Creating a new breed of ‘supergrads’

Creating a new breed of ‘supergrads’

When it comes to new approaches to education, what happens in engineering is the canary in the mine.

Along with medicine no discipline more clearly confronts the questions that the whole sector is now facing about the right balance between learning by doing, and learning by understanding. So everybody in higher education should take notice of the current debate in engineering about degree apprenticeships – and the extent to which they could (or should) be a game-changer.

There’s a well-documented shortfall of engineering graduates, a shortage of engineering and technical skills, and many employers tell us that graduates are not job-ready. So why aren’t we more excited about degree apprenticeships?

This is the theme of a landmark report published today by the Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC), the voice of engineering academics in the UK, representing 7,500 individuals in more than 80 universities.

Employer-led, not employer-dominated

The report states that in order to make degree apprenticeships in engineering a success, we must work collaboratively to put apprentices at the heart of the debate, and make an honest and reflective appraisal of what works and what doesn’t. We also need to convince policymakers that apprenticeships are not currently going according to plan, but that it’s not too late to make the changes required to make them attractive to school leavers and employers.

We have arrived at a system where degree apprenticeships are intended to be “employer-led” but instead they often become “employer-dominated”, failing to focus on apprentices’ wider learning needs and long-term goals. In an honest desire to ensure the relevance of apprenticeships, the system may have overlooked what we have already learnt about learning. We need to pool the understanding of academics and of industry to create degree apprenticeships that appeal to prospective apprentices and provide them, as well as employers, with what they need. Degree apprenticeships must be partnerships between employers, providers and apprentices themselves – there is no room for silo cultures here.

Failing brand

What’s more, the complexity of the apprenticeship system – coupled with ambiguous messaging and poor branding – is a barrier to potential apprentices, parents and employers – particularly smaller firms. We need a centralised approach to raising awareness among prospective degree apprentices, providing information about options and practicalities. Early intervention outreach must be coordinated, evidence-based and properly funded. And government should relax the rules around the apprenticeship levy to allow some of an estimated £1.28 billion of unspent funds to be used to improve careers advice and to promote degree apprenticeships.

But there is still the challenge that degree apprenticeships outputs are themselves ambiguous. The idea of promoting a broad appreciation of the benefits of degree apprenticeships in the current climate is baffling; apprentices’ rights to professional recognition, continued employment and a degree must become clearly navigable in order to move forward.

EPC calls for change

Today’s EPC report, Experience Enhanced, is the collective perspective of the UK’s engineering academic community, the culmination of a two-year project to assess policy and practice around degree apprenticeships. It highlights nearly 50 recommendations spanning four areas: ensuring the best possible learning experience and outcomes for apprentices; the need for closer collaboration between employers and learning providers like universities; the importance of building recognition as a professional engineer into the pathways of apprenticeships; and the financial sustainability of degree apprenticeships.

Degree apprenticeships might not be the silver bullet for all recruitment challenges where there’s a skills deficit, but they do bring the rigours of academic learning and knowledge together with the practical skills and behaviours of the workplace – a new breed of “supergrads”?

Experience enhanced: improving engineering degree apprenticeships

The EPC has published a landmark report calling for changes to degree apprenticeships to deliver a new breed of ‘supergrads’ – graduates with enhanced levels of practical experience.

The report, Experience enhanced, is the outcome of a two-year project to assess policy and practice around degree apprenticeships and it highlights nearly 50 recommendations for the Government, for employers and for other organisations such as the Institute for Apprenticeships and the Office for Students.

The EPC criticises the Government for creating a system where degree apprenticeships are intended to be ‘employer-led’ but can become ‘employer-dominated’, failing to focus on apprentices’ wider learning and long-term goals.

Among the key recommendations is a call for the Government to relax the rules around the Apprenticeship Levy to allow some of an estimated £1.28 billion of unspent funds* to be used to develop high-quality apprenticeships, to promote them and to improve careers advice.

The report also takes aim at the messaging around degree apprenticeships. The complexity of the system is described as “a barrier” to potential apprentices, to parents and to employers (particularly smaller firms). The branding of degree apprenticeships also runs the risk of presenting them as something less than traditional degrees, rather than as an enhanced experience.

The EPC’s other recommendations span four areas: ensuring the best possible learning experience and outcomes for apprentices; the need for closer collaboration between employers and learning providers like universities; the importance of building recognition as a professional engineer into the pathways of apprenticeships; and the financial sustainability of degree apprenticeships.

