Compensation and condonement: how far should accreditation go?

Katy Turff, Deputy CEO of the Engineering Council and Head of Policy & Standards, invites your views on the impacts of the Council’s compensation and condonement policy

 

The Engineering Council has launched a survey inviting providers of accredited engineering programmes to gather insights on the impact of its current policy and regulatory guidance on compensation and condonement.

The compensation and condonement policy was first published in July 2019, with a number of minor updates since. It embedded established good practice guidance that had been agreed by the engineering institutions (PEIs) through the Engineering Accreditation Board and incorporated into Engineering Council guidance. A key driver for moving from guidance to policy was a complaint from a provider about different PEIs allowing different ranges of compensation, mostly going beyond the recommended maximum set out in the guidance. The priority request was for consistency. In effect, the policy simply embedded the guideline that had been in place for some years.

A secondary driver was international perceptions that compensation and condonement allows UK students to ‘pass while failing’. This perception poses a risk to the reputation of UK engineering education in a highly competitive international HE environment where perceived weaknesses may be exploited to gain market advantage. The Engineering Council has been challenged on allowing compensation by its partners in the Washington Accord at each successive review of its engineering accreditation standards and procedures, most recently in 2018.

Engineers operate in roles that are often safety critical, and this was also a consideration in the decision to limit the amount of compensation allowable for accredited engineering programmes. The Engineering Council’s accreditation standard sets threshold level learning outcomes, attainable at the minimum pass mark, which is typically 40%. Under the compensation policy, up to 30 credits of a bachelors or MEng programme, or 20 credits of a MSc, could be compensated – ie attained at up to 10 percentage points below the minimum pass mark – by good performance in other areas of the programme. This is less stringent than disciplines such as architecture, where the regulatory bodies do not permit any compensation or condonement, and which are accommodated within university regulations on compensation and/or condonement.

Engineering is a self-regulated profession. Developing our standards is a consensus-based process involving open consultation and requiring approval of changes by the engineering institutions through their representatives on the Board of the Engineering Council. Building consensus takes time, so any discussion of issues that helps to build momentum for a particular change is welcome.

Learning outcomes are derived from the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence and Commitment (UK-SPEC) and for the purpose of degree accreditation are published within Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP). UK-SPEC and AHEP are updated on a five-yearly cycle with interim updates where a clear need is established. However, interim adjustments are often developed through focused policy statements and regulatory guidance which allow for targeted consultation on a topic, and monitoring and impact assessment as new or amended policies and guidance comes into effect. This approach was taken when developing the policy on compensation and condonement.

At the time of publication, the Engineering Council proposed to review the policy after a year. A working group set up for this purpose reviewed all feedback. This included inputs from a group of engineering Deans who wrote to the Engineering Council in early 2020, and subsequently met with the chairs of the Engineering Council, the responsible committee, and the working group. It also included a report from the Engineering Professors Council following a survey it had conducted in late 2020. In the event, minor revisions were made, and an updated policy was published in November 2021. The working group also provided a detailed summary of the matters it had considered and the rationale for decisions made.

The 2018-20 review of AHEP reduced the number of learning outcomes for MEng from 42 to 18. This was a major change in response to feedback that the standard was too detailed and prescriptive. Nonetheless, some outcomes, such as sustainability, which were previously part of an outcome, became standalone, reflecting the importance placed on them by the engineering community. Feedback suggests that this change was well-received by universities.

Engineering Council standards are generic as they must be applicable to all engineering disciplines. In contrast to some other disciplines, the learning outcomes are intentionally non-prescriptive in terms of delivery and assessment. PEIs are expected to tailor the standards to their own disciplines and specialisms, which may also have a very wide scope – the JBM guidance is a good example of this.

The Engineering Council usually allows a transition period from one version of the standard to the next. For accredited degrees this is typically a minimum of 3-years to allow for the lead time providers need to update and publicise programme content, complete their internal review processes, and meet Competition and Markets Authority requirements. A similar lead time was provided for implementation of the compensation and condonement policy, which took effect from the 2022 intake year.

In approving the policy the Engineering Council Registration Standards Committee agreed to monitor impact and effectiveness. The recently issued survey is part of this process and we welcome all feedback by 26 February 2024. Information on compensation and condonement can be found on the Engineering Council’s website.

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