Guest blog: Time to Reflect on the Wellbeing of our Engineers

By Jo-Anne Tait – Academic Strategic Lead, School of Engineering, Robert Gordon University

Students’ mental health is a deservedly hot topic in higher education. But is the conversation more difficult when it comes to engineering? Are the challenges greater?

When I am asked about the topic of my PhD I have noticed the responses are interesting. Engineers for the most part look puzzled, and wonder why I might think this is worthy of investigation. Some even show signs of annoyance that this is even a thing. Non-engineers on the other hand, their eyes open wider in fascination and regale me with tales of the (not so positive) habits of the engineers they know.  

I am studying the mental wellbeing of engineering students. I believe there is something wrong with how we approach this topic in engineering education in relation to future engineers. In fact, it appears we don’t really approach it at all.

I was a geologist by trade before I entered engineering academia, teaching drilling engineering students. Nearly 20 years later, I look after the teaching, learning and student experience in a School of Engineering. I see my job as helping the engineers of the future and I take it very seriously.

I realise I am preaching to the converted somewhat but in case anyone isn’t clear, engineers are absolutely vital in addressing global challenges: energy, sustainability, transport, infrastructure, and medication are just a few.

But despite the importance placed on the role of the engineer in our future, the UK has a serious shortage of engineers. This phenomenon is echoed in the U.S., China, South Africa and Germany with reports of demand far outstripping supply. Calls for education reform are growing and there has been an increase in the diversification of engineering education through degree apprenticeships and widening participation activities.

From my seat at the table I am seeing a worrying rise in mental health and wellbeing issues in engineering students. Often by the time I am made aware of a student’s situation it is at or near crisis point rather than earlier, when more support might be possible. I raised my concerns and discovered that, anecdotally, engineering students sought help in far fewer numbers than students of other disciplines. Further reading told me this was not unusual in engineering higher education and so I began to dig further.

Given the mental health and wellbeing of university and college students has been the subject of considerable discussion nationally and internationally it might surprise you to discover that engineering students are not well represented in this literature. It certainly surprised me, given the challenging and competitive nature of engineering degree programmes and the male-skewed gender balance of the discipline.

Men, and young men in particular have a higher risk of suicide and the incidence of schizophrenia in males is reported to be significantly higher than in females. Young adults are at higher risk of developing serious mental illnesses and it has also been reported that female engineering students report even poorer mental wellbeing than their male counterparts. An American institution found that engineering students had a higher prevalence of mental health problems than the general student population, were less likely to use mental health services than students from other disciplines, were “significantly less likely to report suicidal ideation” and there was a “significantly decreased likelihood of seeking help”.

The NUS reported well over half of students reporting mental distress attributed this to heavy workload and coursework deadlines and engineering courses are well-known for heavy workloads and assessment schedules.

So, engineering students are potentially at higher risk of suffering from poor mental wellbeing, and are also less likely to seek assistance than students of other disciplines. To me this points to an unmet need of engineering students and so I decided to undertake a PhD in this area. I chose to focus my efforts on engineering students because I feel that is where I may have most impact, but it is likely the problems I am identifying in students also exist in the engineering profession itself.

 A recent report on masculinity in engineering highlighted over a fifth of respondents reporting having had to take time off work because of mental ill health. Distressingly, the report also notes that nearly a fifth of respondents stated they had lost an engineering colleague to suicide. When asked if they experienced stress, sleeping issues, thoughts on self-harm or being bothered by feeling anxious, depressed, irritable or sad, 77% of participants answered yes.

By investigating the mental wellbeing of engineering students, I am hopeful that we can uncover a unique insight into a population that has been overlooked in mental wellbeing studies and may be at increased risk of mental ill health and poor mental wellbeing.

Given the shortage of engineers in the UK, it is time we looked more closely at the mental wellbeing of our engineers, both current and future. Because, increasingly, more is expected of engineers. They need to be more mentally agile and more able to drive change and innovation than ever before.

For that they need to have skills we don’t always shine a light on so much in university engineering education: resilience, empathy, active listening, self-preservation, conflict resolution and, essentially, metacognition.

I appreciate we are some years away from a UKSPEC review, but one way of encouraging engineers to look after their mental wellbeing is to support metacognition activities more explicitly through the UKSPEC’s section D, to include development of intrapersonal skills. Placing an importance on this at the heart of what it is to be a professional engineer will feed through to AHEP and AQAH requirements and may be a way to support institutions in working towards building a supportive environment for engineering personal development.

Meanwhile, let’s try to normalise conversations about mental health and wellbeing and support our engineering colleagues and friends whenever we can.

And for my part, I will continue to support engineers and engineering students by finishing my PhD and providing some recommendations!

Brexit impact on UK’s engineering education sector: Exploring EU students and staff experiences

The Engineering Professors’ Council and the UCL Centre for Engineering Education are running a research project, funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, that seeks to address and understand the motivations, experiences and expectations of European citizens in UK’s engineering education context.

This study research aims to explore and substantiate the current and anticipated impact of Brexit’s decision on both European engineering students and staff currently studying and working in the UK.

If you are a non-UK European citizen and would like to take part, please see the academic staff or student calls for participation.

Call for participation: students

Are you a non-UK European citizen?

Are you studying engineering in the UK (undergraduate or postgraduate level)?

The UCL Centre for Engineering Education and the Engineering Professors’ Council are running a research project, funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, that seeks to address and understand the motivations, experiences and expectations of European citizens in UK’s engineering education context. We would like to hear from you!

We’re looking for non-UK participants to get involved in this project. Interested in participating in a short online interview? It should take no more than 30 – 40 minutes.

Please register here: https://is.gd/EU_EngineeringStudents

You can read more about the project here.

If you need more information, please get in touch with the researcher, Dr Inês Direito, i.direito@ucl.ac.uk

Thank you for considering taking part in this research study.

* Please forward this email to relevant fellow students*

Contact for further information

Dr Inês Direito, PhD, MSc, FHEA

Research Fellow, UCL Centre for Engineering Education

Email: i.direito@ucl.ac.uk

Telephone: +44 (0)20 767 93 153

Torrington Place, room 2.09 Engineering Front Building

London WC1E 7JE

Call for participation: staff

Are you a non-UK European citizen?

Are you an engineering lecturer and/or researcher in a UK higher education institution?

The Engineering Professors’ Council and the UCL Centre for Engineering Education are running a research project, funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, that seeks to address and understand the motivations, experiences and expectations of European citizens in UK’s engineering education context. We would like to hear from you!

We’re looking for non-UK participants to get involved in this project. Interested in participating in a short online interview? It should take no more than 30 – 40 minutes.

Please register here: https://is.gd/EU_EngineeringAcademics

You can read more about the project here.

We are also looking for students to participate, can you circulate the student call for participation to your students?

If you need more information, please get in touch with the researcher, Dr Inês Direito, i.direito@ucl.ac.uk

Thank you for considering taking part in this research study.

*Please forward this email to relevant colleagues*

Contact for further information:

Dr Inês Direito, PhD, MSc, FHEA

Research Fellow, UCL Centre for Engineering Education

Email: i.direito@ucl.ac.uk

Telephone: +44 (0)20 767 93 153

Torrington Place, room 2.09 Engineering Front Building

London WC1E 7JE

Guest blog: ‘If you were an engineer, what would you do?’

By Dr Susan Scurlock MBE – CEO of Primary Engineer

If you are one of the 125,000+ passengers per day heading through Gatwick South this summer, you may just spot your university’s Leaders Award prototype on the huge hoarding showcase.

Thanks to 49,000 school children aged between 3 and 19, 33 regional funders, three new national funders – Facebook, Network Rail and Gatwick Airport – and 19 university supporters (not forgetting the EPC’s support!) Primary Engineer is delighted to announce its ‘Wall of Fame 19’.

