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. Book your place.

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.  

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 programme and book your place at the RA Forum here.

Brexit impact in Engineering Higher Education

europe-1456246_1280Updated 30/1/17

Assuming Theresa May is able to stick to her intended timetable (the first hurdle of which is to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March 2017), the UK will cease to be a member of the EU in 2019.

The picture is getting clearer about what this may mean. In the meantime, there are far more questions than answers. So, to support its members, the EPC has tried to ask the questions that engineering in HE needs answered most urgently and to summarise what we know so far (if anything). Rather than repeat what you will no doubt have seen elsewhere, we have tried to focus specifically on concerns and opportunities for engineering in HE.

These questions are complex. Our answers have tried to be simple, but they may be simplistic. There may well be other questions that need asking and our answers will undoubtedly benefit from further comment.

We would be grateful if you would use the comments facility to pose further questions and share your own reflections, expertise and, in particular, real life experiences in relation to the issues raised.

 

How Brexit might affect UK students?

Will engineering students’ mobility be affected? For instance, will they still be able to participate in the Erasmus programme?

There is no immediate change to the UK’s participation in the Erasmus+ scheme, with guaranteed funds for applications in 2016 and 2017[i]. After that, however, a British exclusion from the scheme is, for the moment, highly likely[ii]. Other non-EU members – Norway and Switzerland – do have agreements to participate and the UK might broker a similar arrangement. However, there are costs to participating in the single market and both Norway and Switzerland pay a contribution to EU programmes on research and education. The Government has so far provided no indication that it would do the same.

Update 5/10/2016: A petition has been started to urge the Government to continue to participate in the Erasmus scheme after Brexit.

Update: 30/1/2017: In her speech Brexit on 17th January, Theresa May made it clear that she has no intention of ‘buying back’ into elements of EU membership. However, in the Q&A session in the Commons later the same day, she hinted that the UK might “pay into specific programmes” after all. On balance, it looks like she regards continued membership of the ERASMUS+ programme as something for the negotiating table and not one over which she will lose any sleep.

Will UK students be more inclined to study engineering abroad given the increasing costs of studying in the UK and potential damage to their international work prospects?

The increase in costs was a reality before Brexit with the rises in tuition fees in recent years. In other European countries (such as Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark), the tuition fees are, relatively speaking, extremely low compared to UK universities – sometimes they are even free – and many such courses are taught in English[iii]. Some data suggest there has been a rise in recent years in the number of UK students taking up these opportunities to study abroad, however the evidence is not conclusive.

Many international engineering companies, such as Rolls Royce, which have strong links with UK HE engineering departments and support high quality students’ placements, might consider developing their core business outside the UK. This could limit the number and quality of placements available in the future, and students might consider taking studies abroad in universities with stronger links with international companies.

However, if Brexit means UK students face higher fees to study abroad, they may be put off. They may choose to opt for UK courses even though the quality and range of placements may have been compromised.

Will international partnerships be affected? For example, will students be as able to do placements in international companies during their studies?

See above.

Will the employment prospects of UK engineering students be affected?

This will depend on the impact of Brexit on the wider economy and the engineering sector in particular. See below. (It also depends on the impact on the financial sector, which recruits a significant proportion of engineering graduates.)

Economic pressure hits the recruitment of entry-level staff first and hardest. Engineering firms may scale down recruitment or, in the case of larger businesses, they may move it to other European countries.

However, the skills shortages in engineering are such that engineering graduates may find their skills are still in sufficiently high demand to be largely unaffected by economic tides.

Since employment rates are to be used as a key metric for TEF, any impact on graduates may have significant repercussions for universities and academic departments too.

 

How Brexit might affect international students?

Will UK universities still be an attractive place to study engineering for international students?

Update 26/01/2017: in the light of May’s ‘Global Britain’ speech, delivered on the 17th January, there is a willingness to keep the UK as a “magnet for international talent”, and high-skilled immigration, whether to work or study, but with a strict control of the number of people coming to Britain from the EU. Free movement to Britain from Europe will not be guaranteed.

