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.

Funding research for a better world

The EPC was honoured to welcome former Universities Minister the Rt Hon Chris Skidmore to delivered a speech as part of our 2021/22 Annual Congress on the theme of ‘A Better World’. This is the text of his speech.

Thank you for the invitation to speak today.

I feel honoured, yet at the same time daunted, that as a historian, you have given me this platform of addressing this annual congress of Engineering Professors.

I must confess it is that same mixed feeling of guilt and shame, call it imposter syndrome if you like, that one feels as a Minister, speaking to any assembled gathering of experts in their field, who know far more than I could ever hope to know about both your respective discipline and its research, than I could even possibly conceive.

Yet while I may call from the arts and humanities side of the tracks, I have a long-held admiration for engineering, having broken an equally long-standing family tradition of becoming an engineer. My grandfather began his career at an early age at Rolls Royce in Filton, while my father followed him into British Aerospace, working on Concorde, before branching out into medical physics and obtaining his Physics doctorate in doppler ultrasound, establishing his own medical technology company and winning the Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal back in 2000. 

As a result, I’ve witnessed first-hand the trials, frustrations, wrong turnings of a family small business working in R&D over the past four decades. I’ve seen and recognised the barriers that prevent research projects from ever getting off the ground. 

Above all, I grew up recognising that engineering at its essence, was about problem solving— not merely the theoretical or the practical, but also the day to day reality of making things— whether a product or business— work. 

Today, you have set me an enigma of a problem to solve. How can we ‘research for a better world’?

A better world is one which we all of course always strive for, indeed it has always been the goal of governments and societies past, but perhaps in my lifetime, the need for a better world brings with it more meaning and urgency than I can remember. 

It is the nature of the human condition to seek hope in despair, to look forwards and not backwards, and to find meaning out of times that can seem incomprehensible. 

So we find ourselves, as previous generations have done, seeking to ‘rebuild’, or in that phrase du jour, ‘build back better’. 

In the wake of the pandemic, post-Covid recovery the almost the sole focus of governments, a mission that one could have scarcely understood 18 months ago when I was still Research Minister. 

The importance of research has been proven in spades by the pandemic. It has been our guiding light out of the tunnel.

Of course, the world still turns, hospitals and schools need to function, welfare needs to be provided, but while the pandemic continues to rage across the globe, we have yet to experience the aftershocks that it has caused, from economic recession and a GDP fall that has not been matched for centuries, a fall in educational achievement to a falling birth rate and its impact upon future society. These are problems that not just current politicians will have to grapple with, but I suspect future generations also, not least when we also will have to address the historic levels of debt and the yawning deficit that once again will hang around our economies, hindering their effectiveness to deliver economic growth and future prosperity. 

In this new age, we need to recognise that priorities will change, as competing demands are made on more limited resources. Already we are witnessing calls for increased spending, at a time when a pathway to fiscal constraint will also need to be set. And with any competing demand, choices will need to be made. How those choices are chosen will be determined by the value, both in terms of economically but also to society, placed upon them by policy makers and governments.

The importance of research to our economy and society should have been proven in spades by the pandemic. It has been research that has proved to be our guiding light out of the tunnel. Vaccination programmes, antivirals and medication to tackle COVID has demonstrated how research not only transforms lives, it saves lives too. If there is one positive to be drawn from this dark past year, it has been the improved recognition that R&D matters.

Yet equally, scepticism to scientific advice, combined with anxieties over lockdown, has highlighted that the research community must always work to demonstrate impact, to take wider society and the general public with them. Narratives matter. How they are woven, out of the threads of people’s hopes and fears, facts and figures, stories and examples, determines how successful campaigns can be. And the need for more research will always be one long campaign that never ends. 

Even before the pandemic broke, the government allied its own narrative of a post-Brexit Britain to the future facing, change making potential that R&D investment can bring, with its call to fashion the UK as a ‘global science superpower’. The commitment to spend 2.4% GDP by 2027 on R&D was of course made in the Industrial Strategy White Paper back in 2017, but the recent government commitment to double public R&D spending to £22billion by 2024/25 has certainly given the commitment a boost. I have spend considerable time already analysing how we might achieve the ‘Road to 2.4%’ in a 30,000 word lecture series I gave in 2019, and do not wish to repeat myself, though for me perhaps the most pressing fact I can relate today is that on 13 July, 2027 is just 2,000 days away. 

This year’s Innovation strategy and the investment made in the Spending Review in R&D will be a critical indicator of whether we will reach the 2.4% target. Four years have so far past, with R&D activity having only risen around 0.2% of GDP in this period. With five and a half years to go, we cannot afford to continue on the same trajectory. 

I have come to doubt whether 2.4% will be sufficient for the scale of change that is coming.

Now is the time to double down, especially when we recognise where the rest of the world is heading. Even I have come to doubt whether 2.4%, the OECD average at the present time, will be sufficient for the scale of change that is coming in the 2020s and into the 2030s. Innovation rich countries are pulling ahead even further. The US and China are heading towards 3% GDP, Japan spends 3.2%, Germany is planning to reach 4%, South Korea is already at 4.5% and Israel higher still at 4.9%. Even the OECD average that was the benchmark for the 2.4% strategy has risen to probably over 2.6%. 

The pandemic and other nations response to how to build economic recovery will only lead to a widening gap in R&D performance if we do not step up. “In order to win the 21st century economy” President Biden has stated, “America must get back to investing in the researchers, laboratories, and universities across our nation”. He is calling on Congress to make an $180 billion investment that will both advance U.S. leadership in critical technologies and upgrade America’s research infrastructure” and “establish the United States as a leader in climate science, innovation, and R&D”. Similar commitments marrying increased investment in innovation and technology with clean growth and combatting climate change are being made across Germany, South Korea, China and Singapore.  

Nine years ago, I wrote a chapter in a book making the case that innovation should be placed at the centre of ‘Britannia Unchained’. The success of ‘Global Britain’ now depends on matching countries that have transformed their economies towards innovation and research. I would now go further— and suggest for the Innovation Strategy that a definite timetable is set for 3%, and beyond to 3.5%. To fail to achieve this over the next two decades will be setting ourselves up to fail. 

Yet with any strategy, risk of simply being left behind as the world transitions its economies towards more modern, technological approaches in which R&D lies the centre, is not the only narrative that must be woven. At every stage, the threat of inaction or slow progress needs to be balanced with the positive, transformational, human message of why investment in R&D is so important, if the taxpayer and general public are to understand the importance of research. Important not only for companies who wish to remain agile and market dominant, important not only for new job creation, but why R&D is important to someone living in Hartlepool or Doncaster. It’s a question that I have continued to grapple with outside of government having agreed to co-chair the Higher Education Commission’s inquiry into levelling up research funding. For myself, I have long believed that investment in translational research conducted in places such as our catapult networks such as the Advanced Manufacturing Catapult is where change could be delivered: with a budget of under £250million a year, this is less than a tenth of what Germany spends on its Fraunhofer institutes. By combining additional investment with a commitment to work lower down the supply chain, and to ally skills programmes with new catapult centres, the impact that research can have creating new jobs at every skill level could be felt. 