Gatwick Airport has today (August 13th) launched a three-week long exhibition of winners of the Primary Engineer Leaders Award ‘If you were an engineer, what would you do?’. The intention is to profile the university-builds from this and previous years and ask for a popular vote from the £2.6 million+ passengers walking through the terminal during the 3-week exhibition at the busiest time of year.

‘Wall of Fame 19’ showcases 11 inspirational prototypes of inventions designed by pupils from across the country and built by engineering students and technicians from universities in every UK region. Three working prototypes will be displayed – the Bicycle Sucker (built by Kingston University), the SMA Jacket (built by UCLan) and the Flat Pack Wind Turbine (built by Glasgow Caledonian University).

The Primary Engineer Leaders Award – “If you were an engineer, what would you do?” – links both primary and secondary schools with engineering professionals from across the sectors.  The competition promotes engineering to young people, with a 50/50 gender split for entries, and allows them to find the ‘engineer within’ by designing solutions to problems they have identified.

Primary Engineer is a not for profit educational organisation. Its approach brings engineering and engineers into primary and secondary classrooms and curricula; inspiring children, pupils and teachers through continued professional development, whole class projects, and the competition.

Dr. Susan Scurlock, MBE, founder of Primary Engineer said: “This exhibition at one of the most important travel hubs in the UK is testament to the commitment of commercial organisations, schools and universities who are all doing their bit to help pupils tap into their inner engineer. Each year I am astounded by the designs by pupils, some as young as 3, as they identify problems to solve which are important to them and in turn inspire engineers to build their solutions. We started by asking engineers to inspire children and have found that children inspire engineers. Perfect!” 

You don’t need to be passing through Gatwick to vote. The voting page is available at www.leadersaward.com/walloffame19/ and will feature each drawing, and photograph of each invention from this year and, in a separate section an opportunity to vote for previous years’ builds – we are looking to identify 2 winning builds. Please do vote and tweet “I have voted for my favourite design #walloffame19 @leadersaward!”.

New! DATA BLOG: Grade inflation?

Earlier this month, the OfS published a new release of degree classification data, concluding that the growing proportion of the first and upper second class degrees awarded cannot be fully explained by factors linked with degree attainment. Specifically, the new analysis finds that in 2017-18, 13.9 percentage points’ worth of first-class degree attainment is unexplained by changes in the graduate population since 2010-11, an increase of 2.4 percentage points from the unexplained attainment in 2016-17. So we have it – grade inflation.

So, we’ve fished some unfiltered HESA data out of our archives, updated it, and looked at the distributions between first, second and third-class honours in engineering. And it seems that engineering paints a very different (worse?) picture than the sector as a whole. We award a notably higher proportion of firsts and, at a glance, a commensurately lower proportion of 2nd class honours. The proportion of 3rd class honours/pass awarded has come into line with the all subjects over recent years. It varies by engineering discipline, but nowhere is the proportion of firsts lower than for all subjects.

You might think, then, that high-level degree awards in engineering (firsts plus upper-class seconds) were nothing to write home about. But in 2016/17, at 77.3%, the proportion of high-level degree awards in engineering was one percentage point higher than for all subjects (and the difference has fluctuated around the one percent mark for the past ten years).

A simplified index plot, where 1 (the central y axis) represents all subjects, shows the propensity of a first in engineering is consistently greater than for all subjects (where the longer the bar, the greater the over-representation). The over-representation of firsts in engineering has shown a notable reduction over the past ten years and, at 1.4, was at its lowest yet in 2017/18. The overrepresentation of third-class honours in engineering visible from 2007/08 to 2015/15 has now been eliminated. You can see from this analysis that the over-representation of firsts is in fact greater than the combined under-representation of 2:1s and 2:2s.

So, what does this tell us? That the rise in higher degree classifications doesn’t apply to engineering? The number of high-level degrees in engineering has increased from 10,180 in 2007/8 to 18,690 in 2017/8, an increase of 83.6%. Proportionally, this has risen from 62.7% of all degree awards in engineering to 77.3%. That’s just marginally less proportional growth than the 14.9 percentage point difference for all subjects. But we are making progress.

