A new national initiative set to widen and increase participation in engineering higher education (HE) is to be launched by The Royal Academy of Engineering with funding from the Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE) as part of HEFCE’s forward programme of support for strategically important and vulnerable subjects.

Working with some 85,000 school and university students in seven regions of England, the National Engineering Programme will, over a period of six and a half years, increase the number of new engineering undergraduates by more than 4,000, thereby addressing the UK’s long-term trend of a dropping percentage of HE students in engineering and technology since 1988.

The UK Government has declared an ambition that overall levels of R&D in the economy should reach 2.5% of GDP in ten years. If this is to be achieved in engineering and technology however, what is required is many more than the 17,000 engineering and technology graduates that the current HE system would provide the economy with over that period.

The National Engineering Programme will work in selected neighbourhoods that have low participation rates in HE in order to widen participation in it. It will target four groups currently under-represented: women, minority ethnic students, students from families where there is no experience of HE and adult learners, and thereby secure many more entrants into engineering HE.

Through curriculum enrichment activities in schools, HE institution activities and adult learning initiatives, the programme aims to permanently transform the secondary schools within the programme so that it becomes normal for 50% of students to enter HE, and to permanently alter the nature of HE engineering courses involved in the programme to make them culturally relevant and attractive to a diverse set of students.

The good news doesn’t end there.

The National Engineering Programme represents excellent value for money. This initial £2.85M from HEFCE will begin a process which, over a period of six and a half years, in seven UK regions, could mean that getting a young person from a disadvantaged background through an engineering degree would require only 25% more resource from HEFCE than that required for a more privileged student.

Professor Matthew Harrison of the Royal Academy of Engineering will lead the programme. Matthew says,

“The Royal Academy of Engineering is delighted to be leading this exciting new programme: one that both strengthens engineering by bringing in a more diverse pool of students and helps neighbourhoods where participation rates in higher education are low.

The key to our programme is to seek out schools where we haven’t been before and to broker the connection between these schools, local universities offering attractive engineering courses, and local companies wanting to recruit the bright talented engineers of tomorrow.

In this way, we will set out pathways for students with an aptitude for maths and science to claim the benefits of a technical education: benefits to tem, their families and the communities they live in.”

The National Engineering Programme will launch its pilot scheme, the London Engineering Project in September bringing together fifteen partner organisations. Professor John Turner, Executive Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Science and the Built Environment, London South Bank University will be the lead academic for the London pilot project.

After undertaking impact assessment, the most effective elements of the London Engineering Project will be rolled out into 6 other regions – Tyne and Teeside, Humberside, Merseyside, Manchester, Leicester and Nottingham – to form phase 2 of the programme.

The third phase will commence once a critical mass of activity has emerged from Phases 1 and 2. This final phase is a nationwide promotion campaign of the benefits of engineering HE and will be the first step towards self-sustainability.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. The National Engineering Programme was developed following a conference in April 2005. A pilot phase of the National Engineering Programme, the London Engineering Project, involving the Royal Academy of Engineering, London South Bank University and 13 other partner organisations will develop methods for increasing and widening participation in engineering in HE in London. It will co-ordinate work on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in 15 secondary schools and 35 feeder primary schools; and develop engineering courses in three selected HE institutions. A key concept is prospecting for potential engineering students by running hands-on STEM activities in schools to identify pupils with an aptitude for mathematics and logical thinking. £2.85 million has, so far, been committed by HEFCE for phase 1 of the project.
  3. This funding of this initiative forms art of HEFCE’s forward programme of support for strategically important and vulnerable subjects.
  4. At a total cost of £57.39M, the National Engineering Programme represents excellent value for money. With a total contribution of £26.39M sought from HEFCE over the next ten years, this equates to only £49 per student per year.

    Looked at another way, £26.39M divided by the anticipated 4,100 increase in engineering undergraduates, is £6,400 per graduate, which is broadly equivalent to the current contribution made by HEFCE to the teaching of a student for the first year of an engineering degree.

    However you look at it, the numbers speak for themselves: adequately funded, the National Engineering Programme would mean that getting a young person from a disadvantaged background through an engineering degree would require only 25% more resource from HEFCE than that required for a more privileged student.

For more information please contact

Dr Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering