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.

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.

Covid-19 (Coronavirus) and Congress

I doubt it will come as any surprise that, under the circumstances, the EPC executive has reached the difficult decision that the Annual Congress should be postponed in the interests of the health of the delegates, the speakers and the wider population.

We sincerely regret the inconvenience, but feel sure that you will understand why we feel this is the most responsible course of action. We hope to announce the new dates as soon as possible. We are exploring options later in the year between September and November and intend to confirm them before 26th March 2020.

All registered delegates have already been informed (with instructions and remaining registered or applying for a refund) and many of our speakers have kindly agreed to make themselves available if possible for the Congress when it is rescheduled. We’re particularly pleased about that as we are extremely proud of the strength, balance and expertise of our line-up of speakers and we are eager to try to keep the programme unchanged as far as possible.

For further advice on the Covid-19 outbreak, please see the guidance from the Government (see Coronavirus (COVID-19) – advice for higher education providers). 

EPC nominations for REF 2021 Engineering sub-panel

PLEASE NOTE: NOMINATIONS ARE NOW CLOSED

The Engineering Professors’ Council is a nominating body for the Research Excellence Framework and, as such, we have been invited to nominate members of the engineering sub-panel.

If you would like the EPC to nominate you – or you would like to propose someone to be nominated – you should find all the details you need below. If you have any questions, please contact the EPC Chief Executive Johnny Rich.

Please note that although the REF Team’s deadline for the EPC to submit our nominations is 3rd April 2020, the EPC has its own procedures to follow to ensure a fair and transparent process to decide who to nominate and so, any proposals must reach us by midnight on 13th March 2020.


What are the nominations for?

The EPC has already submitted its nomination(s) for the Engineering REF Panel during the 2017 nominations round. The EPC is now seeking to nominate individuals to be Output Assessors for the Engineering Sub-panel (12) with expertise in the areas of Music technology or Transport, railway engineering. The EPC will not nominate anyone who does not have demonstrable expertise in one of these areas.


How to propose someone for nomination by the EPC (including proposing yourself)

Please complete the form at this link (https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/C0K60B/) no later than midnight on 13th March 2020. A summary of the information requested in this form can be found here. Please be sure to complete the information accurately and thoroughly as the details of your proposal will, if selected for nomination by the EPC, be passed on to the selectors without further editing.

If you are proposing someone else, please ensure that they know that you are proposing them and that they are able to attend the panel meetings. The meeting dates are available here.  


How the EPC will decide whom to nominate

The Research, Innovation & Knowledge Transfer Committee (RIKT) has determined the procedure for nominating and will decide whom to nominate. It is possible that several individuals will be nominated, but that may not be everybody who applies to be nominated, nor even everybody who applies to be nominated and meets the criteria.

RIKT will agree a selection panel of three senior academics representing a range of institutions, disciplines, backgrounds and experience. After the deadline (13th March) they will review the applications for nomination and assess how well they meet the EPC’s criteria and those of the funding bodies. The selection panel will then decide who to nominate, bearing in mind the need to maintain diversity across the range of nominees.

The following criteria will be used by the RIKT selection panel:

To be nominated by the EPC, any individual:

  • Must be research active with publications in the current REF period;
  • Should be known to Engineering Professors’ Council Board – ie. they should be able to demonstrate active engagement in EPC activities and be a member of staff at a university that is a member of the EPC;
  • Should have some of the following attributes:
    • Already served on an RAE/REF Panel;
    • Extensive experience of assessing research quality (e.g. chair of University Research Committee, internal University Research Assessor);
    • Evidence of awareness of REF requirements;
  • Should show evidence of unbiased support for the Engineering Higher Education Research Community (for example, having served on Education/accreditation committees of PEIs, Editors/Associate Editors of International Engineering Research Journals, etc);
  • Should have acted as an assessor for EPSRC or other major research funders.

Just because an individual meets these criteria, it does not mean they will necessarily receive an EPC’s nomination.

We would be particularly keen to nominate individuals from groups previously under-represented on assessment panels, including women, people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, and people with disabilities.