Professor Mike Sutcliffe, chair of the EPC’s degree apprenticeships working group that authored the report, commented:

“The UK has a desperate shortage of engineering skills. Degree apprenticeships could be a game changer in meeting that need and encouraging people from many new and diverse backgrounds into the sector. However, that will only happen if we get them right.

“Degree apprenticeships are still in their infancy, which is why the EPC feels it’s important to highlight some inconvenient truths while it’s still relatively easy for everyone to get behind a programme of helping them realise the potential.”

Professor Jonathan Seville, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Education & Skills Committee, welcomed the report:

“At the Royal Academy we embrace the EPC’s positive approach in striving to ensure the success of engineering degree apprenticeships, which offer an exciting new route into a career in engineering. Their success is important for the nation, for employers, for the engineering sector and, most of all, for learners themselves. The EPC’s reflections and recommendations provide an important input for Government and a stimulus to all stakeholders, including the Academy, to continue to participate in the discussion.”

The report Experience Enhanced: improving engineering degree apprenticeships is available here. An EPC blog post can be found here.

REF 2021 full EPC member consultation

The UK’s HE funding bodies have set out detailed arrangements for REF 2021 and are seeking views from subject communities on the draft Panel criteria publication developed by the REF expert panels.

They are also calling for responses on key aspects of the Guidance on submissions publication, which they have developed with advice from the expert panels, including the equality and diversity, and interdisciplinary research advisory panels.

The EPC is running a full consultation on this important opportunity to provide feedback. Please complete our survey to share your views. The documents are available on the REF website.

This is a somewhat technical consultation in parts, but the detail has enormous repercussions for all of us working in research (or in universities more generally) and, when a consultation is as detailed as this, it means there’s a real opportunity to influence the small things that make a big difference. You can answer the questions quickly in about ten minutes, but to do it thoroughly is likely to take about half an hour and there’s no upper limit if you want to provide full feedback. We hope you’ll take the opportunity to make a difference to this important consultation.

Please complete our survey to share your views. Deadline for responses is 28 September.

If you find the survey format doesn’t give you the opportunities to express your views in the way you want, please feel free to email your thoughts to the EPC Executive.

Please note that there are funding councils led consultation events for individuals from higher education institutions on:

  • 14 September: Edinburgh
  • 20 September: London
  • 26 September: Leeds

Venue details will be provided in due course.

Registration is now open to individuals from higher education institutions with an interest in the conduct, quality, funding or use of research but places are limited to a maximum of two participants per institution. You can register by Wednesday 5 September: 

There will also be additional events for specific groups during the consultation period. Booking information will be available on the REF website.

  • Equality and diversity
  • Research users
  • Institutions new to the REF

There are also webinars planned with each of the main panel chairs. Main panel B is on 11th September (pm). Booking details aren’t available yet but will be posted here.

Guest blog: Does a career in engineering pay?

By Kate Webster, the Engineering Council

Engineering students at university are in the ideal place to learn and develop – encouraging them to become professionally registered puts them on a path to continue that development throughout their careers.

Despite the continuing skills shortage, not all engineering students go on to work in engineering, perhaps because of the high profile on campus of financial services and consulting firms, or a lack of information about what engineering roles are available. Among respondents to the Engineering Brand Monitor, pay was the second most important factor when deciding upon a career – the most important was it being something they were interested in. Yet only 20% of 11-19 year olds could accurately identify the broad salary range for graduate engineers, with three in five choosing a pay band that’s considerably lower than the average.

Professionally registered engineers earn higher average salaries in every industry sector and at all levels of seniority than those who’re not registered, according to a recent salary survey; the difference in the Chemical and Pharma/Medical sector is almost £12,000 a year. Importantly, registrants make a commitment to maintaining and enhancing their competence that both helps make them better engineers and ensures that employers, clients and the public can feel confident in their expertise.

Engineers looking to start their career need qualifications, credibility with employers, international mobility, access to development opportunities, contacts and networks. As they work towards achieving academic qualifications, professional registration can support them with all these aspects of employability, offering an independent assessment of their competence that can improve their career prospects and increase their earning potential. Achieving registration is simplest for those with accredited qualifications, but is open to any practising engineer who can demonstrate the required competence.

Joining one of the professional engineering institutions is a first step towards professional registration and brings its own benefits. Student membership is usually free and students can join more than one institution, if it’s relevant to their interests or area of study. Membership can offer exposure to careers in engineering and access to professional networks, supporting students in finding the right engineering field for them and securing a job. When a student/graduate engineer’s ready to think about professional registration, their institution will be able to support them and advise on the best way forward.