People are, quite obviously, the life blood of R&D. It doesn’t matter how much money you invest, unless you have the capacity and capability to perform research, and to adapt and translate its potential.

Low level productivity and a skills deficit remain one of the greatest barriers to ‘levelling up’ across the country, which cannot be achieved by investment in capital alone. People are, quite obviously, the life blood of R&D. It doesn’t matter how much money you invest, unless you have the capacity and capability to perform research, and to adapt and translate its potential. And I’m not just talking about the 200,000 new jobs that will need to be created through the expansion of R&D activity, but the wider ecosystem and supply chain of jobs that are created through the application of new technologies or new materials.  

We cannot divorce the activities of researchers from the wider skills pipeline that needs to be created if we are to meet 2.4%: skills training offers the best possible means to increase productivity, yet our SMEs and companies have some of the lowest in work training rates in the OECD. Those that fail to invest in skills are the same who fail to invest in R&D, for they rely on short-term gains and not realising long-term opportunity. Allied to investing in research— and with it our high skill level researchers— is the imperative that we invest in skills across the supply chain if diffusion, adaption and development is to succeed. It’s why I have decided to establish the Lifelong Education Commission with Res Publica, to highlight how training and lifelong skills investment is just as essential for economic transformation as R&D, indeed one cannot happen effectively without the other. 

If we are to research for the better, ‘global science superpower’ narrative must be aligned with the ‘levelling up’ agenda if both are to truly succeed: the challenge for us all is joining both together in a way that demonstrates real change to the lives of people or SMEs who do not view R&D as something that either affects them, or they need to do. 

Engineering has a rich heritage of translating complex and unfathomable ideas into reality. From the railways to the car, the history of flight, engineers have managed to transform individual lives by demonstrating how technological change can make people’s lives easier.

Of course, this is where engineering has a rich heritage of translating complex and unfathomable ideas into reality. From the railways to the car, the history of flight, engineers have managed to transform individual lives by demonstrating how technological change can make people’s lives easier. The historian in me still believes we have much to learn from the role of engineering in the history of innovation, and what lessons we can still learn for today on how to achieve large scale systems changes needed for society. 

The challenge we face, however, is how we make change just as convenient and comfortable as possible, when in areas such as climate change and the emissions reductions needed to achieve net zero, require transformations away from current technologies and behaviours that seem daunting.

But it can be done. Indeed it must be done. R&D into new, yet to exist technologies will have a critical role to play in achieving net zero, a target which I signed into law back in 2019. Yet equally if not more important is the impact that research into how we can better use existing technologies to achieve net zero. If 2021 will be dominated by any agreement reached at COP26 in Glasgow in November, it will have to be research that steps up to deliver on the greener future that will be required. 

The issue for the UK’s R&D strategy comes when we move away from the clearly defined narratives of levelling up, building back better, or a green recovery. Mission orientated approaches towards specific goals and outcomes are helpful in supporting these narratives, shaping them and the financial investment needed to deliver upon them. But UK research has also led and shaped a better future by its discovery led nature, based on excellence. This cannot be left aside in the desire to create more challenge-based funding schemes. The creation of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency is a welcome one, but again this should not be viewed as an alternative to properly funding laboratory focused research across departments in our universities and research institutes, which will still be conducting perhaps 90% of existing R&D research. 

I make this point, for if we are to research for a better future, it is worth reminding that this does not always necessarily mean we need to resort to novelty. Existing funding mechanisms such as QR are perhaps the best means by which to get R&D investment flowing so that it has maximum impact. I’ve seen first-hand also how QR can be used as the mortar to bind various funding streams together, so that organically, research projects can then flourish and attract further private R&D in turn. Equally, funding opportunities such as the Research Partnership Investment Fund or the Higher Education Innovation Fund are working, though I believe with the publication of the Knowledge Exchange Framework, they can be now harnessed to better qualitative data. 

We need not reinvent the wheel to move faster towards 2.4% or 3% … we just need to change the tyre.

One of the reasons I campaigned strongly also for association to Horizon Europe was along these same conservative principles, that we should seek to preserve and protect long cherished research partnerships that have been forged over many years. It is a philosophy perhaps best espoused by Michael Oakshott—  ‘to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible’. We need not reinvent the wheel to move faster towards 2.4% or 3% as I would suggest, we just need to change the tyre.

That said, I do believe that there is a case for fashioning a new compact for R&D between government, universities and our research institutes, one based not solely on increased investment, but on how that money is apportioned and how better research can be realised by engendering a better sense of trust within the system. 

Far too often, too many researchers in both university and industry and chasing too many pots of grant funding, the total amount of which will last but a year if lucky before another funding cycle needs to be initiated. An hour wasted on form-filling, on meetings to agree who will conduct the assessment, to meet the demands and conditions of the grant, is potentially an hour of research wasted. The government has rightly instigated a Bureaucracy Review into existing processes, but I wonder if everyone would not be better served by moving towards a model of research funding like Horizon Europe, that has a multi-financial framework, a fixed seven year research programme. 

For the government, such a single research fund might help to rationalise investments from discovery led research and ARIA at the apex, towards more translational and applied research at the base, with missions acting as funding streams. Setting a multi-annual budget would also allow for UKR&D activity to be more agile, to seize potential collaborative R&D activities with international partners, and to break free from the annual cycle of the R&D budget. And at the same time, a single research budget could be clearly communicable to the public and taxpayer, in the same way Horizon has been across Europe. 

Perhaps you may view this as just too ambitious, though we should recognise that, as the pandemic has demonstrated and Net Zero will need to demonstrate in spades if it is to succeed, the horizontal structures of government and society need to be as strong as the vertical,  to which a single budget commissioning research might be the answer. 

Stability

Underlying the purpose of a single budget, and a multi-annual framework aligned to an agreed settlement, is perhaps the most important principle we need for research: stability. You all know the value that stability brings, and the threat to research that instability endangers. Grants are paused, revenue streams dry up, collaborations once possible move elsewhere. More than money can ever buy, stability lies at the heart of a successful R&D ecosystem. That is why it is so important that when considering any policy decision, and its potential to disrupt or delay, analysis is given to how this might impact upon research capacity. 

To this I would like to add two further priorities for delivering better research: security and sustainability. 

Security

Security of course has more than one connotation, both facing inwards and outwards. For the research community, research cannot be conducted effectively without the frameworks and agreements that underpin collaboration. The importance of intellectual property rights and other intangible assets is only growing, and if the UK is to maintain its leadership in these fields, we will need to seek out new means of securing new rights across digital domains and AI. Post-Brexit, we seriously need to address issues around UK IP rights and our relationship with the European Patent Office, but this should also point to a wider review of how the UK can lead on the debates around the future of copyright, trademarks and patents working with the World Intellectual Property Organisation. 