Can I be nominated by more than one nominating body?

The EPC is one of a number of nominating bodies recognised by REF.

Regardless of whether the EPC is able to nominate them or not, we would encourage applicants to seek nomination from other nominating bodies without waiting to hear about the EPC’s intentions. Not only is there no limit on the number of nominations an individual can have, it is also likely to improve their chances if more than one nominating body has put forward their name.


What is the background to the selection of the REF Engineering Panel?

The REF is the system for assessing the quality and impact of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs). It was first conducted in 2014, and replaced the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The REF will be undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies: the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, and the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland.

The REF exercise will be completed in 2021 and the results will be used by the four funding bodies to drive their allocations of research funding to HEIs. It will also provide useful benchmarking information and reputational yardsticks, and provide accountability for public investment in research and demonstrate its benefits.


What does it involve to be on a REF expert panel? 

The REF will be undertaken through a process of expert review. HEIs will be invited to make submissions which will be assessed by 34 subject-based expert sub-panels, working under the guidance of four main panels. Further information on the role of sub panels can be found on the REF website.

Individuals who are nominated will need to confirm that they are willing and able to serve as a panel member, before their names and contact details are put forward.

A guide for research users taking part in the REF is available here.


Confidentiality

We will treat any information supplied to us as confidential as far as possible and proposals for nominations will not be made public, however, the EPC reserves the right to make public the names of individuals that we do choose to nominate. That decision will be taken by RIKT.

Please also be aware that proposals for nominations will be circulated among the members of RIKT who are currently as follows: Nathan Gomes, University of Kent; Stephanie Haywood, University of Hull (EPC Vice-President); Simon Hodgson, Teesside University; Graham Howe, University of Wales Trinity St David; Barry Lennox, University of Manchester; Long-yuan Li, Plymouth University; Linda Newnes, University of Bath; Johnny Rich (EPC Chief Executive); Simon Rowland, University of Manchester; Alan Smith, Sheffield Hallam University (Chair); Sarah Spurgeon (EPC President); Tony Unsworth, University of Durham; Tanya Vladimirova, University of Leicester. On behalf of the EPC executive, Vicky Elston and Stella Fowler act as observers to the committee.


Further information

Further information about the REF can be found on the REF website at www.ref.ac.uk.

To promote someone for nomination now, please complete the form before midnight, 13th March 2020.

!New! GUEST BLOG: Engineers Without Borders UK

Engineers Without Borders UK kindly facilitated the recent EPC Board Retreat discussions on Ethics. Here they tell us about the two design challenges they run at universities.

The Engineering for People Design Challenge reaches over 8,500 students across the world and aims to ensure that undergraduates are cognisant of their social and environmental responsibility when delivering engineering solutions. This is in response to the need to embed global responsibility into the education of those at university, so that the engineering community serves all people and our planet better than ever before. This is open to first and second years. 

The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge is for students in the last year of their bachelor or masters degree. It is a challenge that aims to promote innovation within the off grid industry. Students from Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda and the UK will be supported by nine off-grid industry partners through webinars, mentoring and feeding back on submissions. This challenge not only creates innovative designs, but fulfils a larger purpose by creating networks between students, academics and industry leaders in the hopes to accelerate progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 7.

If you are interested, here is the Project Based Learning guide we have for academics. It is a series of workshops that academics can facilitate to help students progress through the design process.

We have Engineers Without Borders UK societies at 27 universities in the UK and Ireland. If you are interested in supporting an existing Engineers Without Borders UK Chapter at your university or creating a new one please see here for more information.  If you are interested in one or more of these opportunities, please contact challenge@ewb-uk.org . 

To hear the latest updates please subscribe to the EWBUK newsletter here

New approaches to Engineering Higher Education

BEST PRACTICE IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION

Featured Articles

The EPC has been working with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), academics and industry for over two years to encourage and support changes to how students are taught to become engineers. 

During this time, we have seen innovative courses that encourage project work, include industry whenever they can and work on increasing diversity.