Beyond Erasmus (see above), there are no immediate changes planned to the funding of EU students studying in the UK. For now, the Government is saying that students who have started a course before August 2016 will have the eligibility for the duration of that course. There’s no word yet on what will happen in future[iv]. However, if EU nationals are in future treated on a par with other international students when it comes to fees, it would leave them facing far higher costs to study in the UK and they are unlikely to be entitled to student loans. It is hard to imagine how this could not act as a powerful disincentive.

Having said that, Brexit may offer new opportunities for non-EU students to study in the UK thanks to lower competition from their EU counterparts. The same may happen with non-EU staff[v], although some reports suggest that Brexit may mean that the UK is regarded in future by people from outside the UK – both EU and non-EU – as less tolerant and welcoming.

The current low value of the pound will make international fee levels relatively more affordable[vi], but conversely, it will also make salaries paid in sterling less attractive.

Update 5/10/2016: In her speech to the Conservative Party Conference yesterday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced major new restrictions on international students coming to the UK to study. She is not waiting for Brexit before imposing these new rules.

The proposal includes limiting the availability of student visas to those accepted on to “high-quality” courses, but it is not clear how that would be determined. One suggestion is that high performance in the TEF may be used, but, since the discipline-level TEF is unlikely before 2019, that would mean that for the next few years all disciplines across an institution would have to be treated as equal for the purposes of student visas – which might be very bad news for engineering departments.

Another suggestion is that the Government would simply apply a prejudicial judgement of quality based on, for example, membership of the Russell Group. The Government’s argument is that these measures will preserve the quality of the education that the UK ‘exports’ by only allowing the best institutions to do so. However, given that the stated intention is to reduce absolute student immigration, the logic is flawed and the effect will be to drive down numbers not drive up standards.

Whatever the arguments, restrictions on international student numbers may be very damaging to UK engineering departments because of the loss of high-quality applicants, funding and international relationships. It will also impact on the UK skills shortage which will be exacerbated if the UK has to rely on a home-grown supply of engineering graduates.

Ms Rudd has said that there will be a consolation on the proposals. The EPC will examine them in detail and respond forcefully on behalf of UK engineering departments which attract far more international students than most UK HE courses.

Update 11/10/2016: The Department for Education has now confirmed that EU students applying for university places in England in 2017/18 will continue to be eligible for student loans and grants, and entitled to home fee status for the duration of their course, even past the point that the UK leaves the EU.

Welsh Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has also confirmed that EU students applying for a place at a Welsh university for 2017/18 will continue to receive financial support.

Update 14/10/2016: The Scottish Government have also announced that EU students commencing their studies in 2017 will be entitled to complete their studies post-Brexit without a change in fees status.

Will students still be able to do placements in the UK as part of their studies?

The assumption has to be that, post-Brexit, European students would have to apply for a student visa like other foreign nationals, adding to the complexity and obstacles of studying in the UK and doing placements.

Theresa May’s track record on student visas when she was Home Secretary was that she regarded them as too easy a target for exploitation by illegal immigrants. There have been no announcements to suggest that she will be more sympathetic as PM.

 

How Brexit might affect courses in engineering disciplines?

Will UK engineering accreditation still have the same international recognition?

Currently, European recognition is possible across the European Union and the EEA (the European Economic area – the countries covered by agreements on free movement of people and trade)[vii] and international recognition outside Europe is guaranteed through the Engineering Council’s membership of the International Engineering Alliance[viii]. However, recognition of Professional Titles, and the right to work in the EU, can be denied if UK leaves EEA[ix].

In other words Brexit is unlikely to have any significant impact on the recognition of accreditation, but it will be worth keep a close watch.

 

How Brexit might affect academic staff in engineering (lecturers, researchers, other staff)?

How safe are the jobs of European staff at UK universities?

Update 26/01/2017: in the light of May’s ‘Global Britain’ speech, delivered on the 17th January, it is still unclear what the status of the EU staff already working in the UK will be, as stated in point 6 (Rights for EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals in the EU). However, free movement to Britain from Europe will not be guaranteed, in order to control immigration.

For now, there’s been no change to the rights and status of EU citizens working in the UK. Nationals from the European Economic Area (EEA) can get a permanent residence card if they have lived in the UK for a continuous period of 5 years[x].