The security of research that has the potential to fall into the hands of hostile agents needs to be guarded against too, which is why the creation of a new unit in BEIS to monitor threats to universities and research institutes is a welcome one. We should continue to seek collaborations across the globe, for research knows no boundaries, but this cannot come at the cost of compromising the value of research that has been funded by the taxpayer. Then there is the question of sovereignty when it comes to critical national infrastructure and assets. Debates around a UK GNSS system in space and UK independence will likely translate across to other new technologies in due course. Post-Brexit, there is a powerful narrative to be explored about how the UK, while working to strengthen its international collaboration in research, can at the same time increase and improve its independent manufacturing capacity in new technologies. 

But security in research, for any researcher, is also about their job. Putting food on the table, looking after their family, scientists and researchers are human after all, even if it seems at times that they perform superhuman tasks. Academic precarity for early career researchers was an area of policy I sought to focus on when a Minister, highlighting the consequences of fixed term contracts and non disclosure agreements that undermined staff and their welfare. Never mind the so-called ‘brain drain’ across the Atlantic, we continue to lose too many excellent researchers from our universities, some who never return to work in R&D again. This is an unacceptable loss of talent, and an unacceptable loss of taxpayer investment in human capital that has been wasted due to lack of foresight. It’s why one of the last announcements I made was that the government should construct a People Strategy for research, to plan effectively how to retain researchers and not lose them through a lack of secure job opportunities.  

Sustainability

To stability and security, I would also add sustainability. By that I don’t mean measuring sustainability by SDGs or in financial terms, though that is clearly important, but in sustaining the institutions through which R&D flows. 

To return to that same Oakshottean principle, we should seek to conserve that which has worked, to recognise and respect the value that our existing universities and research institutes bring to Britain globally. This includes taking care not to threaten university R&D activity inadvertently. Ultimately, this would not happen if research costs were funded at full economic cost. To place research activity at the mercy of international student flows or any other cross-subsidisation seems a dangerous place, and perhaps ultimately unsustainable place, to be. 

Universities and their research have been so outstanding at delivering on international sustainable development goals, turning their focus on how to improve societies across the globe, that sometimes they seem to have neglected their own sustainability. By this I don’t mean their financial sustainability, but the sustainability of their public image. I have campaigned for universities to recognise their value as civic institutions, to become anchor institutions in the towns and cities from which they take their name, if they are to retain wider public support. 

There is so much untapped potential here, for universities to not only highlight their existing importance to their local and regional economies, but to consciously adopt new strategies of setting up walk in centres on local high streets, engaging seriously with future modular and course based provision, to demonstrate why they can be change makers locally as well as globally. Of course there is a wider role here for how all this is measured if it is to be managed, but the intent should come before the process. In an age of competing priorities, the more universities can do to expand their mission, the more likely they are to secure their future. As I have said previously, Red Wall universities can spearhead an educational and civic mission as impressive as the Red Brick universities had, if they are willing to look at how to do things differently, diversify and adapt. Sustainability can and should be local as much as global. 

Call it the Plan Triple S, if you like, but these three words: stability, security and sustainability should underpin any research strategy for a better future. Between them they blend, I believe, the vital importance of retaining and conserving what the UK already does so well, with the potential to achieve even more, building on our successes. 

For ultimately, if we want to research for a better world, we need better research. 

Thank you. 

Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP 

Engineering opportunity: letting down the drawbridge

This week, the EPC published its report on the contribution to social mobility made by studying Engineering. Chief Executive Johnny Rich and Research Assistant Vicky Howell sum up the key findings.

The starting point for the EPC’s new report Engineering Opportunity: Maximising the opportunities for social mobility from studying Engineering is that, on average, Engineering graduates go on to earn more than most other graduates. That fact won’t surprise anyone, but the report explores the story behind it and has wide implications for higher education policy and supporting social mobility.

Compared to other subject areas, Engineering graduates do rather well financially. Starting salaries are already an average of £6,200 higher when compared to the median for all graduates and, by ten years after graduation, that’s risen to £11,700. 

However, we also found evidence that engineering is not a sector in which these salary rewards are restricted to those who already had everything going for them. Even when you take account of characteristics such as prior attainment and socio-economic disadvantage, the salary premium persists. 

In fact, when you look at students who entered Engineering with BTECs – a group which includes many disadvantaged students – their earnings boost is even greater than it is for the high-attaining A level students. Similarly, the data on getting a job and remaining in secure employment is also favourable.

In other words, studying Engineering boosts earnings significantly, regardless of background, and so supports social mobility.

So far, so self-congratulatory. However, our report goes on to acknowledge that Engineering may be a great social leveller, but as a discipline, we are not doing enough to make its advantages more accessible to the students from the very backgrounds who would benefit most.

Just one in eight students in higher education comes from the fifth of areas with the lowest participation rates (Quintile 1 in POLAR4), but in Engineering the proportion is lower still at less than one in ten. 

The reasons for this ‘drawbridge effect’ – where there’s a feast to be had, but only if you can get across the moat – are varied. 

  • Engineering is a demanding subject and so its entry requirements are often demanding too. High tariffs can not only exclude capable students with lower prior attainment, but can discourage them from even applying.
  • Because Engineering is not taught in schools, most people are as likely to think of ‘an engineer’ as someone who fixes a washing machine as someone who designs smart materials, builds spacecraft, or solves climate change challenges. This means Engineering tends to attract those who actually know an engineer in their family. In other words, it replicates its historical social profile.
  • Both outside the discipline and sometimes even within, Engineering is seen as sciency (whereas, in reality, it is often as creative and practical as it is technical and theoretical) and therefore Maths and Physics are often regarded as the appropriate qualifications. In an education system where stretched schools and colleges struggle to offer A levels in these courses and have neither the resources nor the teachers to offer every pupil the chance to do triple science (ie. Chemistry, Physics and Biology) at GCSE, then it’s no surprise this becomes a filter that favours the privileged.

For these reasons and many others, the Engineering drawbridge is in stubborn need of greasing. Interestingly, however, Engineering could be seen to have the potential to be more flexible than most subjects in its entry requirements, not less. The absence of Engineering from the school curriculum means that whatever prior attainment a student might have, it will only ever be a rough proxy for their capacity to succeed as an engineer. 

This has implications for the minimum entry requirements the government is considering for access to English higher education funding. Any arbitrary cut-off tariff would have to relate to the students’ attainment in subjects other than the one they want to study. Not only would this limit social mobility, it would also undermine Engineering’s ability to recruit students to a subject area that is strategically critical in rebuilding the economy.

Skills shortages in engineering are such that school-leavers alone cannot plug the gap. We need what Paul Jackson has described as ‘intersectoral mobility’ – people with experience in the workforce retraining in engineering roles. The drawbridge must be lowered for them too.

The EPC report makes a range of recommendations, many of which would support social mobility both in and outside engineering. 

Among these is a reminder that fair access is worth examining at the discipline level and that well-intentioned system-wide incentives and metric approaches may have unintended consequences at course level where the actual admissions take place. The recruitment challenges of access in Engineering, for example, may encourage institutions to dodge the difficulties by expanding courses with a better record of attracting POLAR Q1 students, even though they may ultimately have less good social mobility outcomes.

