The skills-led economic growth demanded by government will not be achieved if university engineering courses remain underfunded, the Royal Academy of Engineering has warned.

Responding to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Higher Education White Paper: students at the heart of the system, the Academy warns that ongoing underfunding could lead to universities scaling down or even closing their engineering courses, leaving a serious economic gap.

Read the Academy’s full submission (125.52 KB)

Professor Matthew Harrison, Director of Education at the Academy said: “The government’s growth strategy places skills at the centre of economic recovery and emphasises the need for a rebalanced economy. A rebalanced economy requires people with the right engineering skills in sufficient numbers.

“We see a risk of insufficient numbers of the high quality engineering graduates required by the government’s strategy if the long-term underfunding of accredited engineering degrees and other strategically important courses is allowed to continue. The proposals in the Higher Education White Paper do not address this vital issue and this seems to be a worrying disconnect in public policy.”

The Academy believes a lack of suitable proposals in the Higher Education White Paper, compounded by a 72% cut in teaching capital funding and 58% cut in research capital funding, will make engineering an even more vulnerable subject than it has been previously.

The Academy is also concerned for the provision of engineering courses at universities that will have their allocation of student numbers reduced to make room in the system for the core / margin proposals. These universities are less well placed to compete for AAB+ students than the most attractive institutions and are unable to provide an average fee level of £7,500. Such provision is being described as being in ‘the squeezed middle’ and represents a significant proportion of the degrees awarded in strategically important subjects each year.

Professor Harrison added: “Some universities will be disincentivised from providing high-cost courses, introducing the real possibility of reducing student numbers in strategically important subjects such as engineering.”

“Fee waivers and inducements will be particularly attractive to students considering longer courses such as the engineering MEng, but universities in the squeezed middle can ill afford to provide financial inducements for higher cost courses. Important niche areas of provision and courses that are worthwhile but harder to recruit to could become economically unviable and vulnerable to closure.”

Philip Greenish, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The supply of engineering skills at every level is essential if the UK is to achieve sustained economic growth. It is deeply concerning that the proposals in the Higher Education White Paper do little to create an uplift in engineering skills to underpin future growth.”

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering

    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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