Working towards professional registration provides a framework for professional development and is a structured way to develop competence in areas including communication and inter-personal skills, management and leadership. These can be as important as technical engineering skills, particularly when working in inter-disciplinary teams. Registrants tell us that registration has increased their credibility, helped them gain promotion or win more business, and the commitment registrants make to work in an ethical, sustainable way is likely to become increasingly important as technology advances.

Encouraging your students to consider professional registration could help point them towards an career in engineering, give them a framework for lifelong learning and boost their earning potential. For more information, see the Engineering Council’s guide to making the transition from student to professional is available online (or in hard copy, from marketing@engc.org.uk).

The Hammermen Award, the Mongol Rally and Mental Health

In May at the EPC Annual Congress 2018 at Harper Adams University, we announced the winner of this year’s Hammermen Student Award, generously sponsored by the Hammermen of Glasgow in recognition of the outstanding achievement of an engineering student.

This year the award was given to Jonathon Glen of our hosts Harper Adams not only for his exceptional academic work, but also for his achievements as part the the Harper Adams community and his greater contribution to agricultural engineering.

By way of an example of just what an outstanding individual Jonathon is, we asked him what he would do with his prize money. The answer was that  he intended to drive to Mongolia to raise money in aid of mental health in farming. 

We asked him to tell us more and this is what he wrote for us. Please follow this link to support him.

Nothing will quite synthesize four years of engineering learning at Harper Adams University quite like planning and executing a charity rally that will cover over 15,000 miles, through 22 countries, in less than 8 weeks.

This year Alan Walker and I are taking part in the Mongol Rally to raise money for the Kettering General Hospital Charity Fund and the Farming Community Network (FCN). However, we are taking this one step further. Mongolia is not finish line. Once we have driven through Europe, the Middle East, central Asia and the Pamir Highway to get to Mongolia, I am going to drive back again in our Mk1 Mazda MX-5.

Planning something like this it may appear like a job for a travel agent, but the challenges we are facing require us to go back to first principles. What are we trying to achieve? What don’t we know and how do we find out? What are the variables and how to we manage them? How are we going meet our deadlines? How do we manage the inherent risks?

I find myself asking all these questions but not for the first time. I believe that our ability to create this adventure has come from the fundamental skills learnt during our engineering degree.

This journey is more than a jolly halfway round the world. The charities that we are raising money for both resonate with us.

For Alan, it is a way to give back to the health trust that saved his grandmother’s life. For me it’s about trying to make a difference in the agricultural community.

Suicide in agriculture kills nearly three times more people than work place accidents. As well trying to raise £5,000 for the FCN who are a charity that support members of the agricultural community who are suffering from mental health issues, I am documenting my emotional and mental journey in #MyMentalJourney and sharing it with the world to highlight the importance of talking about one’s own mental health. (See video here. and follow us on Twitter.)

I have been there, like so many others and so documenting a journey as mentally demanding as the Mongol Rally is the perfect platform to do this. All this will be wasted if we can’t get the word out so please spread the word and we thank you for your support.

 

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EPC Equality, Inclusion and Diversity policy statement agreed by AGM


The EPC is an inclusive organisation that is fully committed to the principles of fair treatment and to valuing diversity. We recognise that by encouraging equality and diversity in all our activities, we can be more effective in achieving our objectives as an organisation. We further recognise that we should encourage equality, inclusion and diversity more widely to promote a better society for all. The EPC’s goal is to ensure that our commitment to equality, inclusion and diversity is embedded in all working practices with all members, with the EPC Executive and with all other stakeholders. These principles apply in any EPC-related context, such as at meetings or events and in recruitment.

Chief Executive invites EPC to influence Engineering Council review of UKSPEC

At this year’s EPC Congress, Alasdair Coates’s invited the EPC – as the representative body of engineering in higher education – to input to the current review that is being undertaken of UKSPEC. Following a representative EPC consultation Professor Sarah Spurgeon, EPC President, submitted a formal response to the consultation, thanking the Chief Executive of the Engineering Council for his invitation.

To summarise the position of EPC:

1. We wholly support and endorse the current UKSPEC.

2. We strongly and collectively assert that the current problems with accreditation may be wholly attributed to inconsistent implementation of UKSPEC across the Professional Engineering Institutions (PEIs). Indeed, inconsistency across different panels from the same PEI were also flagged as a serious concern. Our consultation heard many examples of panels focussing upon issues that are nothing at all to do with UKSPEC.

We hope very much that the current review will tackle this problem to ensure we can all work in a supportive environment to render engineering educational provision fit for the future.

A document that reports the outcome of our consultation can be found here.

If you would like to input into the review of AHEP, please email accreditation@engc.org.uk directly.