Here’s the rub, who’s to say that rises in high-level degree classifications (which, sector-wide, cannot be explained by the data readily available – not my data) is necessarily a problem per se, or that is signals grade inflation? There are many reasons – not accounted for in the OfS statistical models – for degree outcome uplift, not least the massive expansion of student numbers in the last 20 years (leading to a less socially constrained pool of students); greater awareness of student support needs; the increased cost of higher education to students; more incentivised and focused students; and improved teaching in both schools and universities. Further, there is evidence that market forces; course enrolments; progression rules (e.g. progression from BEng to MEng requires achievement of marks for the first two or three years of study suggesting a minimum 2:1 standard, and therefore likely transfer of the best students away from the BEng); and the marking processes adopted by different subject areas impacts the proportion of upper degrees between subjects.

The evidence of improvement in teaching (and the development of pedagogy in UK universities) is much stronger than the evidence for grade inflation. As a discipline, this is what we must celebrate. Higher education (HE) is the gold standard in the delivery of engineering skills in the UK and has a strong international standing and reputation.

Let’s face it, the assumption that institutions need to account for grade inflation rather than educational improvement is perverse. Instead, let’s talk about and encourage innovation in teaching, learning and assessment, precisely what our New Approaches to Engineering Higher Education initiative (in partnership with the IET) aims to do. Earlier this year we launched six case study examples for each of the six new approaches, evidencing that the required changes can be achieved – are already being achieved – and we now want other institutions who have been inspired to come up with new approaches of their own to showcase their work at a New Approaches conference at the IET in November. More details will be circulated shortly.

Attribution: EPC analysis of HESA Student Qualifiers Full Person Equivalent (FPE) using Heidi Plus Online Analytics service.

Guest blog: Compensation and condonement – incoming rules for accredited degrees

By Catherine Elliott, Engineering Council

The Engineering Council has updated its policy on compensation and condonement[1], which has resulted in new rules being put in place. The key consideration in these rules is to ensure that graduates of accredited engineering degree programmes have met all the learning outcomes specified in the Engineering Council’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP).

When making decisions about the potential accreditation of a university programme, Professional Engineering Institutions (PEIs) are required to consider the awarding institution’s compensation and condonement policy as part of the assessment.

These rules have been published on the Engineering Council website, with guidance on these changes expected in the coming months, which will provide additional information to enable Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to prepare.

The anticipated timeline to implement these changes is outlined below:

  • The rules should be implemented for new cohorts starting from September 2022.  The rules will only apply to intakes from that date and not to existing students. 
  • From September 2019, HEIs will be required to create a plan ensuring their regulations conform to the new rules by September 2022. Programmes reviewed on visits from September 2022 will not be accredited if the HEI regulations are not up to date with the rules on compensation and condonement.
  • From September 2022, PEIs will check all HEIs have complied as part of their regular visit schedule.

If you have any queries on compensation and condonement, please contact the Engineering Council at accreditation@engc.org.uk


[1] There are no consistent definitions of the terms ‘compensation’ and ‘condonement’ across UK universities, and they are often confused. The Engineering Council therefore adopts a similar definition to that used by QAA and HEA, as follows:

The Engineering Council defines compensation as: “The practice of allowing marginal failure (i.e. not more than 10 percentage points below the nominal pass mark) of one or more modules and awarding credit for them, often on the basis of good overall academic performance.”

The Engineering Council defines condonement as: “The practice of allowing students to fail and not receive credit for one or more modules within a degree programme, yet still qualify for the award of the degree.”

EPC Elections 2019

NOMINATIONS FOR ELECTION TO THE BOARD OF THE ENGINEERING PROFESSORS’ COUNCIL

Honorary Treasurer, Secretary and four elected Ordinary Board Members

On the occasion of the AGM, the period of office of the Honorary Treasurer, Professor Jim Yip, and of the Secretary, Professor David Harrison, will both come to an end. That will result in vacancies for both posts for a term of office of two years from May 2019 until the EPC Annual General Meeting in 2021. Four elected positions for members of the EPC Board shall also fall vacant.

