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”?

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.

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.

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.

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 (www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/EPCREFNominations/) 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 www.ref.ac.uk) 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.


Confidentiality

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 www.ref.ac.uk.
To promote someone for nomination now, please complete the form
before midnight, 4th December 2017

 

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