Congress 2019

The theme for this year’s Congress was ‘Engineering Change: surviving and shaping the policy environment’, the programme designed to help our members navigate unprecedented engineering change. Following a fascinating walking tour (where it turned out Bloomsbury’s engineering credentials are quite extensive) Congress 2019 was officially opened by EPC President, Professor Sarah Spurgeon. She reflected that, “as a community, we’ve developed a roadmap to ensure engineering in future is more attractive, more inclusive and produces engineers that are fit to exploit future challenges and opportunities”.

EPC President, Sarah Spurgeon welcomed delegates and formally thanked our hosts, the Centre for Engineering Education at UCL; our sponsors, the Institution of Engineering and Technology; and our exhibitor sponsors, Mathworks, PA Hilton and TecQuipment.

Prof Spurgeon introduced our congress theme, Engineering Change, which was chosen to resonate with the very uncertain landscape we find ourselves in. The environment of uncertainty and opportunity post the BREXIT referendum continues to impact. We continue to wait for the outcome of the post-eighteen review of education chaired by Philip Augar which has focused on choice, value for money, access and skills provision. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Office for Students (OfS) were both introduced only last year. REF, and its predecessor RAE, may perhaps be regarded as something of an ‘old friend’, but the move to the single Engineering Unit of Assessment (UOA) has created significant change for our community even in this relatively established area.

She urged that the need for EPC to support the entire engineering community within HE and represent our views has never been more crucial. It is absolutely essential to work together to ensure the changing landscape enables engineering higher education to continue to flourish. After all, engineering is at the heart of many of our aspirations as a nation.

Our work at congress has been stimulated from a very successful ongoing strand of work that has been undertaken in partnership with the IET entitled New Approaches to Engineering Education. With this we seek to confront major challenges facing our world of engineering education around recruitment, the national skills shortage, diversity and the interface between university study and employment. Coming together as a community, we developed a roadmap which identified 6 key approaches that exemplify the innovation we need to encourage.

The themes identified include:

– “Creativity first, Science second”: we need to promote engineering as essentially a creative, problem-solving activity, changing and shaping the physical world for the use and benefit of all.

– The need to consider entry requirements to be appropriately inclusive and diverse. We do not want to convey a message that physics and mathematics are not useful, but we must not let them become a no-second-chance filter. We need to embrace other entry routes into engineering, making applicants see that they can be not lesser engineers, but different kinds. We need also to change educational practice to support that.

Other themes include:

– Learning by doing: The fostering of a strong emphasis on project work;

– The need to engage industry in curriculum design and delivery;

– The promotion of the experience of the workplace for students; and

– Breaking down barriers between disciplines both within engineering and in other areas.

Recent follow-on work has included launching a report describing a subset of the exemplars of best practice from our members as well as taking our roadmap to a roundtable of policymakers held in Parliament. Our goal was to begin to explore the changes in policy and practice beyond higher education that are needed to create the educational, economic and policy environment where change can succeed.

This meeting was the catalyst for developing the 2019 Congress Programme – Engineering Change – Surviving and Shaping the policy environment. EPC has a good track record of survival and long may it continue. But can we do more to shape the policy environment?

“Let us use this congress as an opportunity to understand how we can reach out into this wider environment and help provide the cohesion that is required to deliver the changes in policy and practice beyond higher education that are needed to establish a supportive environment to meet future engineering skills needs, to create opportunities for young people and business and to build a healthy economy.” 

Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Chair of STEM Learning, presented our first keynote, Teachers: The Key to Unlocking the STEM Supply Chain

Report by Edmund Hunt, University of Bristol

About the speaker: Julia King, Baroness Brown of Cambridge is a patron of the EPC; she is Chair of STEM Learning Ltd and had a career spanning academia and industry. She has an interest in climate change and the shift to a low carbon economy, leading the King Review on decarbonisation and now as the Chair of the Carbon Trust for example. She has also been involved in the development of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and was made a Dame for her services to higher education and technology.

Stem Learning Ltd

The Baroness began her talk by offering congratulations to the EPC for its ongoing vibrancy. She also stated the need to do more to collaborate with EPC and EPC with Stem Learning Ltd (SLL). This is a not-for-profit owned by 4 universities – York, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds. It has its HQ at the National STEM Learning Centre in York. Here you find teachers doing CPD and a physical resource library that EPC visitors are welcome to play with. It has funding from DFE and Wellcome Trust, among others. It is the largest network of secondary and primary school engagement (other than DFE). SLL can be used by engineers to share resources with teachers – its focus is on teachers, not children, which many other organisations do focus on. It is committed to assessing the impact of its interventions to help continuous improvement. It is now working with the British Computer Society and Raspberry Pi to develop a new National Centre for Computing Education. This will upskill teachers to deliver new computer science GCSE + A Levels.

Where do engineers come from?

SLL has recruited Dr Kerry Baker to work for them as Strategic Initiatives Lead – she wrote her PhD thesis in 2005 on the subject “Where do engineers come from?”. She found that teachers can be significantly influential in student career decisions.

Engineers are seen to be demand in labour markets across Europe. In the UK a 2012 RAEng report found a need for 100,000 engineers. Hence, we need teachers who understand where subjects can take students in their careers. The Baroness presented research by Svein Sjoberg, from Oslo and Project ROSE, which correlated a higher human development index (HDI) in a country with less positive attitudes toward studying science. But at the same time, a 2011 OECD report found that science courses benefit disadvantaged students the most: therefore, access to STEM is very significant for social mobility. As a result, it is important that disadvantaged schools have the highest quality science and maths teachers – unfortunately this is not usually the case.

Although engineering companies send materials to schools to try and encourage an interest, these often go unused because they can be in a form that is not readily usable in relation to the curriculum. SLL offers support to put materials into context of syllabus, particular lesson plans. These are also linked back to resources on their website.

We tend to see much more effort on working with young people than with qualified teachers. Yet, those teachers interact with children every day, every week – if motivated then they can have a great impact. For example, only 4 teachers can influence 100+ students. In terms of guidance, young people find careers information and advice from parents/guardians first, then teachers and friends. Professional careers advisers last. The challenge is that taking a teacher out of class for training can cost up to £600 per day – if necessary, we must provide funding for cover teacher.

SLL programmes to support teachers

Teaching quality is the most common answer to what encourages/discourages the of study science. SLL offers CPD which is done face-to-face and online. A key approach is intensive interventions for 2 years called ENTHUSE partnerships, between lead and nearby schools, which can be feeder schools. SLL offers science leadership training for heads of science, teacher placements in industry/universities/other jobs that young people could go into, local companies, STEM ambassadors, setting up science clubs for inspiration, etc. They also run recognition programmes for teachers to encourage them. The Government expects 50% matching funding raised from industry for the work that SLL does.

The Baroness admitted that her main ‘whinge’ was that in England (not Scotland) there is no requirement for subject specific CPD. One could qualify as physics teacher aged 21 – and retire at 65 – never having any compulsory subject CPD. This was said to be ‘Horrifying – no decent company would expect its staff not to be upskilling and following changes in their subject area’. In England it is done ad hoc on bidding from Govt, charities etc.