Perhaps the most timely recommendation for the government to note relates to foundation years. These are the entry pathway for 12% of engineering graduates, including many of those BTEC-entrants and returners who not only gain most value themselves, but also repay most of their loans and are most important to attract for the sake of the economy. 

The report states, “Foundation courses, ideally with minimal procedural transition into degree study, are more effective than other access courses [AHEDs] because the continuity of study in the same institution supports progression.” 

By way of analogy, it compares the progression of students who start and complete an MEng with the smaller numbers who embark on a BEng and then decide to progress to Masters level. If you set the sights high for student with potential, they will achieve more than they thought possible to start with.

The Augar Review set its gunsights on foundation years as being no more than a more costly alternative to HE Access diplomas. Whatever one thinks of the recommendations of Augar, most of them had their reasoning clearly demonstrated. The proposal on foundation years, however, seemed conspicuous by its lack of any evidential basis. 

When the government responds fully to the Review later in the year, the EPC report (like the Policy Perspectives Nework) suggests that the best service to disadvantaged students, to Engineering and to the nation’s economic imperatives would be to expand foundation years rather than to axe them.

Foundation years – and the opportunity they offer to transition into higher education in general, or Engineering in particular – are critical to lowering the drawbridge for entry and inviting disadvantaged students to the feast beyond. 


For the most part, the data findings of the Engineering opportunity report relate to England only and not to the devolved nations. It is important to make it clear that this was a consequence of the availability of comparable data. We hope to undertake further research in other nations of the UK in future.

MEDIA RELEASE: Studying Engineering gives ‘turbo boost’ to social mobility, reveals new EPC research


Studying Engineering gives ‘turbo boost’ to social mobility, reveals new EPC research

Report: Engineering Opportunity: Maximising the opportunities for social mobility from studying engineering

A new study, published today by the Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC), reveals that studying an Engineering degree gives a greater boost to social mobility when compared to other subjects. 

The EPC, which represents engineering academics across UK universities, found that data relating to graduates’ earnings, backgrounds and entry qualifications suggests that the gap between the incomes of Engineering graduates from different socio-economic backgrounds was significantly smaller than for other graduates. 

The Engineering Opportunity report reveals that, ten years after qualifying, the average salary of Engineering graduates is £42,700 – which is £11,700 more than the average of other graduates. While some of this was down to pre-existing characteristics associated with higher earnings (such as higher entry grades, gender, region and social status), these factors could not account for the whole gap and the higher earnings were relatively evenly spread across the country.

The study concludes: “Choosing to study Engineering in higher education really does increase labour market success, one of the drivers of social mobility.”

The earnings premium was greatest for engineers with BTEC qualifications, a group which tends to have much larger numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They earned an average of £8,100 more than the average wage of other graduates with BTECs five years after graduating.

The findings suggest that foundation years (in-university access courses) in Engineering may be a particularly effective way of delivering social mobility to students without traditional entry qualifications, but these opportunities were limited, especially in the most selective universities. 

Today’s publication provides timely evidence for the English Government’s plans for higher education. The Department for Education is expected to respond later in the year to the Augar Review of post-16 education, which recommended that the funding of foundation years should be axed. The DfE is also considering dropping BTECs as a qualification and making changes to admissions that the EPC believes would narrow opportunities.

The DfE also intends to consult on changes to fees to bolster STEM subjects and the report supports the argument that Engineering at least delivers an excellent return on investment in terms of earnings. However, the report also identifies key areas of concern and makes various recommendations to boost social mobility through Engineering and all areas of higher education. 

For example, the report showed that, despite offering a clear career benefit to all students, Engineering disproportionately attracts those from higher socio-economic groups. It was also clear that the lack of science and maths teaching in secondary education – particularly in schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students – is a major barrier to accessing the benefits of Engineering higher education. 

The study also demonstrated that, although the vast majority of students with lower qualifications benefitted when given an opportunity to study an Engineering degree, some struggled and were more prone to dropping out.

Drawing on the findings, the EPC report includes seven policy recommendations to further enhance the social mobility gains achieved through higher education, and Engineering in particular. These include: wider access to ‘triple science’ at GCSE; more radical and widespread consideration of students’ backgrounds in university admissions; entry grades automatically adjusted to account for background; expansion of foundation years; conversion courses to support students academically; use of metrics that focus on the value added to each student rather than unfair comparisons; and regulation of university access at the level of subject areas as well as whole institutions.

The EPC’s Chief Executive, Johnny Rich, commented:

“Our findings demonstrate that not only is Engineering higher education critical to the future of our economy, our regions and our environment, it is also a great social leveller, providing a more equal chance to succeed for all students regardless of their background.

“Aspiration among young people is not lacking, but opportunity is. We need to build a system – through education and into employment – that engineers opportunities for all who want to realise their potential.”

EPC President, Professor Colin Turner, added:

“We must build on our success in creating chances for students by maximising their potential. We must level the playing field of educational opportunities in schools. We must support those with BTECs or from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain access to Engineering degrees and foundation years. We must support them to succeed by addressing their academic needs. And we must help them to progress into the workplace where they can build opportunities for generations to come.”

Ends. 

Date: 21st May 2021
EMBARGO:                   00:01 Tuesday 25th May 2021
For more information:   Johnny Rich, 078 1111 4292, j.rich@epc.ac.uk

Notes:

  • The Engineering Professors’ Council is the voice of engineering academics in UK universities, representing over 8,000 individuals across 85 different universities. 
  • Engineering Opportunity: Maximising the opportunities for social mobility from studying engineering is available on the EPC website at bit.ly/EPCEngOpp
  • The report will be launched at an online event from 9.15 to 10.15 am. Key findings will be presented as well as a panel of individuals who are able to share their personal perspectives on social mobility. Register to attend at bit.ly/EPCSocialMobility
  • Johnny Rich, EPC Chief Executive, is available for interview.

Wanted: Members and Vice Chair for the EPC RIKT Committee

Vacancies on Research, Innovation and Knowledge Transfer (RIKT) Committee: Committee Members and Committee Vice Chair

The Engineering Professors’ Council is the representative body for engineering in UK higher education. We aim to influence the policy landscape on education and research, and to support our members in their work. We work closely with government, professional bodies, funders, industry and other interest groups.

The RIKT Committee has a focus on engineering research, enterprise, innovation and knowledge transfer activities at a national and international level. At our core we wish to achieve impact from the engineering research in the UK and raise opportunities for collaboration between industry and academia.

We are looking to expand the committee by welcoming new members in some or all of the following areas:

  1. Industry-facing academics or academics active in research, innovation and knowledge transfer 
  2. Industry members to offer their insights and assist us in ensuring engineering research maximises innovation and knowledge transfer and impact
  3. Industry-based visiting professors (current and previous)

In particular, we are looking to appoint a new Vice Chair of the Committee who will serve for one year before assuming the Chair for two years and then stepping down to act as Vice Chair for a further year.