For EU nationals who have been in the UK for less time than that, there are no guarantees, however key Brexit campaigners argued after before and after the Referendum that anyone legally resident in the UK before the Referendum should be given a right to remain. The Government has refused to commit to this, linking the issue to the right of British citizens currently in European countries to remain there.

Given skills shortages in the UK, even if there is no blanket agreement on EU nationals, it has to be supposed that academics in engineering would be well placed to be allowed to stay in the UK along with their families (if already resident here). Unmarried partners, however, may face a more awkward position.

How safe are the jobs of UK staff at European universities?

See above.

How will the recruitment and retention of staff from the European Union be affected?

On this question, there are no answers – only more questions. How will Brexit affect staff who have been living in the UK for less than 5 years (not eligible for a permanent resident card)? How will this affect new staff who come to the UK after the Referendum?

In the long term, the recruitment of EU staff will depend on the negotiations between UK and the European Union. At the heart of those negotiations will be whether the free movement of people can be uncoupled from access to trade freely with the EEA. If it cannot and the UK Government decides that access to the free market is a price worth paying for immigration control, then recruitment is likely to be restricted.[xi]

Academics and researchers in engineering will be regarded as more desirable immigrants than most, but even to have to talk in such terms illustrates the change that might take place.

Will British academics be as able to move to positions in European institutions?

That will depend on the outcome of Brexit negotiations, but unless an arrangement is made for the free movement of people, the process is likely to become more bureaucratic at the very least.

 

How Brexit might affect engineering research and innovation?

Will it be possible to secure ongoing research projects with European funds and European partners? And what are the risks for future research funding?

On the 13 of August 2016, Universities Minister Jo Johnson wrote an open letter to Madeleine Atkins (HEFCE President) to “reassure” the HE sector about the continuity of funding of Horizon 2020 projects[xii]. This was preceded by a Statement from BIS on the 28th June 2016 on higher education and research[xiii]. These announcements were prompted by a Treasury commitment made by the Chancellor Philip Hammond to guarantee EU funding beyond the date that the UK leaves the EU[xiv].

On the face of it, these commitments should be welcome news for the sector. However, in practice, they do not go very far. EU-funded research projects are almost always made to international consortia representing at least two EU nations. They are contractual arrangements setting out the term of the contract. Brexit should not normally affect the contract with a UK research partner as part of the consortium, even if they are the lead partner. There may be contractual provisions that, for example, state that the consortium partners must come from more than one EU nation. Brexit might then put the consortium in breach of the contract. Even then it is hard to see how the Treasury commitment might step in to protect the funding of a consortium that compromises non-UK partners.

The Treasury’s reassurance does not do anything to address the issues as reported to EPC by own members to the EPC – and by others to Scientists for EU[xv] and elsewhere – that suggest EU partners are more reticent about new research partnerships with UK universities or are even excluding UK partners from existing initiatives. Underwriting the funding for UK universities does not help non-UK partners and makes funding no easier to win.

Furthermore, the Treasury’s protection extends only to funding under Horizon 2020. In practice, that horizon is approaching fast and the period after Brexit has taken place and before funding is due to end anyway is not likely to be much more than a year anyway. The Treasury may have calculated that this is a commitment it can afford to make because it is unlikely ever to cost much, if indeed anything at all.

Nonetheless, it is comforting that The European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) has expressed its support for UK engineering research, reaffirming a commitment to cooperation initiatives with UK members[xvi].

What European funding options will be available after Brexit?

Update 26/01/2017: in the light of May’s ‘Global Britain’ speech, delivered on the 17th January, the UK will no longer be a member of the single market. A new trade agreement will be negotiated, and participation in some specific European programmes will be sought. Point 10 (The best place for science and innovation) raises some hope for science, research, and technology initiatives, as the PM welcomes an agreement to continue to collaborate with EU in science and innovation.

As with Erasmus (see above), Switzerland and Norway, which are not members of the EU, can apply for Horizon 2020 funding and will probably continue that arrangement with whatever funding scheme replaces it. To qualify for this support, those nations contribute financially to the EU’s research funding. Theresa May has ruled out “buying back” into the benefits of the EU in the past, but in the Q&A in the Commons following her speech, she hinted that the UK might “pay into specific programmes”.