She noted STEM ambassadors as a strong point – young people working in industry who go into schools. Schools highly rate their impact in terms of engagement, awareness. She would like to see more students in universities join, because they have more time and are closer in age to school students. On this point the EPC could help to encourage participation. The Baroness is also interested in non-school groups, e.g. running out of libraries or churches. SLL also offers a STEM clubs programme – to support on how to set one up, local CPD, online materials, conferences, etc.

She also noted the SLL’s STEM Insight programme for teachers. This offers a placement of a few days or a week in a company, to help a teacher be better able to advise students on careers. She gave the example of a male physics teacher who went to a company and met female engineers in the construction industry ‘for the first time’, who then said he can ‘now encourage the girls in his class’. This programme was rated highly effective by teachers. SLL found that science teachers were 160% more likely to stay in teaching after SLL CPD. It is encouraging that science A-Level entries have increased.

How can the Higher Education sector be involved?

The Baroness would like to strengthen the partnership between SLL and the HE sector as ‘together we can be very powerful’. Particular suggestions were:

• Sign up students to be STEM ambassadors

• Support or set up a STEM club – perhaps a summer STEM club to counter the learning deficit? (in some areas free lunch is one of the most important points to keep engaged)

• Support a STEM insight placement or ENTHUSE partnership. This could fit with widening participation (WP) activities, and also work in further away regions.

• Lobby the OFS to recognise their work with teachers in WP areas

• Note that the wrong people can deliver negative impact as easily as the right people with enthusiasm can deliver positive!

• Look at SLL website to see the materials available

Question & Answer

Q: It was noted that with physics in particular, not all are specialist physics teachers – these are hard to recruit.

A: SLL offers special CPD for non-physics graduates to teach physics to GCSE level. This gives confidence to answer questions (especially biologists teaching physics). In primary we have a science lead, but almost always they haven’t studied science. We need to make sure they have enough background and material to embed enthusiasm for discovery and invention, inquisitiveness: this comes before technical capabilities in the future generations of engineers.

Q: What about STEM – STEAM? Will bringing in the fusion with Arts help uptake?

A: Losing its value as an acronym to put ‘A’ in because it becomes too broad. But we need to be clear that design is fundamental to everything we do across STEM.

Q: There are over 700 companies working within the outreach sector. Does SLL see its role as coordinating?

A: This is challenging to do, even working in partnership in RAEng additional, new schemes for young people are quickly invented. The emphasis must be on tying in materials to syllabus. SLL wants to be a major ‘front door’ for teachers (though not the only one) to show teachers where content fits. We don’t want to quash enthusiasm but bringing it together into a coherent place is a major aim.

Q: Have we failed as a society to change image of engineering? The public were asked who the is most famous engineer – top answer was Coronation Street’s Kevin Webster, the mechanic. Now Bob the Builder. Prestigious in other countries. Need more images of success.

A: We as engineers need to do more to stand up and talk about what they do, make more of our successes and be celebratory as a profession. Put someone’s name on a beautiful bridge. We also need to encourage more engineers to become politicians.

Q: Do you distinguish between outreach and community engagement?

A: Not a core of SLL activity. We work with teachers / schools. Use term loosely.

Q: Climate change crisis – best time to show engineers can lead change. Any plans to link, ethical issues?

A: We do have materials on SLL website about climate change. But comes back to importance of syllabus and exam results. We can link to jobs, that would be useful.

See Baroness Brown’s slides

The second keynote, Shifting Sand: Putting Research on Stable Ground was presented by David Sweeney, Executive Chair, Research England. 

Report by Claire Gronow, University of Bristol

While it is easy to be pessimistic about the prospects for academic researchers in the UK, Dr Sweeney provided a lot of reassurance. In his position as Executive Chair of Research England (one of nine research councils in the UKRI), he has been focused on identifying and realising opportunities for partnerships in a post-Brexit world. He noted that there was considerable enthusiasm for working with UK researchers, and UK universities remain highly regarded internationally. Extra funding is continuing to come in response to demonstrated research impact, and with a target of 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and ultimately 3%, the UK is well ahead compared to many other countries in terms of funding stability, coordination, the money available and the impact demonstrated. Dr Sweeney also noted the brand new International Research and Innovation Strategy as a ‘compendium of opportunties’ (

As a whole, UKRI is committed to supporting research collaborations and engagements with the world. While apparently bureaucratic, Dr Sweeney felt that the UKRI organisational structure is promoting a good level of collaboration between the research councils. Changes in attitudes within universities to collaboration also appear to be driving promising increased levels of knowledge exchange.

Research funding is predicated not just on economic contribution, but also pillars of ‘knowledge and understanding’ and ‘society’, hence research priorities are those that transform our world in every way. Within that framework, key priorities for Research England include its industrial strategy, supporting research talent, including funding PhD places, commercialisation, business-led innovation, global challenges, and international collaboration. Engagement with the Office of Students is increasing and will become more visible in the future. Research conduct is also an ongoing focus, with issues of integrity, misconduct and reproducibility needing to be managed.

Dr Sweeney expects that universities will continue to be at the heart of research effort, with around 60% of researchers being in the university sector and opportunities for discretionary funding that are not generally available to researchers in business and government. Research England generally engages with universities at an institutional level, looking to understand each university’s research profile and particular challenges. Fostering talent at universities, including doctoral funding and providing the right incentives and rewards to encourage mobility, is seen as critical. The potential for UKRI to drive reduced job security for early-, and increasingly mid- career researchers was acknowledged and it was noted that uncertainty associated with Brexit was another factor driving down opportunities for longer term security of tenure. But Dr Sweeney emphasised that the UK still continues to have relatively high and stable levels of research funding compared to many countries.

Given the crucial ongoing role of universities in both generating and communicating knowledge, it is important that universities increase public engagement so that the role of universities can be more broadly understood and appreciated.

The issue of metrics cannot be avoided when looking at UKRI and Dr Sweeney spoke of the need to maintain a sensible approach to collecting information while also ensuring accountability for expenditure of increasingly large research grants and maintaining adequate levels of research conduct and integrity. If governments are to countenance increased research funding, it must be demonstrable that research funding is being spent efficiently and effectively. There is evidence from Italian research that performance-based funding can drive up quantity temporarily, but will also drive up quality over the long term if backed by peer review. Dr Sweeney emphasised that KEF is a pilot scheme but appeared to be a promising new way to look at research impact and emphasised the need for universities to hold a mirror up to themselves. There were questions around whether the metrics and university clustering were appropriate and it was noted that the groupings were not meant to rank universities in terms of performance but rather, provide a fair comparison, and that there was no intention to stifle diversity. More broadly, it was never UKRI’s intention to turn all universities into higher order research institutes, hence some distinction was necessary. However there is a desire to expand excellence across more universities so that top quality people don’t have to concentrate in a small number of universities.

Dr Sweeney finished on a positive note, emphasising both the central role of universities to where the nation is heading, and also the ongoing commitment to foster and support research at universities.

See David Sweeney’s slides


We were alarmed and entertained in equal measure by Protective Security Challenges and Security-Minded Engineering; a secret insight into security threats in engineering. 