Our recent conference (November 2019) showcased a wide range of case studies from universities, and the people within them, who have led the changes to create innovative and forward-thinking degree courses.

We have, with the IET, pulled together these case studies conference proceedings focus not only on the changes that have been made but also how they were achieved. Download the proceedings here.

In addition to the case studies, the day also included poster presentations from universities in the process of making some equally innovative changes to their engineering courses. The papers for these can be seen here:

Canterbury Christchurch University of Hertfordshire
Imperial College LondonUniversity of Sheffield
NMiTETEDI – London
University of Strathclyde

More information on our work to date is available here.

EPC Engineering Enrolments Survey 2019

Featured Articles

EPC Engineering Enrolments Survey Results 2019/20

Firstly, a huge thank you for your contributions to this year’s EPC engineering enrolments survey. The survey gives us all an early temperature check of the health of HE undergraduate and postgraduate engineering enrolments; our survey is the only place you can gain this insight, many months before enrolment data for 2019/20 is published by HESA.

This year saw challenges in our member engagement, with (temporary) pressures on staff and restructuring cited as the main reasons for non-completion this year. None-the-less, the data quality and coverage remain sound, with responses from over half of our members, covering £30,000 enrolled students, against an unprecedented 193 discrete discipline areas. We continue to work to make your involvement as easy as possible and are pleased that better EPC communication with you has almost eliminated the need for universities to make multiple submissions. Your support in this area is greatly appreciated.

The pattern of engineering enrolments

Postgraduate:

Postgraduate enrolments were dominated by Electrical, electronic and computer engineering this year. Postgraduate engineering courses saw a much higher proportion of overseas enrolments, especially within the Russell Group (which saw higher international enrolments overall). Overall, 2 in every 3 postgraduate engineering enrolments were international.

First degree:

Mechanical engineering remains the sector leader for undergraduate enrolments. Across all engineering disciplines, just under 1 in 4 of first degree enrolments were international in our survey.

Degree apprenticeships and foundation:

For the first time this year, undergraduate enrolments were returned against Degree Apprenticeship and Foundation separately to first degree undergraduates. Nearly 2,000 students were returned in this category. General engineering dominated the other undergraduate enrolments. This cohort was almost exclusively home students.

Focus on: other undergraduate enrolments

  • 27% of this cohort were enrolled on degree apprenticeships, and
    64% were enrolled on foundation programmes (some universities provided combined data for both). These were almost exclusively UK domiciled (90%).
  • The majority of enrolments on foundation programmes were in General Engineering.
  • Civil engineering dominated Degree Apprenticeships.
  • Other undergraduate programmes shared a lower than engineering average female: male ratio with < 1 in 5 enrolments being female (15.5% foundation and 19.4% degree apprenticeship).
  • More than 4 in 5 Foundation courses were in pre-92 universities.
  • More than 4 in 5 Degree Apprenticeships were in post-92s.
  • 83% of degree apprenticeships and 63% of foundation programmes returned were found in in English universities.
  • Again, only a handful of Degree Apprenticeships were reported at postgraduate level.

Focus on: Electrical, electronic and computer engineering

Enrolling at ¾ of responding universities, Electrical, electronic and computer engineering is a growth discipline in our survey. It also:

  • Dominated our postgraduate sample for the first time this year.
  • Closed-in on Mechanical, aero and production engineering at undergraduate level.
  • Was proportionally the singularly most internationally dependent discipline in our sample (accounting for more than 4 in 5 postgraduate enrolments in this discipline and 1 in 3 first degree enrolments) – nearly 1 in 3 international enrolments overall were in Electrical, electronic & computer engineering.
  • Had a lower than average female: male ratio in our undergraduate sample and a higher than average female: male ratio in our postgraduate sample.
  • Had a higher than average full-time population in our survey.
  • Reported only a handful of degree apprenticeships and foundation courses.

Last year, we were advised by our members that attracting Electronic and electrical engineering students continued to be challenging. What is going on here? Are these all computer engineering courses? Comments welcome!