However, from a political perspective, if the UK is making large payments to the EU in order to participate, it is hard to see that as consistent with May’s interpretation of voters’ intentions as expressed in the Referendum. Also, full participation in the Horizon 2020 programme – or any similar successor – relies heavily on freedom of movement (which Norway and Switzerland allow). Being seen to have banned free movement is clearly going to be a red line for May in negotiations.

This issue appears to be one that May hopes to resolve at the negotiating table and, probably, she regards the UK’s research excellence as a strong card to hold.

Particularly in the light of the Stern Review, will Brexit have an impact on REF?

Even with the Treasury’s protections (see above), in the absence of a new arrangement (like that with Norway or Switzerland), EU research funding to UK universities is likely to tail off around the same time that the next REF round is due. A Brexit-related fall in funding would create barriers to research competitiveness and would negatively impact the wider public research impact.

What will happen to the UK’s membership of non-EU European organisations?

UK to withdraw from Euratom

Update 27/01/2017 As well as triggering Article 50, the Brexit Bill before Parliament empowers the PM to withdraw from Euratom, the community that provides the basis for research into nuclear power. As this is not an EU body, it is unlikely the Government would seek this authority unless it intends to exercise it, which casts a worrying shadow over the future of fusion research in the UK and international collaborations which may prove critical for the future of energy trade and combatting climate change. Read more.

 

How Brexit might affect knowledge transfer in engineering?

Will collaborations with industry be affected and, if so, how?

Research collaborations need not be affected so long as the UK engineering sector itself remains economically healthy and competitive (see below).

It is even possible to argue that a reduction in EU research funding may encourage private sector to plug funding gaps because the research drives their own innovation (although the funding criteria would of course be quite different). However, the gap to be filled may open up only in the UK and, instead of supporting more research in Britain, larger industrial partners will look to what may be a more healthy research environment in EU universities.

In any case, most predictions for the economic health of the engineering sector post-Brexit are not encouraging. That might lead to shrinking business, falling recruitment and relocation of investment overseas.

Having said that, in order to stave off economic hardship, some of the larger, more resilient firms may decide to invest more heavily in research and innovation.  Whether they do so in the UK will depend on the value they place on the competitiveness of UK research. That in turn will be linked to engineering faculties’ ability to recruit and retain highly skilled researchers (which links back to the mobility of staff, see above).

Will there be impacts relating to patents?

The UK is a signatory to the European Patent Convention and this is separate to membership of the EU. At the moment there are no immediate changes regarding UK businesses’ ability to apply to the European Patent Office for patent protection[xvii].

 

How Brexit might affect the engineering sector as a whole?

Is it likely to become harder to meet engineering skills shortages?

There is a significant and recognised shortage of engineering skills in the UK and the UK HE system ameliorates this shortage for the wider economy by attracting students and staff who have desirable skills from other countries. The skills shortage is a reality and could be massively exacerbated with Brexit.

Will there be an impact on the sector’s international competitiveness?

The vast majority of experts, from academic economists to financial institutions, predicted before the Referendum that Brexit would be damaging to the UK economy. In particular, an exit from the EEA would make exports to the UK’s largest trading partners less competitive and imports from the EEA more expensive.

Since the Referendum, the economic signals have been mixed, but the general trends so far give little reason to believe that the predictions were wrong – and, of course, the UK is, for now, still in the EEA.

The value of the pound dropped heavily immediately after the Referendum which has given a boost to the UK’s export economy. However, this is unlikely to be a long-term effect, because the currency value is a self-limiting mechanism: sterling will strengthen again if its low value boosts the UK economy. Indeed, it has already rallied in the absence of an immediate economic post-referendum meltdown.

Any economic downturn may hit the engineering sector especially badly. Some areas of engineering rely heavily on European exports (eg the automotive industry) or on the major infrastructure projects that, over recent years, have received large-scale European funding. Engineering is a global industry and so many firms will find it relatively easy to move investment out of the UK if the conditions here are disadvantageous. Any economic hardship is likely to result in smaller R&D budgets and consequences for HE research partners.

The majority of the UK engineering sector, however, is made up of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which will not be in a position to relocate or expand investment in the face of an economic downturn. They are likely to recruit less.

If so, what repercussions are there likely to be for engineering in HE?