Paul is an anonymous UK Government Security Advisor. We are not permitted to summarise the session, share the slides or report on the session during or after. There was no tweeting during the session either. Top secret! 


Katy Turff, Head of Professional Standards at the Engineering Council then briefly introduced Recognising Engineers: Review of the Engineering Council Registration Structure. 

Summary by Katy Turff, Engineering Council

The key points from Katy Turff’s presentation were:

– The Engineering Council is reviewing the structure of the Register of engineers and engineering technicians to ensure it meets the needs of society, is representative and inclusive.

– In particular they have been looking at how well registration aligns to the roles engineers and engineering technicians occupy in industry.

– They are considering how many stages of registration should be offered, the titles awarded and the descriptors for each stage.

– This includes consideration of an option for engineering technicians to progress within a technician pathway.

– The Engineering Council has not made any decisions yet and will be consulting widely before any changes are made .

Any thoughts from EPC members, or expressions of interest in the ongoing work, would be welcome to

Katy was available to take feedback during the lunch break and noted that all comments received related to recognition of the important role of technicians both in delivery of education in the academic setting and providing expertise, knowledge and training in industry.

EPC members will be invited to focus groups in due course.

See Katy Turff’s slides 

Next were parallel sessions on Accreditation – Supporting Change in Engineering Education? (Panel 1) and Apprenticeships – Emerging From the Hype (Panel 2) 

Report by Vani Naik, Loughborough University

Accreditation – Supporting Change in Engineering Education?

Professor Chris Atkin, Chairman, Engineering Council

In this session on accreditation, Chris Atkin, stated that the Engineering Council’s key role is to set and maintain standards for accreditation. These standards were developed in consultation with the profession, including employers. To allow the development of a diverse provision of the required skills, knowledge and understanding, there is a focus on learning objectives, rather than providing a set syllabus. This allows for a flexible approach with no strict requirements on how these learning objectives are reached. There are also thresholds of professional competence and commitment at which an individual may be recorded on the Register. Of importance too are the codes of professional conduct as well as the requirements for continuing professional development. Part of this is a renewed focus on ethical conduct.

The process of accreditation is interpretive, developmental, and delegated to domain experts from PEIs to ensure appropriate contextual factors are taken into account. As a result, the accreditation process is dependent on volunteers.

There are various learning objectives e.g. science, maths, engineering analysis, design, engineering practice as well as economic, legal, social, ethical and environmental context. If graduates leave their engineering degrees thinking that they only learnt one of these learning objectives, then that is a cause for concern.

There was recently a five-year review of all Engineering Council standards. There was a meeting of the Engineering Accreditation Board (EAB) members (including members of the EPC) to brainstorm the future of accreditation. A new Engineering Council working group has been established to 1) address perceived inconsistencies in PEI accreditation practices, 2) ensure that any non-conformities can be picked up during the licence of PEIs, 3) look into the provision of a feedback mechanism from HEIs and 4) clarify the role and quality assurance of the EAB. Chris concluded by stating that the Engineering Council is always open to feedback.

See Prof Chris Atkin’s slides.

Professor Anne-Marie Jolly, Responsible for the WG accreditation, SEFI and member of ENAEE Label Committee

Accreditation has evolved and this is a very good thing. The key is to integrate stakeholders in the development of the criteria and to see it as an interactive process. The spread of the EUR ACE label (European accreditation) has increased in conjunction with the development of accreditation in many countries. However, very often the rules of the laws of countries are stricter on the precise contents of programmes than the rules of accreditation agencies (e.g. ENAEE or CTI). One main goal of the programmes is to ensure transparency and build trust. The system should respect the diversity of institutions. This is achieved through learning outcomes, rather than a syllabus. This also means that there is no inherent tension between accreditation and innovation. CTI has tried to boost innovation through a focus on themes. This year, the focus is on ‘digital’. Past themes included sustainable development, innovation and safety at work. Nevertheless, Anne-Marie was open that accreditation agencies need to learn from the mistakes e.g. Lean accreditation, and therefore institution feedback is critical.

See Prof Anne Marie Jolly’s slides.

Discussion with audience chaired by Dr Georgina Harris, Chair of EPC Recruitment and Admissions Committee, Open University

A number of different issues were raised by audience members. These include:

– Sharing experiences of accreditation, both positive and less so. It was recommended that first impressions help when documentation is in order, previous actions have been implemented etc. There were positive comments about more recent accreditation visits. Accreditation panels are becoming more standardised, including the need for maintaining CPD within the areas of teaching and learning.

– There was a discussion of the difference in expectations of the accreditation focus on learning outcomes for students compared with students’ expectations of focusing on exam questions. It was emphasized that students need to understand what they are learning.

– Apprenticeships accreditation was confirmed as under the remit of the Engineering Council, and not the Office for Students.


Report by Claire Gronow, University of Bristol

Apprenticeships – Emerging From the Hype

This was a panel style session chaired by Professor Mike Sutcliffe – Chair of EPC Engineering Education ad Employability Skills Committee. Two panellists, Franziska von Blumenthal of the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) and Tom McEwan of Policy Connect outlined key learnings and problems arising, following by questions and discussion.

Degree apprenticeships are seen as an important way to address shortages of engineers and skill gaps in the engineering sector, as well as increase productivity in the short term. Additionally, degree apprenticeships were intended to provide career paths for students from socio-economic backgrounds that might preclude them entering a traditional degree at a university.

Overall, the support for degree apprenticeship was strong and the fundamental precepts of the framework appear sound, however there was a lack of detail in the original framework and a number of implementation issues were arising.

Key issues raised by panellists and in the discussion are grouped as follows:

Funding and fees

– The main source of funding is a levy paid by large employers, whether or not they participate.

– There will be a review of the funding arrangements next year. There are significant questions regarding whether the funding arrangements are sustainable in the long term.

– Setting cost structures has been an issue, particularly when considering cost for degree apprenticeships compared to standard undergraduate degrees. For example, should apprentices pay for university facilities and support services not directly associated with teaching activities when they may spend less time on campus and source support from their employers rather than the university. More broadly, there were questions about how to cost the intangible experience of apprentices mingling with full time students on campus.

– Employers question why they should cover the cost of the apprentice, when if they hired a graduate, they would not have to subsidise the training costs.

– The current system is also seen as too costly and bureaucratic by many stakeholders.

Design of the training schemes, competency frameworks

– Competency frameworks are often too narrow in design.

– There is a tension between reflecting the diverse needs of employers or employers’ internal progressional parthways and whether apprentices are fit for purpose, delivering the skills that employers need.

– It is considered critical to have Industry involved in the creation of frameworks, but framework development cannot be left entirely up to industry as there is a need for transferability and broader relevance.

– There needs to be greater collaboration between the employers and providers, particularly to avoid disconnects on competencies, costs/funding, what is being delivered.

– It is also important not to go the lowest common denominator when developing more generic frameworks.

– The narrowness of the standards – and inconsistency between them – makes it very difficult for the service providers. There are too many standards and it is difficult to pick which ones are applicable. It was noted that the Europeans have fewer standards.

