New research by the Henley Management College for The Royal Academy of Engineering has revealed that over one third of engineering firms in the UK believe that engineering graduate shortages and skills deficiencies are costing them money through delays in new product development and additional recruitment costs.

The study, ‘Educating Engineers for the 21st Century: the Industry View’, which surveyed over 400 engineering companies located in the UK reveals a pressing need to overhaul undergraduate engineering education.

Although Britain’s best graduates are on a par with their European peers, specific graduate skill gaps were found in problem solving and application of theory to real problems, breadth of knowledge and ability in maths.

The report suggests that the UK’s economic performance could be jeopardised by the combination of declining numbers of engineering graduates and insufficient graduates pursuing careers in the sector.

Almost half a million engineering graduates emerge each year from India and China. In the UK, in the 10 years up to 2004, the numbers of students opting for engineering courses remained almost static at 24,500 – dropping proportionately from 11% to less than 8% of university entrants. Less than half the engineering cohort chose to enter the engineering profession after graduating from college.

In its Commentary on the Henley report, The Royal Academy of Engineering calls for a number of actions to address the problems highlighted by the report. Engineering courses need to be better aligned with industry needs, which can be achieved in part by industry becoming more involved with engineering education. The Academy calls for closer collaboration between schools, universities and industry to counteract the perceived skills deficiency in graduate engineers.

Professor Julia King CBE FREng, the Academy’s Honorary Secretary for Education and Training, said “If we are to deliver a vision of the UK as a global leader in turning knowledge into new products and services, we need to see industry and universities collaborating to produce more inspiring engineering degree courses with closer industrial engagement.

“We must also increase the number of students choosing engineering courses. This will start in schools where we need to encourage more students to choose maths and physics with better provision for those subjects.

“Whilst the report causes some concern, there are solutions available to improve the situation. But action is needed now. Every day that passes is costing UK industry money in delayed product development and recruitment costs. This must not be allowed to continue. And unless skills shortages are tackled head on Britain’s reputation for innovative engineering is at risk. ”

Philip Greenish, Chief Executive of the Academy, added that “The report highlights a number of issues of critical importance to the health and wealth of the nation. The Academy welcomes the steps that Government outlined in the Budget to address many of these concerns. What is essential is that we move forward to effective implementation as soon as possible”.

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury will give a key note speech at an Academy seminar on 30 March organised to discuss the report’s finding.

Notes for editors

  1. The full report, prepared by Henley Management College on behalf of The Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Academy’s Commentary on the report can be downloaded:  Henley report (2.06 MB)
  2. The Industry Study started with 21 in-depth interviews with engineering companies. These were followed by 13 interviews with SMEs, 7 of which were hi-tech spin-outs. In addition, three focus groups were held with recent graduates. The responses were used to produce a detailed questionnaire covering changes in the industry; current and future skills requirements; the quality of engineering graduates; UK and international; changes required in engineering education. The questionnaire was completed by more than 400 UK engineering companies of all sizes.
  3. Details of the seminar are available at www.raeng.org.uk/events. For more information, including requests to attend, please contact Claire McLoughlin.
  4. 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.
  5. The winner of The Royal Academy of Engineering’s inaugural Education Innovation Prize sponsored by BNFL plc will also be announced at the Academy’s Innovation in Engineering Education Symposium on Thursday 30 March 2006 at the RSA. This year’s six finalists will each be hoping to win the £10,000 first prize.