On the negative side: loss of EU prospective students and staff; funding issues; damaging of European partnerships.

On the positive side: links between industry and universities may strengthen.

Other resources

Universities UK “Policy priorities to support universities to thrive post-exit” [February 2017] 

Universities UK has produced a briefing paper (PDF) which outlines the policy priorities the government should deliver. These priorities fall into three clear stages:

  1. Short-term transitional arrangements
  2. Exit negotiations
  3. Domestic policy change

 

 

Photograph: Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay
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EPC President speaking on Estuary TV

Acknowledgement: The Culture Zone

Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC) President, Professor Stephanie Haywood of the University of Hull, appeared on Estuary TV last Friday in a segment about Hull’s upcoming Amy Johnson Festival and the Art of Engineering. Professor Haywood underlined the symbiotic relationship between Arts and Engineering and its importance to the whole spectrum of human activity.

 This year’s EPC Congress will be held in Hull (4 – 6 September) to coincide with the Amy Johnson Festival (itself linked to the city’s Freedom Festival), which will feature an exhibition of 12 replicas of Leonardo Da Vinci’s flight and wind machines. The Congress theme “The Art of Engineering” will reflect this with speakers from both industry and HE discussing new curriculum developments amongst a host of other issues key to the future of engineering in UK HE.

Both members and non members can download the draft programme and book their places here.

The advantages of offering degree apprenticeships

240216_AMRC_101The University of Sheffield has been an early entrant to this new form of higher learning.

Its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre – AMRC with Boeing (which specialises in the research and development of better manufacturing processes and more efficient factory optimisation) has excellent relationships with businesses – both large multinationals (typified by Boeing) and also local SMEs. It has been delivering research and taught masters degrees since its inception almost two decades ago. For the past three years, the AMRC as part of the University of Sheffield has provided advanced and higher apprentice training, with an annual intake of 205 apprentices. Having identified a gap in manufacturing education at degree level, it has been able to take advantage of the government initiatives and funding around degree apprenticeships to develop its offer.

With a Further Education college partner, locally, the AMRC Training Centre already offered a Foundation degree and higher apprenticeship, but is now recruiting to the first year of its new Bachelors in Manufacturing programmes (BMan), designed to provide degree level apprenticeships in Manufacturing.  The BMan programme will run via day release over three years.  By teaching over 36 weeks a year, on one (long) day a week, and using a flipped classroom/blended learning approach, the curriculum has been designed to  deliver graduates of the standard that employers are expecting. Students will be able to study for a foundation degree in two years, a bachelor’s degree in three years or to master’s level over four years.

The employers say that the key benefits are that as well as being better engaged and loyal,

  • the students understand industry;
  • they know how to make things;
  • they have manufacturing skills;
  • they have an established work ethic.

In addition, they will have access to experts from the university and AMRC to support student projects and the apprentice levy and government support improves the financial viability, even for small companies.

From the students’ perspective, they get paid while they study, ‘earn while they learn’ and apply their academic learning in their own workplace through project work in their companies. The blended learning approach means that they will be able to do much of the learning in their own time, meaning that the time they spend in at university will focus on problem classes, laboratories and tutorials.

The university sees it as a flagship activity with a number of key advantages:

  • It enables the university to cover the full post-16 to PhD spectrum of education in manufacturing, with industry engagement at every stage;
  • It enables the university to apply its standards and educational experience to widen the number and diversity of people studying engineering.
  • It allows the university to better engage with the region, its local manufacturing base and the rest of the world to provide an additional pipeline of well-qualified, graduate engineers.

 

With thanks to Professor Stephen Beck, Head of Multidisciplinary Engineering Education, University of Sheffield

Could your students inspire the engineers of the future?

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Teaching physics is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind as a career for an engineering graduate. However, it is a rewarding, valuable and important occupation and engineers make excellent teachers.

Specialist physics teachers play a vital role in the classroom to nurture, educate and guide the next generation of engineering and physics graduates.

The UK needs a two-fold increase in the number of engineering graduates if it is to meet demand for 1.28 million new STEM professionals and technicians by 2020 (EngineeringUK). This can only be achieved if we increase the pool of potential undergraduates by encouraging more – and more diverse students – to take physics A-level.