Commitment required
  • 2-4 meetings per year, approximately two hours per meeting (currently on Zoom)
  • A keen interest in collaborating with the EPC with the aim of maximising opportunities for and the value from UK engineering research 
  • Some reading time external to the committee (usually approximately an hour per committee meeting, but sometime more)

Brexit impact on UK’s engineering education sector

Exploring EU student and staff experience

We are pleased to announce the publication of the EPC’s joint study with UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education on the experiences and perceptions of European (EU) engineering students and academic staff in UK universities.

The findings of Brexit impact on UK’s engineering education sector: Exploring EU students and staff experiences shine a spotlight on the importance of the long history of collaboration and shared purpose with the UK’s direct geographical neighbours to advancing excellence in engineering and engineering research. The research demonstrates that the readiest and most promising opportunities are in preserving and strengthening existing relationships, exploiting geographical proximity, to further research collaborations.

Drawing on surveys, interviews and data analysis, the independent research was conducted to support an evidence-based approach to the recruitment and retention of European talent into UK engineering education, research and practice through understanding the concerns and expectations of European students and academic staff.

The views expressed within were made at a particular point in time before the EU and UK negotiators reached an agreement on 24 December 2020. The interviews were conducted before the General Election in December 2019 and due to covid-19, the surveys were delayed to June 2020.

Financial barriers threaten the future of engineering EU student recruitment

While a UK engineering education is still attractive to a majority of EU students, at different levels of study, interview and survey data support the idea that EU undergraduate students who started degrees after June 2016 were taking the opportunity to study engineering in the UK as a ‘last chance’ before changes to fees, funding and visa requirements. Being eligible for home fee status and financial support from the UK’s Student Finance were among the most important factors when making the decision to study engineering in the UK.

Of our survey sample, only one in five students – including 8% of undergraduates, 23.8% of Integrated Masters, 16.7% of postgraduates and 28.6% PhDs – would have applied to a UK university today if they were not eligible for a student loan or full scholarship. According to these findings, the announced changes in tuition fees, access to student finance and visa requirements for courses starting in academic year 2021/22 might be expected to have a severe impact on the recruitment of EU engineering students.

EU academics forewarn an engineering “brain drain”

Brexit consequences for EU engineering academic staff are far-reaching. Academics reported that four years of uncertainty around a UK-EU deal has already negatively impacted collaboration with European partners and access to funding: since the Brexit referendum outcome, there are cases where UK partners were excluded from EU-funded research proposals with well-established and new EU partners. Moreover, Brexit has exacerbated EU nationals’ perceptions of not feeling welcome in the UK.

Whereas EU engineering academics agree that the UK’s universities provide the resources and opportunities for career progression and research leadership, only one third of survey respondents would have come to the UK if they had had to make that decision today. Freedom of movement, access to research funding and being afforded equal rights with British citizens will be key to informing their decision to remain in the UK – or to leave – in the near future.

Discouraged by research funding difficulties and worried by uncertainties in securing their rights to live and work in the UK, EU engineering academics said they may consider leaving the UK to seek jobs on the Continent, mainly in their home countries or in Switzerland, Germany and France, as they believe “all the engineering opportunities are in the EU”. As shown in an analysis of HESA data, this “brain-drain”, as one EU academic put it, could be particularly damaging for engineering research: one in four research-only engineering academics is European, of which 75% are on fixed-term contracts.

A fractured pipeline for the UK engineering workforce

One third of EU academics surveyed came to the UK initially to study as undergraduate and/or postgraduate engineering students before becoming academics. Many EU students plan to stay in the UK after graduation to work as engineers. However, changes to study conditions and the UK’s points-based immigration system are seen as heavy barriers to EU nationals. They are likely to have a negative impact not only on student and academic staff recruitment, but also on the UK’s engineering research and innovation base, and on its much-needed, diverse and talented workforce.

Given a historical reliance on European engineers in the UK workforce, the skills pipeline might be compromised if they no longer regarded the UK as an attractive place for prospective and existing graduates and for academics to pursue their future career plans.

Recommendations

The findings shine a spotlight on the importance of the long history of collaboration and shared purpose with the UK’s direct geographical neighbours to advancing excellence in engineering and engineering research.

While the opportunities to develop new partnerships with countries outside the European Union are desirable and welcome, it would be inadvisable to develop these at the expense of well-established relationships within closer reach of the UK. The research demonstrates that the readiest and most promising opportunities are in preserving and strengthening existing relationships, exploiting geographical proximity, to further research collaborations.

“[Since Brexit] it feels it will become more difficult to get grant applications to work with our direct geographical neighbours. We’re looking at a lot of partnerships with India at the moment, with Mexico. This is really good but traveling to India and Mexico is by far more difficult than interacting with people from Europe. (…) It makes these kinds of collaborations very difficult, actually. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about people and unless you interact in person, at least every once in a while, with researchers, things just don’t happen. It makes things much more difficult”.

To reinforce its leading role in engineering innovation, the UK’s new strategy should promote inclusive and mutual agreements in granting access and funds to research collaborations with European partners; support student and staff interchange between the UK and the EU; and facilitate purchase and distribution of specialised equipment and technology.

The post-Brexit agreement to secure participation, and access to funds, by UK-based researchers in Horizon Europe is beneficial. Further reassurance needs to be signaled by the UK Government to support the re-establishment of UK researchers’ leading role in European projects.

Rather than replacing Erasmus+, the new Turing scheme should expand on the UK’s participation by enabling engagement in European student exchange. This should be a springboard to wider international engagement in Europe and globally.

Barriers to EU engineering students and academic staff to study and work in the UK have a negative impact on the diversity of experiences and learning opportunities of UK nationals studying in UK universities. UK’s universities are among the most international universities in the world. Being part of a diverse and welcoming university environment was regarded as one of the most important reasons to study, teach and research engineering in the UK in this study and many other surveys. Without promoting this diversity, UK students will also lose important opportunities to engage with different ways of teaching, learning and research in engineering.

(…) we do have a lot of students here in universities who are coming from mainland Europe. We need that influx and the influence of people coming in with slightly different backgrounds and ideas to strengthen the courses here by adding that aspect of variety. As we’re making sure that we do keep those opportunities would be very beneficial. (…) having to limit that in just the UK might reduce our impact and ability to push the boundaries of research”.

Notes to editors:

  1. “Brexit impact on UK’s engineering education sector: Exploring EU students and staff experiences” is a Royal Academy of Engineering funded project by UCL Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) and the Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC).
  2. A more detailed report can be downloaded below.

What’s going on with UK Research Funding?

The government has a stated goal of achieving 2.4% of the UK’s GDP to be spent annually on research and development (R&D) by 2027. This would be an increase of more than a third on today’s spending levels.

After reaching 2.4%, the aim is to achieve 3% by 2030. Even this, however, is no higher than the middle of the range for OECD countries. Among advanced, highly research-active countries like the UK, the comparison is even less favourable in terms of levels of investment.

In any case, the plans represent a big expansion in funding. The question is, where will this money come from? The government has never claimed it would all come from the public purse – and clearly not all of it will.