– It was also noted that degree apprenticeships and degrees are quality assured by different organisations.

Career paths and progression

– How can apprentices from lower levels be progressed?

– It was discussed whether there should be a continuum from lower levels to the degree levels. However, the general consensus was that:

Apprenticeships don’t necessarily work like that – it does not need to be linear and there are likely to be a number of disjoints between levels, hence apprenticeship training should be targeted at the level and type of qualification that is required, rather than over-qualifying people – the level and type of qualification should be fitted to the work they actually need to do.

Technical and further education is different to academic education and it would be inappropriate to ‘academicise’ technical and further education – these are different to academic education and there is a disjoint – it does not need to be linear, there is not a natural progression from TAFE to degree qualified.

It is not appropriate to use apprenticeships for upskilling or retraining.

There is a real tension between whether there should be progression opportunities from occupational to academic positions – but needs to be based on the individual occupation.

If there is to be progression, it needs to be done in the different way – will depend on the competency standards – some have overlap, and some do not.

More opportunities to connect the competencies between sectors – then workers can be reskilled across sectors.

Uptake by apprentices

The scheme is not yet addressing the significant shortages in engineers

– Degree apps launched in 2015 in England – only been around 7,000 starts in that timeframe and less than 1,000 completions.

– It was noted however that it is likely to take significant time to implement the full scheme.

– An underpinning principle of the scheme was to provide for social mobility by providing opportunities to those who, for socio-economic reasons, may not be in a position to study for a degree full time.

– However, current figures indicate that around half of the entrants are coming from the most advantaged backgrounds and opportunities for degree apprenticeships are concentrating in areas that are already benefiting from advantage – that is, the scheme is not increasing opportunities in disadvantaged and isolated communities.

– This needs to be addressed in two ways – both by supporting people who have to travel to access the scheme, and also by bringing the opportunities closer to home.

– One issue in uptake is minimum class sizes at training service providers – for example, in spite of a critical shortage of welders, minimum class size was 15 – so even though there may be 8-10 people willing to start, they are turned away.

– A representative from Wales noted that a system is just starting, with the first degree apprenticeships available in September – but no real framework had been developed yet.

Uptake by employers

– While there were some trailblazers, not everyone has come along.

– There is a need for centralised coordination and to take a social partnerships approach because degree apprenticeships a large range of stakeholders to get the balance right.

– Most of the starts are with large enterprises.

– If larger enterprises dominate, this might shut out small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) who might need more flexibility and different types of support (participation by more SMEs might also address the social mobility issue by making apprenticeships available in smaller communities).

– There is an urgent need to streamline the levy system so that approved service providers can provide to large enterprises and SMEs.

– It was noted that employers can be quite short term in their thinking and priorities.

Implementation issues

– A representative from Warwick University (WU) reported that they had first batch of 120 graduate this year. The WU scheme has a charter between the apprentice, employer and service provider about what each will provide.

– It was noted however that some employers don’t like that the apprentices are taken off shift/roster to study. Apprentices should not be seen as 1.0FTE worker. Some apprentices were finding that while they were in class, they were also having to deal with work issues. There is high potential for apprentices to be mistreated and over-worked.

– There are also some issues with inconsistency in the level of supervision that the apprentices are getting from the employers.

– It was noted that while employer-led apprenticeships seem good in theory, issues are definitely arising.  The final panel session of the afternoon (Panel 3) was Sailing in the Winds of Change – How Engineering HE Should Respond to Government Policies 

Report by Anh Tran, Coventry University

This was a very interesting panel session on “How engineering HE should respond to government policies”, which was summarised well by the Chair’s (Johnny Rich, Chief Executive, Engineering Professors’ Council) reflective comment “It was not what I was expecting at all” after hearing all the speakers’ responses. The diversity of the challenges identified by the panellist matched the diversity of narratives and approaches. A common theme that surfaced time and time again was that there was “not a one fits all” approach.

Dr Helen Ewles, Senior Policy Advisor of Research and Innovation at the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) started by reflecting on the policy issues and challenges mentioned by keynote speaker David Sweeney. She discussed the implication of the Industrial Strategy of 1.7 to 2.4% roadmap of GDP investment in R&D by 2027. More investment of public and private sector is required for research and RAEng R&D activity in UK will be linked to academic hubs. There needs to be an increase in the number of researchers and questions raised included:

1. How do we retain, attract and develop research staff in academia (referring to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers).

2. What does the Knowledge exchange framework (KEF) mean to knowledge exchange, economic and societal impact – there are many spin-outs but the KEF metrics are limited – are the metrics up to it?

3. Does open access reduce publicly funded research?

Nick Hillman, Director of Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) spoke next and discussed reports he authored on higher education policy environment with a team of 3.5FTE staff. The Industrial Strategy was mentioned again. He raised points around demography and longevity in increasing our skilled workforce in which we will need 300K places by 2030 – there is an untapped pool of women and the rising aspiration of mothers of young children who want to go to university. Unit of resource (i.e. spending per student) in the Augar review was a contentious issue that needed further discussion. Our democratic institution has played a role in HE sector and the “B” word creating lots of uncertainty within the political arena. There are issues with “free speech” in that we are creating a monoculture of talking to ourselves. Nick identified that the UK has the most autonomous HE sector in the world (which he believes go hand in hand with the high quality of our institutions). Access is an important issue with the Office for Students targeting ambitious goals. Other issues raised included: type of qualification (FE & HE – full level 6 – honours degree), living cost of students (residency fees, tuition fees) and the mental health challenges facing both students & academics.

Professor Elanor Huntington, Dean of the Australian National University was the final panellist. She provided an international perspective discussing the similarity and differences between UK & Australian structurally and in terms of the HE sector. Education service sector is the 3rd largest export after iron ore and coal. Australia has no manufacturing industry, trade tariffs protection and the primary industry around sheep. There is a massive work force shortage in which they produce half as many engineers that they need and 100K shortage in ICT sector. The UK and Australia HE sector have similar cultural settings in strong contrast to the USA which took its model from France. Australia has student loans, income loans scheme, capped fees and capped numbers. Research in Australia is not getting paid the full cost of research – for every research dollar $1, it cost $5 to do that research. Where does that money come from? International students (high volume, low profit – 70K on average, ANU 20K students). Where are students going after graduation – 40% of students going to services sector instead of making things. It is surprising but mining and IT sector are some of the most innovative with remote and adverse environments leading research on autonomous vehicles. The question was raised, “What does an engineer for the next 100 years look like?” Some future predictions include engineers who can think of heterogeneous systems with people in the middle and the context of economy, society, environment around it. There will be a shift in geo-political forces with the UK & USA vacating the field.

The fun didn’t stop there. The open panel discussions brought more controversial topics up including league tables and “gaming the metrics”, KEF metrics with no teeth (financial incentives), stopping VC pay outs, unconditional offers that policy makers would like ban, profiteering from student accommodation, lack of diversity, the divide between research-intensive and teaching-focussed institutions, the role of TEF and the administration burden – does it lead to accountability?, HE is part of a larger R&D eco-system which includes businesses – how do we foster this relationship?, universities getting too big – does it need market regulations, universities going bust… it was a shame that the fun had to stop.