New Approaches to Engineering HE: The Six Facets

New Approaches to Engineering Higher Education is on ongoing initiative that the EPC is running in partnership with the IET, with Professor John Perkins presiding as Chair. The aim is to encourage innovation in the sector’s approaches to policy, pedagogy and practice

The initiative was launched in May 2017 at a landmark conference held at the IET in London on innovative approaches to the teaching of engineering in universities in the UK and globally.

One year on, the EPC hosted a round table meeting, at which the EPC, IET and senior HE stakeholders – including several vice-chancellors – met to take soundings on what we are calling ‘the Six Facets’ of innovative engineering higher education.

The Six Facets are common themes drawn from the papers presented to the New Approaches conference (the proceedings of which can be read here) that address fundamental problems: skills shortages; the shifting nature of engineering, the workforce and the demography of the student population; promoting inclusion and diversity.

While the EPC isn’t seeking to impose the Six Facets on anyone – that isn’t our role – we have identified these as key indicators of an innovative and adaptive response to today’s challenges. Universities can use them as a marker by which to judge their progress and as an inspiration for further development.

The Six Facets

Incorporating creativity into science: To reflect developing industrial needs and to attract a broad range of applicants, engineering programmes should enhance and emphasise the creative and innovative nature of the work of engineers. Although maths and science are important, they are a necessary but not sufficient part of the required skill set.

Broaden the diversity of students: The image of engineering means that women and ethnic minorities are far less likely to apply to study it. The emphasis (and the perception in schools of an emphasis) on maths and physics as a requirement to study engineering at top engineering schools also restricts access to the subject. This is especially true in physics where the proportion of female students at A-level is particularly low. Opportunities to increase the diversity of engineering students by proactive steps to address the image of engineering and the barriers to entry should be explored.

A strong emphasis on project work: Students engage and are enthused by authentic and relevant engineering experiences. In engineering, a primary vehicle for this is the design project. However, it is not sufficient that these are only in the latter years once sufficient grounding in theory is achieved. They should be from day one and spread throughout the degree programme to develop skills and encourage active learning.

Industry engagement in design and delivery: It is vital to work with industry to frame the skills graduates need and highlight to students their relevance and importance. This is particularly important to encourage students to enhance their transferable and employability skills.

Experience of the workplace for students: The formation of the professional engineer is a process; one that involves education, training and experience. In an ideal world these are not separated. It is incumbent on academics and industry to work together to develop programmes that bridge the separation between university and work in a way that provides equal opportunities for all students, regardless of background and career aspirations.

Greater interdisciplinarity: Modern engineering challenges and the global issues that most enthuse our current cohort of students will not be solved by any one discipline, but instead by teams of engineers from across the disciplines and non-engineers, bringing together their skills and expertise to create innovative solutions. We must prepare out students for this with appropriate experiences, such as undertaking complex projects in interdisciplinary teams.


There has been a lot of support for the work of the EPC and IET so far and we will now be looking for  exemplars from across the sector. If your work exemplifies one or more of the Six Facets, please contact the Chief Executive with your thoughts.

There will be a further meeting of stakeholders in the autumn – this time the invitees will have more of a national policy perspective and we will explore what the Government, OfS, employer groups and other policy stakeholders could do to change policy to promote the Six Facets.

Invitation to host the EPC Annual Congress 2019

 

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: 4th June 2018

Proposals are invited from higher education Engineering departments to host the 2019 Engineering Professors’ Council Annual Congress.

‘Hosting the 2018 Engineering Professors’ Council Congress was a great way to showcase the University’s work to a wide range of experts in the field as well as to the professional bodies in engineering.  Our staff and students gained a lot from explaining their approach to engineering education and research, and we were also able to explore new collaborations to broaden the reach of our engineering activities.  We were delighted to welcome the EPC to Harper Adams and hope that other universities taking the opportunity act as the venue for the Congress will gain as much from the experience as we have.’
David Llewellyn, Vice-Chancellor, Harper Adams University (hosts of the 2018 Annual Congress) 

The Annual Congress is the flagship event in the EPC calendar, an opportunity for engineering academics from across the UK to come together to explore policy and practice and to network.

Hosting Congress is a unparalleled opportunity to showcase your institution and region to the engineering academic community.

Download guidelines.

Download the form for submitting a proposal.

In 2016, the Congress was held at the University of Hull as a prestigious addition to its preparations as European City of Culture. In 2017, the Congress was held in Coventry attracting a host of high-profile speakers and delegates. This year’s Congress at Harper Adams University boasts not only a fantastic line-up of speakers, but also an exciting array of social and educational activities ranging from off-road driving in quad bikes and armoured vehicles to opportunities to explore the latest in cutting-edge agricultural technology.