The Funding Breakdown

Most of the public spending on research used to come through two channels:

First, there’s UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), the super-agency forged in 2018 out of a merger of the research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. UKRI allocated £7.5 billion of pounds in grants last year.

Second, there was Horizon 2020 – a research collaboration consisting of the EU and non-EU countries (known as ‘associated countries’). Horizon 2020 was funded by contributions from EU member states, as well as association fees paid by associated countries such as Switzerland and Israel. As the name suggests, Horizon 2020 provided funding plans until last year only.

As you may have seen in the news recently, another funding agency – the brainchild of Dominic Cummings before he left Downing St – has been set up under the name of ‘ARIA’ (Advanced Research and Invention Agency). It is based on the American ‘ARPA’ (or ‘DARPA’), with a current budget of £800 million until 2024/25.

Since Horizon 2020 concluded, Horizon Europe is due to replace it. Now that the UK has left the EU, we must join Horizon Europe as an associated country – by paying association fees. Previously, the UK’s access to Horizon 2020 came as part of the package of benefits covered by our membership contribution to the EU. Some countries did rather better in Horizon 2020 grants compared to their relative contribution to the EU’s overall budget. The UK itself received 12.1% (more than €7 billion), while it contributed an average 11.4% of the total EU budget. After Germany, the UK was the second largest recipient of Horizon 2020 grants.

Though the exact cost is not yet public, joining Horizon Europe will likely cost the UK around £1Bn a year – and, given the UK’s past success as an exporter of research, it is likely to see a return of between 100% and 150% of that figure. That excludes any calculation of the “multiplier effect” that accompanies funding.

In other words, by buying into Horizon Europe, the UK government will be able to fund UK research indirectly and bring in more money than it invests at the same time. It will also help to foster international collaboration, which, many would argue, is now more important than ever in the wake of Brexit.

The question remains though – how will the Government pay for this?

The R&D Budget

Following an announcement on April 1st, we now know that the government will be funding the UK’s access to Horizon Europe. In this latest press release, £250 million has now been allocated for this purpose. Additionally, there was a promise that there would be no cuts to the existing UKRI budgets. This avoids the earlier £1 billion cut to UKRI’s budget that was feared if the government had not made this announcement. That still leaves potentially 75% of the funding for Horizon Europe (beyond the £250 million) which is now, according to the government’s announcement, set to come from “unallocated funds”. This sounds worryingly vague, but perhaps it is merely a reflection of the fact that the exact cost for Horizon Europe association isn’t known yet.

Also included in the April 1st press release was the bold statement that the government has now committed £14.9 billion in funding for research and development in 2021/22. It also highlights “a boost of more than £1.5 billion in 2020/21” which now means R&D spending is “at its highest level in four decades”. Of this £14.9 billion, the government has allocated £11.3bn for BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) according to Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

While this looks like a step in the right direction, it is still unclear where the rest of the £14.9 billion will come from. As Andy Westwood has pointed out, 2027 is both the year Horizon Europe runs until – and the year the government hopes to reach its 2.4% target. There is concern that the government may use its investment in Horizon as an opportunity to ‘double count’ its funding allocation. This may be done by counting the £1 billion allocation to Horizon as well as counting any funding from Horizon itself. If this is the case, then it may bring the overall total up to around £13.2 billion. Of course, this still leaves £1.7 billion that we’re struggling to trace.

It seems that we will have to wait and see where the rest of this funding comes from or goes to, perhaps all will become clearer as future budgets are announced. In the wake of this unprecedented increase in funding levels, UK research will hopefully benefit from ever-increasing support in the future.

What is Engineering? Subject coding: HECoS, JACS and engineering, an unofficial guide

If you follow the HE data environment, or even just the policy headlines, you’ll probably have noticed that a new subject coding system – the Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) – has now been fully implemented. HECoS replaces the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) shared by UCAS and HESA and commonly used across the sector; the detail behind what official statistics consider subject, subject group, subject line, or discipline. Luckily for us, Engineering features distinctly in both JACS and HECoS.

But first more techy background. The HECoS vocabulary (refined to version 9 currently, despite its appearance in open HESA data for the first time in the latest, 2019/20, data series) is confusing for most, and a minefield for the uninitiated. Although the codes are randomly generated and have no inherent meaning in themselves, for the purposes of analysis, each code is grouped into subject areas at a few levels of detail – the Common Aggregation Hierarchy (CAH). And although we are advised that CAH can be applied against both the old (JACS) and new (HECoS) coding frames with caution, disappointingly this does not allow for consistent analysis.

So, what does this mean for Engineering? In short, you will continue to be able to see patterns of application, acceptance (UCAS) enrolment and other student population data (HESA) for the engineering labels you recognise, plus a new bioengineering classification:

  • mechanical engineering
  • production and manufacturing engineering
  • aeronautical and aerospace engineering
  • naval architecture
  • bioengineering, medical and biomedical engineering
  • civil engineering
  • electrical and electronic engineering
  • chemical, process and energy engineering
  • others in engineering

Aside from the change in the order in which they’re typically presented, aerospace becomes aeronautical and aerospace engineering; electronic and electrical becomes electrical and electronic engineering; and bioengineering, medical and biomedical engineering gets its own line. Plus, for general engineering, you now need to think in terms of engineering (non-specific).

But this is not just semantics. Quite apart from the change in culture and practice in course coding at source, some fine jiggery pokery means apparently like-for-like comparisons are not so. Not least, the new bioengineering, medical and biomedical engineering courses have come from elsewhere, including elsewhere in engineering. Combinations within engineering have also been (more accurately) absorbed.

And at a discipline-by-discipline level:

  • general engineering exports courses to medicine, physics, geography and architecture, not to mention those that the new engineering (non-specific) imports from other subjects.
  • mechanical engineering passes numerous course codes across to production and manufacturing engineering as well as (naval) architecture and physics.
  • electronic and electrical engineering notably redistributes robotics and cybernetics to production and manufacturing engineering and virtual reality engineering to computing. It also helps to populate the new bioengineering classification.
  • civil engineering and aerospace engineering are truer to form but send a few JACS codes off into other engineering disciplines (and physics for aerospace).
  • production and manufacturing engineering exports nothing (but remember it’s quite an importer from other engineering disciplines at least).
  • chemical, process and energy engineering appears at a glance to be least touched by the changes.

Of course, this is a summary, not a detailed mapping. The takeaway is that, despite what the CAH titles may belie, these are not like-for-like mappings and are not comparable. To this end, the chart below shows UCAS accepted applicant data for 2019/20 and 2020/21 by CAH3 in engineering and its equivalent JACS3. There are clear differences between the CAH and JACS 2-year pairings, whilst the 2-year trends for most are broadly similar, albeit less pronounced by CAH.

Click on the chart to expand

The chart and underlying data / trends are also provided in a spreadsheet we’ve prepared to help you map in detail, should you want to do so.