For an early career researcher the session and indeed the whole conference, was challenging. To step outside of our little research niche to explore bigger picture ideas about the HE sector and question, “what are universities for?” and our role in this big wheel with the policy implications that impact on the students and academics in the decade to come. I have come to see that EPC is not only for “professors” but for all HE stakeholders and has a unique role in bringing together different institutions and members, and advocating for the HE in the political arena – which is even more complex than the science we work on each day. [/wptabcontent] [wptabtitle] The optional EPC Annual General Meeting wrapped up day one’s proceedings. We are delighted to announce Professor Colin Turner, University of Ulster, as our new EPC President.

Professor Colin Turner is the incoming President of the EPC and Professor of Engineering Education in the School of Engineering at Ulster University and served as Head of the School of Engineering from 2010 to 2018. He obtained his degree in Pure and Applied Mathematics and his PhD in Mathematics from Queen’s University Belfast in 1993 and 1997. He then joined Ulster University as a lecturer in Mathematics, Computing and Statistics and undertaking Cardio Vascular research with the Royal Victoria Hospital and NIBEC (Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre).

Colin’s teaching interests are Engineering Mathematics, Reliability theory and Software development for Engineers – and also in reforming curricula to improve retention, while building student led initiatives to transform student learning. He has experience in designing and building enterprise software solutions for learning support with national impact, especially in the area of employability.

Professor Turner is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (FIET), a Fellow of the Institution of Mathematics and its Applications (FIMA), a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (PFHEA) and has served as a board member for the EPC since April 2013. He is a member of the advisory group of Learned Societies and Professional Bodies for the All-Party Group for Science and Technology at the Northern Ireland Assembly and an Executive Committee member and Trustee for ASET, the UK body for placement professionals. 

Day one closed with an inspiring public lecture from Lord Willetts which put us all in frame of mind for the pending Augar review. 

Notes by Steve Bullock, University of Bristol

Chair: Nick Hillman, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)

Public lecture: ‘A University Education: Engineering Changes’ Lord Willetts, former Minister for Universities and Science Chair: Nick Hillman, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)

Lord Willetts presented an overview of the debate on HE funding, with the latter half of the session focusing on engineering. He referred delegates to the specific discussion on engineering in his new book (see here for a HEPI review).

About the debate on HE funding:

– The current model is broadly sustainable. Basics: graduates earn more, so should be expected to pay for the cost. We don’t want to do this via commercial loans, creating debt a la credit card/mortgage. PAYE repayment more realistic. Originally 10% above £21k. Don’t repay in full if low earnings or out of employment (at that point, taxpayer meets cost). Designed so that ‘average’ graduate will pay back in full.

– Willets’ asserted that that model (which OECD regards as sensible) has several advantages:

1. Not public spending (current debate as to how to account for the proportion that is written off) – HE is at bottom of public spending list, against schools, NHS, etc. – pattern over decades. Plan ever since 97 Dearing review was to find a way for graduates to finance as not public spending.

2. As a result, Treasury no longer has an interest in controlling numbers into HE. Constraint on free choice and competition, and restricted total number who can access HE – which Willets finds offensive.

3. May be one of the last standing who still believes this is sensible! Thought this was resolved (along with other things).

Why has this been destabilised?

– Threshold has been pushed up. £25k is too high, means amount that has to be written off is too high so it looks like ‘hiding’ public expenditure.

– This Interacts with interest rate on debt – high threshold and RPI+3% means that some graduates debt actually increases each year. So now write-offs are going to be treated as public spending (new category – forecast of future write-offs in 30 years — and this will vary year on year! Interesting effects e.g. if female salaries rise then public spending forecast decreases…).

– Edu-skeptics are on the rise. Look at Times reaction to Robbins (we already have 50% to university, how can we cope with 100%?). For existing graduates, more graduates is of no benefit, and maybe detriment.

– LEO data appears to show that graduate earnings underperform. (Hot off the press) Resolution Foundation (think tank that Willets heads) researches earnings – since crash in 2009 joining labour market was bad news. LEO data is based on 2009+ performance on earnings, and so matches crash metrics. Good and bad news: loss of GDP at 5% was deepest recession since war. Unemployment wasn’t impacted as much as expected, due to flexible labour market – so pay instead of employment adjusted. 2009+ was a high employment, low pay world. Unemployment hit was almost completely taken by lower-educated. Non-grad fell to 56%, Grad employment 91-88%. Looks like grads traded down into less well-paid jobs. Grads faced 10% fall in earnings, compared to 1% drop in non-grad BUT employment loss. LEO excludes unemployed, so looks like grads dropped but excludes other effects. This lasted 7 years (possibly longer). Recession was bad news for grads, even worse for non-grads. But this doesn’t show increase in grads causing drop in pay – interpretation is wrong but has been exploited by edu-skeptics.

– Massive case of guilt in DfE. The group that has lost out worst is 16-18 year olds – had the biggest squeeze in resource. FE colleges hit most. So want to find public spending that can be cut in order to divert to FE.

So, Augur might propose fee reduction with top-up for certain subjects (including engineering) – but possibly eroded over time. If there were an increase in public spending, high-cost subjects should be prioritised. Anecdote about German CEO leaving German grad in charge of a facility, not British grad – as British may not have been trained on up to date kit. (Band A – medicine; band B – engineering etc., C, D). Could achieve this by lowering threshold back to £21k.

Engineering in particular

– Soft spot – father was an engineer, ran apprenticeship training scheme at I&I.

– Issue is how diverse and open is recruitment – egregious example of distortions caused by early specialisation in our education system.

– Birth rate of 700k babies each year (in England).

– Most prestigious institutes expect A-levels in maths & physics. 28k do A-levels in physics and maths – 4%. Don’t believe there is any other advanced western culture which has reduced employment pool this much.

– Girls in particular at 16 don’t seem to focus on these subjects. Of those who get A* in GCSE physics, 58% boys, 25% girls progress to A-level physics. For biology, 41% boys continue, 56% girls continue. Medicine leads to frustrated students who can’t get on with maths/chem/bio – largely girls.

– We’re not worse in general than advanced western countries, but we are in engineering.

– 16 year olds shouldn’t be expected to take those decisions. We should have a broader education for longer.

– Issue: Treasury and HE. Save money on education if you get them through early. We have younger grads than other countries due to early specialisation.

– Allowing institutions to select is unusual compared to other systems. Academics want students to have some knowledge and have displayed an aptitude already, so we perpetuate this. In actuality, our A-level intake knows more about their subject than any other country.

– We need not a 3 A-level system. Tomlinson proposed… “we love a-levels, people should get to do more – 5, 6…wider range of subjects” – which would require an adjustment at university – intake would have less prior knowledge. A price worth paying.

– At Kings: med school/Guys & St Thomases – no disadvantaged/comp students enrolling. Created prelim year to recruit extra students with Bs and Cs. Evidence is promising – most graduate with a good medical degree – 88% vs 93% advantaged.

– ASU and UNSW – created alliance with Engineering focus connecting students. ASU and NSW can’t start with assumption of A-levels. Cf classics had to change with collapse in Latin etc A-levels.