The evidence is clear that the single biggest influence on students’ choice of subjects is the quality of their teacher. Currently, there is a chronic shortfall of specialist physics teachers with a good background in school-level physics; so, to increase A-level numbers, the system needs more specialist teachers.

An engineering degree equips students with all they need to become a great specialist physics teacher. They have the subject background, they are good communicators and they can relate the content of physics courses to engineering contexts – capturing the imagination of students and exemplifying for them the experience of studying engineering.

The Institute of Physics is offering 150 scholarships to individuals with the background and enthusiasm to be exceptional teachers of physics. Each scholarship is worth £30,000 tax-free funding, as well as a package of support which includes networking events, mentoring and IOP membership during your training year. We can also offer school experience placements if they would like to inform their choice.

There is more information about teaching at www.iop.org/engineerteach. Please do encourage some of your undergraduates to consider becoming a physics teacher. Doing so is an investment in the future and in the next generation of engineers.

Professor Helen Atkinson among ‘Top 50 Women in Engineering’

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An inaugural list of the top 50 Women in Engineering, featuring former EPC President and University of Leicester Head of Engineering Professor Helen Atkinson, was published in the Daily Telegraph for the first time on 23 June 2016 to coincide with the National Women in Engineering Day.

The list, compiled by the Telegraph in collaboration with the Women’s Engineering Society features the UK’s top influential female engineers chosen from almost 900 nominations.

You can read the University of Leicester press release here.

Professor Atkinson is Head of the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester and a  trustee of the Royal Academy of Engineering. She chairs the  Committee on Education and Skills for the Royal Academy of Engineering. She was elected the first woman President of the Engineering Professors’ Council in its fifty year history, the body which represents engineering in higher education throughout the UK.

Short poll: Support for early career academic and research staff in engineering

Picture1The Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC) is the representative body for engineering in higher education. But we’re not just for professors… Our primary purpose is to provide a forum at which all engineers working in UK higher education can exchange ideas about engineering education, research and other matters of common interest and to come together to provide an influential voice and authoritative conduit through which engineering departments’ interests can be represented to key audiences such as funders, influencers, employers, professional bodies and Government. We are a unique network representing all branches of engineering studies and currently number 81 institutional members encompassing c.6,500 academic staff (permanent FTE).

Because we’re not just for professors, we would like your input on an initiative we are thinking of developing – a professional support network for early career staff. We’d therefore be very grateful for your answers to the following survey:

Support for early career academic and research staff in engineering

Thank you for your participation.

Challenges of introducing and designing new engineering programmes…

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Grant Campbell and Daniel Belton at the University of Huddersfield have just published this useful paper about introducing a new programme in a high cost subject at a time of constrained resources but high demand…The full paper may be downloaded here.

Abstract: The rise in popularity of chemical engineering among students entering university has prompted expansion of the UK provision, through increased intake into current degree programmes and with the rise of new providers. The former entails logistical challenges of processing larger numbers through existing infrastructures whilst maintaining the student experience. The latter entails challenges of designing and introducing programmes that build harmoniously on existing non-chemical engineering provision, within the constraints of university validation procedures and physical resources, and in the face of uncertainty around student and staff recruitment, while aspiring to implement best practice in chemical engineering content and pedagogy. Following a review of the UK chemical engineering landscape and a critique of literature guidance on the appropriate content of chemical engineering curricula, this paper illustrates the issues of new programme development through the approaches and experiences of a new provider, the University of Huddersfield, which introduced new chemical engineering programmes from academic year 2013/14. The paper addresses specifying the content of chemical engineering programmes to align with accreditation requirements and literature advice while maintaining distinctiveness. The constraints imposed by the need to specify and validate courses internally and to minimise substantive programme changes subsequently, whilst responding to the opportunities that arise as staff are recruited and to external developments and unplanned incidents, are highlighted and illustrated, in order to draw lessons that might help to guide other new entrants.

GEDC Airbus Diversity Award 2016

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The Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC) Airbus Diversity Award is sponsored by Airbus and aims to encourage and acknowledge work that inspires students of all profiles and backgrounds to study and succeed in engineering.

The closing date for applications is 30th June 2016

 

 

You can download the application form and brief for candidates here.

For questions, please contact info@gedcairbusdiversityaward.com