Focus on women in engineering

Our survey suggests that recruiting from further afield increases female enrolments, particularly if you’re in the Russell Group… and enrolling postgraduates. Just over half of the women enrolled in our sample were at Russell Group universities and females were more dominant in the in this cohort at postgraduate level.

At discipline level:

  • General and civil engineering accounted for 1 in 3 of all home female enrolments.
  • EU females favoured Aeronautical and aerospace engineering, especially at postgraduate level.
  • Over half of first degree enrolments sampled in Bioengineering, medical and biomedical engineering were female.
  • The proportion of international women enrolling in Mechanical engineering is half of the proportion of international men.

Enrolments compared with 2018-19

Overall, the levels of decline versus growth were quite uniform in the data, suggesting relative stability in the engineering sector again this year. Some growth overall was evident, with the other overseas postgraduate market, in particular, reporting substantial growth (as well as Russell Group postgraduate enrolments). Regional variations show greater growth than decline at undergraduate level except for in the North and Wales / Northern Ireland. At postgraduate level, enrolments in these regions appear stable with Scotland, the (South) East and London losing out.

At discipline level, the starkest disciplines are Mineral, metallurgy and materials engineering – which showed only growth – and IT systems sciences & computer software engineering, which had the most diverse change distribution in our survey.

General engineering witnessed the greatest net growth. Chemical, process and energy engineering witnessed the greatest net decline (followed by Mechanical engineering). Chemical, process and energy engineering has seen a decline in our survey in 2 of the last 3 years.

Reflections

Of course, we know that recruitment and selection is made in the context of institutional strategies and targets, which do vary. For example, some of the fluctuations in numbers will be a conscious decision to reduce cohort size, rather than be based solely fluctuations in market.

Finally, we would appreciate your views on whether the value of this survey is greater than the burden to contribute to it? Engagement has been compromised by other factors this year. Is this just a blip? How can we help? Please share your own reflections below…

Further information

In addition to the slides published here, a headlines slide deck is available to download for all EPC members.

Recruitment and Admissions Forum 2019

The annual Recruitment and Admissions Forum took place at University of Wales Trinity St David’s new SA1 Swansea Waterfront development on 27th November 2019 convened by EPC Recruitment and Admissions Committee Vice Chair, Richard Morgan. Many thanks to UWTSD for hosting us this year (if you would like to discuss hosting in future, please contact us).

This year’s forum focused on an unprecedented insight into the latest engineering student demographic profile research, led by Dr Tim Bullough who gave us a whistle-stop tour through the findings of his Royal Academy of Engineering research project into entry qualifications and engineering.

The Forum started with an intriguing plenary outlining the key findings, including that:

  • Female students are less likely to drop out and they get better degrees on average. Also, pre-92 universities admit proportionately more of them.
  • At Russell Group universities, Engineering students fro m disadvantaged areas are three times more likely to dropout than students from more privileged backgrounds. In other pre-92 universities, they’re twice as likely, but at post-92 unis, the difference almost disappears.
  • Foundation degree students are twice as likely to drop out as traditional year one degree entry students.

We then enjoyed a full morning data hackathon – a deep dive into engineering student demographic profile entry requirements, enrolment, continuation and outcome patterns – enabling an evidence-based look at some of the most fundamental questions facing engineering admissions today.

The afternoon welcomed a range of speakers:

  • Graham Howe (UWTSD) outlined the MADE project: UWTSD’s innovative provision to enable those already in industry to study level 7 and MSE Engineering programmes.
  • Francesca Nichols (EDT) walked us through their approach to encouraging young people into STE(A)M careers.
  • The EPC’s own Stella Fowler launched the results of the EPC’s annual Engineering Enrolments Survey.

Finally our closing keynote speaker Eliza Kozman (Behavioural Insights Team) outlined a behavioural and evidence-driven approach to recruitment and admissions in engineering and STEM.

For delegates at the Forum only, the speakers’ presentations may be downloaded here (a delegate password is required). All members will shortly be able to access a summary of the results of the engineering enrolments survey in the members areas of the EPC website. If you have forgotten your password, please contact us.

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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