In conclusion: the following two items combine:

– Resolving funding issues can lead to longer university programmes

– Optimistic that at some point in future we’ll have a sensible way of funding, and intake has wider more general education.


Q: (Aston delegate): ref pipeline cut to 4% – what is effect of double and triple science – only a pathway for 1/4 students

A: Could argue that this narrowing starts of 13/14 – and there are still some schools that don’t offer triple. Current view seems to want to push round pegs into round holes. Different view – we are more plastic than that, offering later opportunity to specialise.

Q: (UCL delegate): did Scottish Highers which are more general. Does data from Scotland back up case?

A: (Glasgow) Norm is 5 Highers inluding Maths and English. But proportion of girls taking physics isn’t much higher.

A: (Teesside) There are other ways in – not just about A-levels

A (Willets) Scottish is more of a 2+2 model, along with Germany influenced US model. Breadth of understanding. On Teesside: fantastic model. But if aiming to send students to broad range (including ‘more prestigious’) currently need more specialised A-levels. In the past – applied for disciplinary scholarships – grammars tried to work out which scholarship to enter students for, and targeted education appropriately. We don’t have a ‘proper’ secondary leaving exam – A-levels were created by universities.

Q: (OU delegate): 50-year history of accepting diverse qualifications. Ref girls making decisions about a-levels. Many schools don’t offer choice, e.g. no maths/physics teaching. Often encouraged/told to take subjects they can get an A – driven by school metrics.

Q: (Bath Spa): fee contributory system better for universities – favour ‘flat cash’ … to get an increase need to go to parliament. In a normal expansionary time, wouldn’t it be better to go to Treasury?

Q: (Birmingham): Eg of business leader – implied that grads weren’t good enough to look after factory. Our training of grads using open-ended problems – should celebrate this. Other example of changing A-level structure – can help students by not selecting – but 40% of them fail – that sort of non-progression wouldn’t be acceptable.

A: (to 3q’s in a row) Accepts point. Had discussions with Gove about metrics. Also about schools sending students to universities as a metric. Could have RPI indexation – can’t remember why didn’t put it in.

A: Wastage – not sure about that way of seeing things. Starting and then deciding it’s not for you – calling that ‘wastage’ isn’t right – view that dropouts/course switches is a problem. Another shift needed.

Q: (Hertfordshire) Elongating the process vs accelerated degrees?

Q: (EPC) Are employers let off the hook for funding HE

Q: (UCL student) British system tailored to early specialisation – US liberal arts is more the norm – how do they compare?

Q: (Hull) Is this a grad tax? Did May change things because people don’t see as a tax – would tax be more acceptable?

Q:(IofE student) Given engineers are likely to earn more, should grads pay more?

A: If early specialism is bad, where does that leave UTCs?

A: Accelerated degrees: respects Hinds and Skidmore – but future of the market is the 4-year degree. Predicts growth there. Students like being at uni. Market will show 4yr favoured.

A: Funding: human capital gain is ultimately in hands of individual. Graduate is the right place to locate the payment. Should subsidise grads who don’t end up earning more. Should it be a tax? Needs to be capped at something like the cost of your education – doesn’t think graduate tax is the way to do it. If you did economics at Cambridge you’d be committing to lifetime of vastly higher repayment. Would lead to ‘brain drain’. Don’t think we should be repaying more than our degree cost – taxpayers should subsidise inter-generationally, rather than intra-generational subsidy. Could argue that calling it ‘debt’ could be negative. Is a capped graduate repayment. But language has been set in Blair model. Too late to win an argument to rename (e.g. Poll Tax). Engineers earn more – don’t want to repay more than the cost of education.

A: UTCs not doing brilliantly on current evaluations. Do get some generic skills in focused subjects. Believes we should do broader range of subjects for longer.

The outstanding Senate House Congress Dinner included entertainment by the very funny Steve Cross, Comedian, Troublemaker & Nerd Celebrity and the Hammermen of Glasgow Award presented by Deacon, Professor Gordon Masterton. Congratulations to Daniel Mannion and Chris Hammond of UCL who jointly shared the Hammermen Award. [/wptabtitle] [wptabcontent] Winners blog to follow. [/wptabcontent] [wptabtitle] A whistle-stop tour through the means we hold to influence policy was given by Iain Mansfield, Contributing Editor at Wonkhe and former Civil Servant responsible for TEF, in our day two opening session entitled How can world class research have more impact on policy? 

Dr Ian Mansfield let us through how world-class research can have a greater policy impact.

He defined pull barriers:

• Officials don’t have access to – or culture of reading – peer reviewed journals.

• Few civil servants with STEM background.

• Pressure for policy solutions now.

• Don’t know landscape.

• Technology moving very fast

• Policy cycle complex – rarely going looking for one simple answer.

• Too much to do / too little time.

And push barriers:

• Academics don’t speak officials’ language

• Naïve or unrealistic expectations

• Think telling us once is enough

• Failure to understand wider political / societal / economic pressures

• Publish or perish – especially for early career researchers

• Policy engagement is a skill that’s not always developed

• Research talent orthogonal to policy influencing talent

• Too much to do / too little time.

Before sharing his IDENTIFY – ENGAGE – EMBED – IMPACT model.

– Identify – Who needs to know about it? What are the ways in?

– Engage – establishing the initial connections and awareness.

– Embed – make yourself an integral part of the landscape.

– Impact – understand what you are looking to achieve.

Finally, he outlined the advantages of a “Centre” approach. This was a really useful and implementable session.

See Ian Mansfield’s slides


Our fourth panel discussed AI Disruption in the Engineering Sector. 

Report by Edmund Hunt, University of Bristol

Chair: Professor Carsten Maple, Immediate Past Chair, EPC Sectoral Group: The Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC), University of Warwick; Dr Heiko Struebing, PwC, Manager, Artificial Intelligence; Professor Anna Scaife, Co-Director Policy@Manchester, University of Manchester.

CM – AI not new but come to the fore – big amount of money from govt for e.g. £50m for Turing Inst, engineering key area looking at. Driven by growth in connectivity, miniaturisation of devices, cost of storage locally and in cloud down, computation at the ‘Edge’. Also data – Open Data Initiative, data for public good. Digital Built Britain agenda. Ada Lovelace Centre for Ethics of AI – availability for training in machine learning and AI. AI can support engineering through whole lifecycle, from design, operation, monitoring, maintenance, evolution, decommissioning of systems. Future of AI & Robotics in Space led out of Surrey. ‘Digital Twins’ and role of AI in that, not a new concept but AI now zeitgeist and can help goals like sustainability targets.

AS – AI not new but marketed well! Degree of hype not yet reflected in economic return. McKinsey report says look to 2030 for economic return. Contingent on directed investment over next 5-7 years. Growing digital divide and AI feeds into that. For countries well-placed, 20-25% new economic growth over next ten years, very significant. US report 47% manufacturing jobs affected by AI – but McKinsey now put at net 0%. But expect a change in skills required. ‘Dirty dangerous and dull’ jobs where automation will be used heavily. US and China considered leaders, not UK which is considered average. China gone from 1 to 40% of e-commerce market following heavy investment. Can divide change into efficiency (for repetitive jobs) and innovation. For example robots in extreme environments and agri-tech. Need sufficient regulation and standardisation to allow efficient sharing of data between systems, lack affects agri-tech for example. Need trust in robotics and AI. Start with ‘low consequence’ robotics to get people used to robots to build trust in staggered way. Risk is a real consequence of the use of AI – can be biased (consciously or not). Also growing economic inequality between countries.