A list of HECoS CAH codes (at levels 1 and 3) aligned to each JACS subject group can be found in the Summary JACS to CAH pivot worksheet. The reverse mapping is provided as Summary CAH to JACS pivot. The full version 1.2 HECoS Lookup, identifying each JACS subject group, course code and label (which relates to this season’s HESA data series but expires at the end of July) by HECoS code, label, CAH1, 2 and 3 is also provided, including summaries of their mapping category and relation (see remaining tabs for mapping and definitions).

Further support documentation available on the HESA website.

Data Blog: Become an expert in UCAS engineering data in ten steps

Spoiler: there is no data in this data blog! Instead, we bring you a mixed media UCAS engineering data masterclass to share what we’ve learned about the tools available this year while looking to analyse it.

You may already know that you can access engineering data using MS Power BI at discipline level on the UCAS website. If not, let me excite you.

You can quickly and easily produce headline tables and charts filtering UCAS applications and acceptances profiles for engineering, drilling down into a host of variables including the cohort’s gender, age and where they are from.

Below are EPC’s engineering focused instructions, coupled with a brief video tutorial to walk you through visually.

Don’t worry, an analysis will follow. In the meantime, if you discover any more UCAS self-service details, options or top tips, please do post a comment below.

And if you’d like to be involved in the development of the interactive data analysis tools planned for EPC online, please contact us.

Click to watch this 12 minute guide

Masterclass step-by-step guide

1. Go to UCAS.com and scroll down to Data and Analysis. Select Undergraduate statistics and reports and then End of cycle data resources. Alternatively, go directly via this link.

2. By selecting either Acceptances, Applications or Offers you can filter acceptances and main scheme applications, offers and offer rates for engineering.

Top tip: These all seem to lead to the same place, where there is a check box to choose from again in the top right hand corner.

Top tip: You can filter the chart by engineering but for better detail in linked charts and tables, leave the filter on all and click on the engineering colour in the key or in the chart itself.

3. Once you’ve homed in on engineering, you can filter or drill down by

  • Domicile
  • Age group
  • Gender

Top tip: We couldn’t find an export or copy functionality, so if you want to copy a whole crosstab into another document or report, you may need to resort to the downloadable datasets (see 7. Below).

4. By selecting Unconditional offers you can view unconditional offers (18-year-olds) by type of offer (direct unconditional, conditional unconditional, other unconditional or conditional component) and proportion.

Top tip: This includes English, Welsh and Northern Irish applicants only.

5. Technical notes and definitions are available above in the help section of the dashboard.

Top tip: You won’t get far this year without deciding whether to identify engineering using JACS3 – available at discipline (detailed subject, sometimes known as subject line) level which is available for 2007-2020 – or its replacement subject coding scheme, HECoS (detailed subject, sometimes known as CAH3, which is available for 2019-20 only. These aren’t comparable and the latest HESA data is only available by HECoS. If you want to know the details, a quick engineering guide and an unofficial engineering mapping spreadsheet is available here.

6. If all of this is too much, EPC members can download the headline applications and acceptances data from the EPC website.

Top tip: This is a password protected members page. If you are an EPC member and don’t know your password, please contact us.

7. Or, if you’ve got the bug, even more data is available (for home students) if you’re prepared to download some datasets. A full list of datasets, variables and combinations available can be found here.

Top tip: This is also your reference guide if you want to understand which of the many datasets you need to download to undertake your own analysis.

8. Using the datasets, you can filter applications (including applications type) and acceptances (including acceptance route) by engineering by:

  • Ethnicity
  • Disability
  • POLAR4
  • IMD
  • UK region
  • Provider region
  • School type

Top tip: If you want to access headline engineering data on all (not UK only) select provider region.

But not by combinations of those together. Those you can analyse multivariately are:

  • Domicile
  • Gender
  • Age group

Top tip: This dataset is one of several which exceeds MS Excel’s row limits making rookie analysis tricky. Remember, for a basic look at distributions, you don’t need to download the dataset as it can be explored via the UCAS website.

Top tip: It’s pretty quick and easy to use the online UCAS tool to check your subject totals tally back to the published figures. Note though that some of the overall totals across all subjects published by UCAS vary a little between their outputs, probably due to their rounding policy.

8. You can also consider main scheme offers by discipline, and unconditional offers for engineering as a whole.

9. There is other data at all-subject level you might find useful including Clearing plus, 18-year-old population estimates, post-result grade increases, and entry rates.

10. Phew! Well done for getting to the end. Any queries? Do feel free to contact us.

Policy summary, February 2021

It has been a busy start to the year for HE policy and politics, despite the roll-out of a third UK lockdown at the start of the year – significantly impacting campus presence and face-to-face teaching and cancelling summer level 3 exams again this summer across all UK administrations.

After numerous delays, the government FE white paper has now been published, alongside an interim response to the Augar Review and the Pearce review of the TEF. A summary of these and other “live” policies are outlined below.

  • Skills for Jobs FE white paper

The Skills for Jobs white paper presents the government’s post-compulsory skills agenda, setting out plans to boost quality, parity of esteem and take-up of higher technical qualifications at levels four and five. “Kitemarked” qualifications will be approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) based on the institute’s employer-led standards for higher apprenticeships. The triangulation will be completed through full alignment to T levels, enabling progression from T levels to HTQs.

The range of options at post-16 and post-compulsory will be showcased by a modest injection into careers advice through improvements to the national careers service website and further rollout of local careers hubs.

From 2023, funding for non-kitemarked qualifications will be reduced and a new IfATE/OFS system for assessing quality beyond initial qualification approval will be applied to all technical education providers. This will include apprenticeships, which are also targeted for expansion, through funding for smaller employers to offer apprenticeships, greater ease for larger employers to transfer their apprenticeship levy funds, and the publication of salary returns data for apprenticeships.

The lifetime skills guarantee, and lifelong loan allowance announced by the Prime Minister last September, intended to allow more flexible use of student loan entitlement over a lifetime, will be implemented from 2025. Aligned with this is a signal of future funding to support development of more modular, flexible higher education provision and credit transfer in 2021-22.

Prior to this (in summer 2021) there will be funding for a further eight Institutes of Technology charged with offering high quality higher technical STEM provision in all areas of England.

  • TEF report

Dame Shirley Pearce’s Independent Review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) called for clarity of purpose (and name) and improvements its metrics and their statistical application, transparency, relevance and balance (read burden). Pearce recommended greater granularity within four aspects – Teaching and Learning Environment, Student Satisfaction, Educational Gains, Graduate Outcomes – and a more nuanced rating system.

Pearce noted the need for broader input metrics, accounting for regional differences. Within Educational Gains, she noted an ambition for each university to demonstrate how, within their own particular mission, they articulate and measure the educational outcomes and learning that they aim to provide for their students.

A subject-level exercise was also recommended for inclusion in the provider-level assessment to inform ratings at provider rather than subject level.

  • Government’s response to the TEF report

The Government “mostly agreed” with the Review’s high-level recommendations and has responded by abandoning the subject level TEF exercise. Instead, they have asked OfS to develop a “revised and invigorated” provider-level TEF which will run not on a one-year cycle, but every four to five years, with the first group of assessments completed and published by 2022. Where the government didn’t agree with the recommendations was in its insistence that the TEF’s secondary purpose was to inform student choice. Furthermore, emphasis on ‘Student Satisfaction’ was rejected in favour of ‘Student Academic Experience’.

