The Royal Academy of Engineering welcomes the improved funding for science courses announced today by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as a step towards running the kind of engineering courses that industry needs but stressed the need to maintain this level of investment.
Skills shortages in engineering are already affecting the performance of UK businesses, according to the Academy’s research last year with Henley Management College, involving a survey of 444 companies from start-ups to internationals. The companies report shortages of suitable engineering graduates and specific gaps in problem–solving skills, application of theory to real-life problems and breadth and ability in maths.
“Improved funding will help considerably,” says Professor Graham Davies, Fellow of the Academy and Head of the School of Engineering at Birmingham University. “We aim to design the kind of practically–based courses that industry needs, bringing theory to life, but there are always constraints because small–group design teaching and lab time are expensive. While we welcome the additional money for the subjects mentioned in the funding report, including chemistry, physics and chemical engineering, what about the other high cost engineering subjects such as mechanical, electrical and civil engineering that all have equally high cost bases as those mentioned?”
The unit of resource HEFCE allocates to different courses has been the Academy’s major issue of concern. Engineering degrees need at least 2.5 times the basic unit of resource but have been allowed only 1.7 times in recent years. The Academy believes that the quality of engineering education is paramount and had even suggested that it might be preferable to increase the funding per student and teach fewer students if the resource could not be increased. However, this would have been most undesirable as the UK needs more, not fewer, engineering graduates in future.
The recent focus on performance in the Research Assessment Exercise has disturbed the balance between teaching and research, which should be complementary activities. Many feel that the status of teaching has suffered as a result – new initiatives are needed to recognise the importance of excellent teaching as a key contributor to the economy.
Notes for editors
Educating Engineers for the 21st Century – the Industry View, published in March 2006, is the first part of an ongoing Academy study on the role and requirements of engineering teaching in universities.
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.
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Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering