Aston to open specialist engineering academy

Plans for the first university-led technical college in the country have been unveiled.

December 11, 2008

Aston University and Birmingham City Council want to establish a specialist engineering college for 14- to 19-year-olds, under the Government's academies programme, that will focus on vocational diplomas and apprenticeships.

Former Conservative Education Secretary Lord Kenneth Baker and Lord Ron Dearing, who led the 1997 review of higher education, are behind the idea. They have set up a trust to push the concept of university technical colleges. Lord Baker told Times Higher Education: "Ron and I have believed for some time that the thing missing in our education system is good technical schools. This is a campaign to establish technical schools under the aegis of a university."

Students will take GCSEs in English, maths, science and IT alongside their chosen vocational specialism.

Lord Baker said he had been impressed by Germany's technical schools, which were "wonderfully successful". But while he approved of the new vocational diplomas, he did "not think much of" the plans for academic diplomas the Government announced last year, saying they were "not needed".

Under current proposals, the £18 million Aston University Engineering Academy would be non-selective, would recruit 600-800 students and would open in 2012. Based at Aston Science Park, it would bring on board the expertise of the university's industry partners.

Lord Baker said nearly ten other universities had also expressed an interest in the model.

Birmingham City Council said the city is experiencing a "renaissance" in small-scale engineering firms.

Alison Halstead, pro vice-chancellor at Aston University, said the academy could play a key role in addressing skills gaps.

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