The Congress usually takes place in April or May (although it has sometimes taken place in September) and lasts two days with a reception on the evening before the Congress formally starts.

The host institution nominates a Congress Convenor who will become a member of the EPC Board for up to three years (2018, 2019, 2020) and who, with guidance from the EPC executive team, will lead the organisation of the Congress, including determining the themes and scope for the Congress, and the speakers and events.


Please email the completed proposal to Johnny Rich, Chief Executive, no later than 9th May 2018: j.rich@epc.ac.uk. For enquiries or to discuss a proposal, please do not hesitate to contact him.


What is expected from the host

The host institution (host) would be expected to provide:

  • an academic of suitable standing to act as Convenor and other staff resource as necessary to assist planning the Congress;
  • suitable function rooms such as a lecture theatre and smaller break-out rooms, as well as space for networking;
  • catering for the Congress;
  • possibly accommodation, particularly, for early career staff delegates to the Congress who may be provided free accommodation in student residences;
  • management of the Congress during the event;
  • financial accountability in accordance with the financial arrangements (see below).

There will be some support from the EPC executive, but it is advisable to ensure that the host can provide conference support staff as the smooth running of the Congress will primarily be the Convenor’s responsibility.

The Congress usually attracts up to 100 delegates, but the numbers have grown in recent years and the host should be able to provide for 150.


Selection process

The process for selection as host involves submission of your proposal to the EPC Board, which will conduct a vote. The basis for its decision is entirely at its discretion, but they will take into account issues such as the nominated Convenor, the suitability of the facilities, the arrangements for costs, the geographical suitability (although the EPC is keen not always to be restricted to big centres of population), the suggested activities such as Congress Dinner venue and other attractions, and other arrangements to ensure the smooth running of the Congress.

The host institution must be a member of the EPC. We would particularly welcome joint proposals from separate institutions to host jointly, such as two engineering departments at separate universities in the same city.


Financial arrangements

The suggestion for the financial arrangement between the EPC and the host forms part of the proposal. The EPC will seek to minimise its risk and, if possible, would like to generate a surplus from the event to contribute to its own in-house costs in running the Congress. However, the quality of the event and its appeal to members will be of greater weight in selecting the host institution.

That said, it may be helpful to provide as guidance the following arrangement that has been used in the past. The EPC would hope that the host would aim to meet at least this arrangement:

Costs may be divided into three categories as follows:

  • ‘External costs’: ie. costs that will genuinely have to be met, such as catering, external venue hire, student ambassadors, etc. The EPC would guarantee all these external costs and, if necessary, would pay them up-front. In any case, the EPC would be liable for these costs.
  • ‘Internal costs’: such as staff who are already employed by the host. The host would guarantee these costs and, in the event that registration income was insufficient to meet them, the host would be liable for them.
  • ‘Internal fees’: where the only cost to the host is a notional price that it sets internally – room hire, for instance. Once the two types of costs above have been met from revenue, 75% of any remainder may be used to defray the host’s internal fees and the other 25% will be due to the EPC to defray our internal costs and fees. After the host’s internal fees have been met, any surplus would be split equally.

The proposal should make it clear whether the host proposes to manages the bookings process and receive the registration fees or would prefer this to be handled by the EPC. If the host receives the fees, after the Congress it will be expected to provide a full account of income and expenditure (outlining the categories of expense as above, if that model is used). If the EPC receives the fees, the host may invoice the EPC for costs in accordance with the agreement. In either case, the host will be expected to agree with the EPC a full budget for the Congress at the earliest opportunity (and before substantial Congress planning) and would not be entitled to incur costs on behalf of the EPC outside the agreed budget without separate agreement.

While the host will be responsible for setting the registration fees and packages for delegates, these must be agreed in advance with the EPC. These should not include a more than 10% increase on equivalent packages for the previous year. A significant number of places for early careers staff (not more than 5 years in an academic post) should be made available at the lowest possible rate (including, ideally, some complimentary places).

In some years, the host has acted as a major sponsor of the event contributing to the costs or not passing on some or all of the costs it incurs. Any such support would be acknowledged and the EPC will seek to support the host’s objectives in sponsoring Congress. Any other sponsorship revenue will normally be retained by the EPC or used to offset the costs of running the Congress.


Download guidelines.
Download the form for submitting a proposal.

Please email the completed proposal to Johnny Rich, Chief Executive, no later than 9th May 2018: j.rich@epc.ac.uk

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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).