Elections (if required) shall be held during the 25th Annual General Meeting of the Engineering Professors’ Council on 14th May 2019, which will be held during the EPC Annual Congress 2019 at UCL.

Any Individual Member of the EPC wishing to stand for this position should indicate their intention using this form. Nominations must reach Johnny Rich, Chief Executive, at j.rich@epc.ac.uk no later than 09.00 on Wednesday 8th May 2019. Johnny is happy to discuss the role impartially and in confidence. You can contact him at the same email or on 078 1111 4292.

Candidates should be nominated a Council Member (an individual nominated by an Institutional Member as one of its representatives) and seconded by another Council Member by the deadline specified in the Notice of the Annual General Meeting using the nomination form.

This completed form will be circulated to those attending the AGM at which, in the event of more than one candidate, each Council Member will be invited to vote for their chosen candidate (by secret ballot). The candidate with the highest number of votes is elected. In the event of a tie, the President shall have the casting vote. 

Only individuals from Institutional Members (i.e. universities) that have paid their subscription for the current academic year, by at least two weeks before the AGM, are eligible to stand for election and/or vote at the AGM.

Bid to host EPC Congress in 2020 or 2021

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: 19th June 2019

Proposals are invited from higher education Engineering departments to host the Engineering Professors’ Council Annual Congress in 2020 or 2021.

‘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.

Download guidelines.

Download the form for submitting a proposal.

Each year, Congress is hosted by a different institution: 

The Congress usually takes place in April or May and lasts two days with a reception on the evening before the Congress formally starts.

  • 2016: The University of Hull hosted Congress as a prestigious addition to its preparations as European City of Culture. 
  • 2017: Coventry University hosted taking the opportunity to demonstrate the city’s close associated with transport engineering and manufacturing. 
  • 2018: Harper Adams University displayed its cutting edge status as a leading centre of agricultural engineering including automated farming and a range of off-road vehicles. 
  • 2019: UCL is host for this year’s congress where its proximity to the seat of Government has allowed an amazing line-up of high-profile speakers on a range of policy issues at a time of historic challenges. 

The host institution nominates a Congress Convenor who will become a member of the EPC Board for up to three years (2019-21 for the 2020 Convenor; 2020-22 for the 2021 Convenor) 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. 

We are inviting bids to act as host for either of the next two years. You can specify one year or the other or apply without choosing a year. We will not select the same host for both years.

Download guidelines.

Download the form for submitting a proposal.


To submit a proposal, complete the form here and email it to Johnny Rich, Chief Executive, at j.rich@epc.ac.ukby 19thJune 2019. Johnny can also be contacted at the same address or by phone on 078-1111 4292 to discuss any aspect of Congress or the proposal process. 


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.

EPC Congress 2019 Bookings

Please read the information below to help you select the correct ticket type.

All tickets include:

  • Monday evening social
  • All sessions and events on Tuesday
  • Congress dinner at Senate House on Tuesday evening
  • Congress programme on Wednesday (ending at 2.00pm).

Accommodation is NOT included. A list of options to suit different budgets is available here.

Early bird booking rates – giving you £50 off the full congress package (or £30 for the already heavily discounted early career staff rate) – end 8th April.

TICKET TYPES

Full Congress: EPC member

Most UK universities with an engineering department or faculty are members of the EPC. To check whether your institution is a member, please click herePartner organisations may also attend Congress at member rates. This is a discounted rate.

Full Congress: EPC non-member

Most UK universities with an engineering department or faculty are members of the EPC. To check whether your institution is a member, please click herePartner organisations may also attend Congress at member rates. If you are not a member, you are still very welcome. Please select this rate.

Full Congress: Early career staff

Any academic staff at EPC member institutions who have been employed in academic roles for no more than five years qualify for this rate. Additionally, there are 10 free spaces available for ECS, a maximum of one free space per university. Apply for your free space here.