in the clearest terms I have ever heard the economic case for immigration, including, among other benefits, that since the 2008 crash, it had enabled high levels of employment and resilient growth without expected levels of inflation, because this hadn’t been accompanied by wage increases. Meanwhile, Conservative MEP Syeed Kamall described how people in his constituency feel that wages and opportunities have stagnated. Therein lies the rub behind Brexit: immigration does benefit the nation – indeed, it’s essential to plug our skills gaps – but long-term benefits for all are felt as short-term deprivation by some.

Elsewhere at the Conference fringe – at events on access, excellence, skills gaps, etc – the mood was distinctly less triumphalist than the Labour Conference – anyone would think the Tories hadn’t just been returned to power at election in May. Comments directed at speakers tended to be combative rather than rousing. Perhaps the die-hards were staying inside the ‘secure zone’ (where only the party faithful and those with big lobbying budgets are allowed to venture), rather than braving the challenges of the policy wonks beyond.

Even so, if the Labour Party’s trip to the seaside felt like a band of cockroaches who’d just been told a nuclear winter was coming, the Tory Conference felt more like penguins huddling on a shrinking ice floe.


EPC Recruitment and Admissions Forum 2017

This year’s Engineering Professors’ Council Recruitment and Admissions Forum will be held on 15th November at Manchester Metropolitan University. We are delighted to announce not one, but two not-to-be-missed keynote speakers this year.

Mary Curnock Cook OBE stood down from her post as CEO of UCAS earlier this year and has immediately adopted a raft of other high-profile roles including Chair of The Access Project, Chelsea and Kensington College and  Swindon Academy, a Trustee of both the Open University and the National Star Foundation, and Strategic Adviser to Buckingham University. Her views on opportunity and entry qualifications are highly sought after and always challenging. Unshackled from her UCAS role, she has promised to be provocative. Prof Les Ebdon CBE is the Director of the Office of Fair Access in HE, the watchdog for equity in admissions. A tireless champion of wider participation, Les has campaigned hard for evidence-based access strategies and has transformed the opportunities for under-represented groups to access higher education. As former Vice-Chancellor of Bedfordshire University and a chemist by training, he is uniquely qualified to provide an insight into STEM recruitment and access.


Book your place now.


Other highlights include:

  • Findings from the Engineering Enrolments Survey – first glimpse data for 2017 entries into engineering HE across the country
  • Workshop on entry requirements
  • Workshop on under-represented groups in engineering 
  • Degree apprenticeships for success: policy and practice for universities, employers, government and other stakeholders. 

The cost for the day is £99 per ticket for EPC members, and £125 for non members. An invoice with payment methods will be issued once your booking is confirmed.

Who should attend?

  • Heads of Department
  • Admissions Tutors (both postgraduate and undergraduate)
  • Staff working in university recruitment offices
  • Staff working in university outreach functions

You can have a look on the RA Forum programme 2017 and book your place at the RA Forum here.

“Engineering in Society”: survey on engineering public engagement

Are you an engineer who feels passionately about engineering outreach? Or perhaps you hate the thought of having to engage the public with your work? 

The Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England, Bristol, is launching a new survey to find out more about who takes part in. Your responses will help to inform training for future public engagement opportunities for engineers. The survey only takes 10 minutes to complete and can be found here:


Photograph: Tumisu / Pixabay

Engineering in Society – new module for engineering citizenship

Undergraduate student engineers at UWE Bristol will get the chance to learn about engineering citizenship from September.

A new module is being launched to highlight the importance of professional development, lifelong learning, and the competencies and social responsibilities required to be a professional engineer.

It follows a successful public engagement project funded by the Engineering Professors’ Council in 2014, called Children as Engineers (link to The new module is being funded by HEFCE (link here to advance innovation in higher education curricula.

The 65 students, who are in the third year of their BEng or MEng degrees, will learn about the engineering recruitment shortfall and the need to widen the appeal of the profession to girls and boys. They will then develop their communication and public engagement skills in order to become STEM Ambassadors for the future.

The module is unique in that it pairs the student engineers with pre-service teachers taking BEd degrees on to be peer mentors to each other. The paired students will work together to deliver an engineering outreach activity in primary schools, as well as respectively mentoring each other in communication skills and STEM knowledge.

The children involved in the project will present their engineering designs back to the student engineers at a conference at UWE in 2018. Previous research shows that it positively changes children’s views about what engineering is and who can be an engineer.

Teacher Asima Qureshi of Meadowbrook Primary school in Bradley Stoke says, “The Children as Engineers Project was a very successful project in our school. The highlight was the opportunity to showcase their designs at the university and be able to explain the science behind it. It has hopefully inspired children to become future engineers.”

The pilot project was also successful at improving teachers’ STEM subject knowledge confidence and self-efficacy to teach it. This is vitally important, as only 5% of primary school teachers have a higher qualification in STEM, and yet attitudes to science and engineering are formed before age 11.

Professional engineers in the Bristol region are invited to learn from the project and mentor the students as part of the new Curiosity Connections Bristol network ( Delegates are welcome to the inaugural conference on November 23rd 2017 (link to to share learning with other STEM Ambassadors and professional teachers in the region.

Laura Fogg-Rogers

Senior Research Fellow and Faculty Business Associate in Science Communication

University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol UK