HS – impact on PwC itself will be profound, one of largest employers of graduates in UK. Created an AI team to help clients and itself. Big hype on machine learning and deep learning – helps identify patterns but doesn’t necessarily help solve problems. Need optimization framework to help develop solutions – e.g. for delivery routing. AI £15.7 trn global contribution to economy by 2030 – will gradually move job market, creating new jobs to offset jobs lost. People will work more efficiently alongside AI. 3 phases:

– Algorithmic wave – will have low displacement of roles, 3%

– Augmentation wave – 30% of roles

– Autonomy phase

Capital intensive sectors gain particularly, like transport (autonomous trucking, congestion reduction), manufacturing (optimization of processes)

Engineers will not lose jobs. Analytical thinking and complex problem-solving skills. More work can be done to prepare graduate engineers with transferable skills such as programming, modelling.

Concept of lifelong learning a core requirement – longer life, jobs change more frequently as AI develops. ‘Responsible AI’ approaches – identify bias, explainable.


How to reskill drivers who lose jobs? Does HE have a role to help train to intermediate level?

HS – companies will have to learn to upskill the people they have in the face of shortage of skilled people in AI.

AS – a significant challenge. Casualisation trend not going to change, will accelerate. Companies with financial resources to upskill may do it, but many do not. Intervention from govt / HE into intermediate education at e.g. secondary/FE level needed.

CM – coal mining good example. Digital divide can be geographically based.

AS – ‘place’ now key element of Industrial Strategy but yet to materialise. E.g. coming from Manchester conscious of lack of investment into region. Connectivity important way of reducing divide in UK. Data transport important for home working.

HS – HE sector should start earlier in introducing relevant skills to reduce number of people affected. But FE needs govt initiative.

Gap in recruitment/awareness for AI systems – safety assurance from engineers for e.g. aerospace – Boeing 737 MAX certification issues – as AI moves into transportation will become important

CM – certification plus ethics on top is really hard problem.

HS – from private sector POV issue for management on how they set up their teams – do not always have grasp of every area under them – important they are alerted to issues

AS – things can tend to be ignored until it becomes an economic issue – disastrous in aviation, also on e.g. facial recognition where there are racial issues in what faces are recognised – could be fixed but need government regulation. For every obvious problem there are 10x more under the hood having much more subtle problems with long-term impacts the more they are ignored.

Q: Binning bad products expensive way to deal with problem – need to build in safety assurance from the beginning. IEEE taking lead on ethics in software development, to make developers think ahead. Major change to re-educate existing workforce, UK behind the curve.

AS – issue with how to value software – intangible asset – if cost of safety assurance had to be factored in would drive commercial adaptation.

CM – systems are being engineered with libraries of often old algorithms, very hard to get assurance.

HS – PwC developing checklist approach to ensure rigorous development process followed.

Q: AI is being used in dynamic environments where there is high level of uncertainty. Beyond skills of software engineers to think about – need to look at systems level approach for regulation. Do people understand need for this?

AS – agree, AI quality assurance specialists could become field in itself.

HS – data science is very big, it is multi-disciplinary work – very timely to think about how we talk to each other in same language. Crucial to get whole supply chain of involved people. Uncomfortable that it is AI looking for projects, rather than problems needing the technology. We are picking applications that are high-profile and high-risk. Objections are ignored. Focus on ‘sexy’ problems, useful would be picking crops rather than driverless cars.

AS – indeed tendency to think AI solve everything. Sometimes not needed. In some areas where it would be useful there is reticence / resistance to change, like agriculture. Coal miners was step-change effect – automation will be more gradual and so easier to ignore problem of unemployment.

HS – companies prioritise projects by looking at return on investment, they are not that naïve.

CM – projects are sometimes driven by what engineers / politicians think is ‘cool’ e.g. self-driving cars, or even the economic argument for 5G.

Q: How do we take the public along with us in plans?

AS – challenge with demographically diverse public. Short answer is ‘not sure’ – better articulation of digital risk/harms at early age important – making children aware of social media / internet important.

HS – a lot of information about what is coming is out there, e.g. PwC report and others. 3 pillars of HE, govt and private sector need to sit down together and think of role to minimise problem. Private sector is actively trying to engage with e.g. universities, putting employees through courses. 

Our final panel Leading Change in Engineering Education drew on the ongoing curriculum change project led by EPC and the IET.

Report by Steve Bullock, University of Bristol

Dr Peter Bonfield, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Westminster and Deputy President of the IET, introduced the session and himself as Chair – he has directed four governmental reviews: UK forests and woodlands; food procurement; flood resilience; energy efficiency; and sat on the panel for building safety post-Grenfell. As VC at Westminster he has brought arts and sciences together in productive and mutually beneficial collaborations, and is working with the IET on updates to accreditation processes. Recognised that industry needs engineers with more than just technical skills, in order to manage risk in the modern world.

Dr Neil Cooke, Deputy Director of Teaching and Learning Centre, University of Birmingham, detailed work on new teaching model at Birmingham – a new collaborative teaching laboratory has offered efficiencies by teaching multiple cohorts together, but also significant opportunities for interdisciplinary work. Their new shared first year has brought challenges in maintaining disciplinary cohesion and specific domain knowledge. An interdisciplinary design project addresses this, and their school Teaching and Learning Centre helps apply pedagogical research. Questions that he is currently facing:

– how to strengthen disciplinary identity in a multidisciplinary engineering curriculum?

– How to cultivate 21st/22nd century engineers – skills and purpose?

Neil described the Integrated Design Project pedagogy (see slide) – emphasising that this level of detail is in the background and not generally shown to students – and described ‘the Birmingham Engineer’, summarised as:

– Accredited.

– Birmingham grad attributes inc research and enterprise skills.

– Cultivates Engineering and Learning habits of mind – based on RAEng work.

– Destined to be highly employable.

Finally, commented on leadership of change via the school Teaching and Learning Centre and activities to embed the new curriculum.

See Dr Neil Cooke’s slides.

Professor Gill Cooke, Head of Teaching, School of Engineering, University of Warwick described the curriculum refresh at Warwick, which was accomplished on a short timescale.

Key points:

– Always been a general engineering school, underpinned by engineering science.

– Recognition of curriculum overload.

– Significant recent investment e.g. electronics lab, build space.

– Desire to add more creativity, problem solving, teamwork, practical skills.

An intensive consultative approach, largely within the School, was undertaken, including staff, student body, engineering student society, IAB and panels, and using sector reports. Fundamental principle was developed: what is core for all? Previously programmes shared a common 2yrs then specialised, but feedback indicated much of the material wasn’t equipping students appropriately. Wanted to remove artificial disciplinary boundaries, enable interdisciplinary projects.