Unsurprisingly, driving out low quality provision permeated the Government’s vision for the new TEF (name unchanged) within a wider quality regime which will “apply across all providers, not just those at the lower end (where the OfS is consulting on plans to introduce a more rigorous quality baseline)” – see below. Four award levels will replace the existing bronze, silver and gold, where the new bottom category will capture those providers failing to show sufficient evidence of excellence and who need to improve the quality of their provision. The introduction of Limiting Factors is mooted, such that a provider should not achieve a high TEF rating if it has poor student outcomes.

A consultation on future iterations of TEF is expected in due course, including measures beyond

just earnings (including a reliable measure of educational gain) taking account of regional variations and flexible modes of study. There is a useful ONS Evaluation of the statistical elements of TEF which might guide this, at least in part.

In case you missed it, the OfS published the findings from the second subject-level pilot of the TEF in 2018-19 to coincide with the publication of the Pearce Review into the TEF.

  • Government’s (holding) response to the Augar Review

The Augar Review was the 2019 review of post-18 education and funding. For a summary in relation to engineering, see the EPC blog. In their much-delayed response to Augar, the Government stopped short of any serious funding reforms instead shoehorning these into further reforms to the higher education system to be consulted on in spring 2021 ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The current freeze on the maximum fee levels, and the threat of a huge cut in Home undergraduate fees, remains until then.

There is some recycling of policy in Skills for Jobs white paper (see above), including the lifelong loan entitlement, local skills improvement plans, the rollout of approvals for higher technical qualifications, and signalled plans for incentivising more modular and flexible delivery apply across higher education.

The Government also outlined its plan to realign teaching grant funding towards national priorities (through the introduction of a bid basis) including STEM, healthcare and specific labour market needs (see below).

  • Teaching Grant

The Teaching Grant letter announces an £85 million increase to the amount allocated through the main “high-cost subject funding” method for high-cost and “strategically important” subjects, including engineering. The London weightings in student premium and T funding will be ended from 2021-22, which is a big hit for London universities, particularly the big multidisciplinary ones who won’t benefit from an increase for small and specialist providers.

The budget for Uni Connect goes from £60m to £40 million, with the savings going on £5m for student hardship and £15m for mental health. Finally, capital funding for providers will be distributed through a bidding competition rather than a formula method, and students from the Crown Dependencies will be subject to home fee status and counted for funding purposes.

  • Quality and standards

Although there is, as yet, no formal response from the Office for Students on the recent quality and standards consultation, Government will to exert power over metricised HE “underperformance” permeates the policies of the day. Within these, OfS is asked to roll questions of standalone modular provision into its thinking on the development of the quality regime.

We are also promised a consultation on “further reforms” to the higher education system in spring 2021 which, along with “other matters”, may pick up on some of the missing in action proposals form Augar et el including the future of foundation years, reforms to student finance, minimum entry requirements. Hopefully all ahead of a final decision on quality and standards.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that the sector – which has pretty much unanimously called for the Quality Code to be retained – recognises the fatal undermining of the proposed approach to the government’s other levelling-up and social mobility agendas.

  • Post qualification admissions

Following the flurry of reviews of university admissions by UCAS, Universities UK, the Office for Students and DfE late in 2020 the latest, DfE, consultation is aimed principally at when students receive and accept university offers (not the wider assessment, admission or policy agendas).

The consultation presents two options which are predicated on removing teacher predictions from the system altogether in favour of on exam results. The first, “post-qualification applications and offers”, creates a longer application window by moving results dates forward to the end of July, and higher education term dates back to the first week of October. The second, “Pre-qualification applications with post-qualification offers and decisions” would mean applications being made during term-time (as now) but offers being made after results day.

DfE recognises that courses which require additional entrance tests, auditions and/ or interviews will also need to be accommodated in either system, somehow (cue the consultation).

The EPC is currently considering its response. DfE’s consultation runs until mid-May.

  • Brexit

The Turing Scheme – a replacement for the Europe-wide Erasmus+ now that its door is closed following the UK’s departure from the EU – was launched by Gavin Williamson earlier this month. Alongside this, the government has updated its International Education Strategy with a commitment to increase the amount generated from education exports, such as fees and income from overseas students and English language teaching abroad, to £35 billion a year, and sustainably recruit at least 600,000 international students to the UK by 2030.

The Turing Scheme is the UK’s global programme to study and work abroad. Website. EPC research (to be published shortly) conducted in partnership with UCL’s Engineering Education, highlighted many of the benefits of engagement in European student and staff exchange.

  • Free Speech proposals

The government has published proposals on academic freedom and freedom of speech as follows:

  1. Legislate for a Free Speech and Academic Freedom Champion to be appointed as a member of the OfS board with responsibility to champion free speech and investigate alleged breaches of registration conditions related to freedom of speech and academic freedom.
  2. Legislate to require a new OfS registration condition on free speech and academic freedom.
  3. Explore further the option of strengthening the section 43 duty to include a duty on HEPs to ‘actively promote’ freedom of speech (where section 43 relates to the 1986 Education (no 2) Act).
  4. Legislate to extend the strengthened section 43 duty to cover SUs directly.
  5. Set clear minimum standards for the code of practice required under section 43
  6. Introduce a statutory tort that would give private individuals a right of redress for loss as a result of a breach of section 43
  7. Wider and enhanced academic freedom contractual protections

Professional recognition post-Brexit

Is my professional title still valid in the EU? Will my combination of academic qualifications and professional experience still count post Brexit? What does the information on recognition of professional registration in the EU on the Engineering Council website mean for me? Here’s the simplified version…

Now we have left the EU, the EU legislation adopted by all Member States (called the MRPQ Directive), which sets out obligations to mutually recognise each other’s professional qualifications, no longer applies to the UK.

Under the Trade and Co-operation agreement there is a mechanism for professions to negotiate a Mutual Recognition Agreement between the UK and all 27 Member States.  This would effectively replace the Directive and put in place new legislation. (For EEA/Swiss professionals who want to gain the UK professional titles, there is already a new piece of UK legislation that replaces the Directive).

In the meantime (during what is likely to be lengthy and difficult negotiation process) for UK Professionals who want recognition an EU country, the UK application will now be treated like any non-EU country. The EU professional title can still be awarded, but it may take longer, and the application process may be slightly different. The Engineering Council has advised that, in practice, many EU countries do not require the professional title to work (just as in the UK).

Membership of organisations such as ENAEE and FEANI is unchanged by Brexit, as they are European Higher Education Area associations.  ENAEE is particularly important for the academic community, as it means that we will continue to demonstrate that our engineering degrees meet the European standard (EUR-ACE).

Going forward, it would be helpful to know if there is member appetite to engage with the Trade and Co-operation agreement mechanism on behalf of professional engineering or if there are better ways to achieve the same objective?