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Re-imagining Engineering Education

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Archive for December, 2015

New Models in Engineering Education

Paula S Broome15 December 2015

Our second conversation event was inspired by the New Model in Technology and Engineering. It is a proposed new university to be based in Herefordshire and, on the day after our event, received very public backing from the chancellor in his autumn statement.

NMITE proposes to offer an approach to engineering education which has turned heads in the Engineering Education firmament. Plenty of us, I believe, are looking at what the proponents want to achieve with some envy. Here is an opportunity to re-think – and to concentrate upon – the educational experience.

This project won’t, by itself, plug the projected shortfall of engineers. It does, however, have the potential to stir things up a bit. This is particularly true in the HE sector which, I would argue, is changing its ways rather slowly. The conservatism of many engineering faculties is often blamed – usually somewhat implicitly – on the perceived restrictions placed on degrees by accrediting bodies. My own experience is that the UK Engineering Council and PEIs are open minded and actively encourage innovation and change. One example, which is close to my heart, is the perennial issue of whether students require Maths / Physics A level to study engineering. For me the case is sealed by two former UCL students whose options to study Engineering at University would have been limited at best reaching the shortlist for the New Civil Engineering graduate of the year award. Many now back the stance but few other engineering departments – including our sister departments at UCL – are following the lead. Conservatism and inertia, it seems, rule the day.

I’m therefore hopeful that NMITE will act as a catalyst for some radical changes in Engineering Education in HE and that it will pave the way for different organisations with different models to join the fray with different educational offerings.

I’ve concentrated my comments here on HE since it’s the area that I’m familiar with and it feels like the sector which has been most sheltered from the winds of change. It is also, though, the route through which most decision makers will have passed en route to the gold standard of Chartered Engineer. I would venture to suggest that whilst welcoming changes to the way we educated engineers at University which should try to find common ground with other engineering educators. I believe, for example, that there should be lots of other ways to graduate from top universities other than to demsonstrate academic brilliance through A levels. Engineering is a broad discipline which requires a broad and expandign range of talent. I believe industry are – through necessity – responding to the challenge. I think that educators must too. And, arguably the profession too.

The conversation was led by Kel Fidler – an engineering educator who was formerly VC at Northumbria University and also one of the architects of UK SPEC – and Karen Usher one of the NMITE proponents. If you missed the event, you can watch the video here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/centre-for-engineering-education/library. Please take a look and continue the conversation by responding to this post.

-Dr Paul Greening, Co-Director, UCL Centre for Engineering Education