Structural change of the organisation and the academic year was undertaken, moving away from traditional way it’s ‘always been done at Warwick’. Introduced Jan exams, which helped with retention, identifying students needing support. Long, thin units and projects were still kept.

Their review challenged how they taught – 30x 1h lectures not necessarily the best. Introduced ‘Sprints’ – week long intensive design projects, and systems modelling/programming module also delivered this way.

Key challenges:

– What is core? Disciplines competing for time in shared part of course

– How much programming? What is systems modelling?

– Resources – time, academics (interdisciplinary projects take time, different skillset)

– Facilities – still want more investment – new facilities, teaching resources.

– 6-month turnaround was v short time. Marketing/legal/recruitment drivers. But this didn’t impact intake numbers.

– Now: ongoing review, reflect, maintain.

Christopher Wooster, Projective Ltd (former UCL IEP Student) described his experience at UCL. Started 5yrs ago, chose UCL because they gave the impression they were turning away from the ‘traditional’ model of engineering education, moving towards a more interdisciplinary approach. Enjoyed lots of interdisciplinary projects in BEng years, fewer in MEng. Delivered as ‘scenario weeks’ – random groupings, given a task and 1 week to deliver. Felt this was good preparation for entry into the workplace, along with the Design and Professional Skills module – included ethics, how to write emails/reports, use business/office tools.

Dr Graham Herries, Director of Digital Technologies, Engineering Excellence Group, Laing O’Rourke, has applied his engineering skills across several sectors, so isn’t afraid of any of them (except retail).

Key points:

– Graduates need at least a broad shallow understanding of new fields. Don’t all need to program in TensorFlow, but do need to understand challenges associated with AI.

– Irrespective of sector, we’re all working in a systems engineering environment. Most grads still come out without understanding of systems – we’re making progress on project management, but still a way to go.

– Excited about industry engagement with uni, soft skills development.

– Gen Z are ‘a little different’ – anecdotal evidence that employers are less keen on grads – attitude problems, a little arrogant, ‘expect’ rather than ‘aspire’.

– Need to be aware of the impact of the apprenticeship levy – a massive opportunity, and an avenue to develop applied skills.

– New approaches report – 6 themes are important: creativity, diversity, project work, industry engagement, workplace experience, interdisciplinarity (inc outside engineering).

Professor Lisa Brodie, Head of Department, Engineering Design and Mathematics, University of the West of England, presented how the Dept of Engineering, Design, and Mathematics (1500 students, 130 staff) at UWE have been managing (a lot of) change. Some of it has been their choice, some driven by institution-level change. Might not have done all in one go if had the option, but very happy with the outcome.


– the environment: new £multimillion building.

– the curriculum: industry said grads had good tech skills but needed work on ‘liquid’ skills (more than typical ‘soft’ skills e.g. presentations).

Looked at:

– Aalborg, Denmark – impressed with their Masters grads, who said the biggest benefit of their programme was that they ‘learnt how to learn’, compared to UWE grads would list a lot of ‘stuff’ but not skills.

– Drew upon UCL scenario weeks, as detailed above.

– Coventry AMRC partnership with Unipart – true project-based learning.

– Also referenced MIT’s Global State of the Art in Engineering report, particularly Singapore institution.

– UWEs new integrated framework was detailed (see slide), with different ‘dimensions’ of activity, from in-module design and modelling to activities spanning modules, projects outside the curriculum (e.g. Formula Student), and ones that build over time – second-year students revisit material from first year with new knowledge.

Significant component of professional attributes – 30cp in yrs 1 and 2. Staff were concerned that this would carve out a large chunk of content from the course, but by moving activities such as presentations from other units this wasn’t an issue. Used this as a lever to refer to students as professional engineers, changing tone significantly. Staff are now seeing opportunities to consider what should and should not be in the curriculum, and what can be delivered via different approaches including blended learning. The new building has been designed to support this – no big lecture theatre!

Closed with a video: Take a virtual tour of the plans for UWE Bristol’s state-of-the-art Engineering Building, and summarised Learning points:

– Set a clear vision – what is the engineer of the future, how gonna teach it/experience

– Early research, find your own way

– Communicate communicate communicate

– You can’t necessarily bring everyone with you

– Strong core team

– Force the change in a flexible way

– (Potential) inhibitors: QA, Accreditation – artificial barriers, surmountable.

Also plugged the EngC Accreditation review – contact Charles McArthur to participate in focus groups.

See Dr Lisa Brodie’s slides.

Comments (rather than questions, as limited time remained):

– All changes presented had big investment in infrastructure. What to do if you don’t have that?

– How are you going to evaluate impact?

– Why does Chris want to strengthen disciplinary identity? Similarly for Gill – how can students know what discipline they’ll be in? Accreditation does not mandate disciplinary content.

– “New approaches” case studies don’t say much about assessment

– It’s worth surviving through the painful squeezes caused by change – outcomes have been good.

– Exeter are undertaking a major review for 2020 teaching. Accrediting bodies’ response has been very positive. There was discussion about whether this counts as major change, requiring new course codes, but institutes worked with the review, rather than being obstacles.

The Chair concluded with two main observations:

– There will always be change – once these reviews are completed there will be new challenges.

– VCs don’t seem too willing to collaborate (apart from recent wellbeing push) – but EPC enables it very successfully. 


The incoming EPC President, Professor Colin Turner, closed the Congress, with individual thank yous to all involved.

Prof Turner reflected that the conference programme showcased the unprecedented amount of change being faced by the engineering profession and that this was set to continue – at least in the short to medium term: “As the title of our conference suggests we can and must play a role in engineering that change”.

He outlined the significant constraints and uncertainty the Congress had discussed; the Augar review, TEF, REF and KEF, security challenges and a heightened need for ethics emerging from modern engineering, not least AI. We were reminded just how many new engineers we need to meet the UK Industrial Strategy and the need to break down barriers to support all genders, minorities and social mobility. And then there’s the B word. Fortunately, he continued, engineers are particularly experienced and skilled at overcoming such conditions. The EPC works hard on its members’ behalf and with their input and advice on government consultations and policy proposals in engineering education, apprenticeships, research policy and more. The EPC is in a strong position to continue this work in the future and this is down to the contributions and effort of the members, the Board and committees, the EPC staff, and the excellent leadership of Johnny Rich and Sarah Spurgeon.

The EPC is still working on some plans on the website and CRM. This is not just a cosmetic facelift, but the centrepiece of many of our ambitions to enhance our efforts to support the whole EPC community. Prof Turner closed by reminding us that “we have to work to engineer the change we want to see in our world” and hoped delegates left Congress energised, informed and better equipped to lead that change. [/wptabcontent] [/wptabs]

The EPC would like to acknowledge our hosts, the Centre for Engineering Education at UCL; our sponsors, the Institution of Engineering and Technology; and our exhibitor sponsors, Mathworks, PA Hilton and TecQuipment.

All available Congress slide presentations can be downloaded from the Event page.

You can also have a look on the tweets of the conference #EPCCongress19

Click here to see upcoming EPC events including the Recruitment & Admissions Forum 2019 on 27th November.


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