Budding engineers go to market

October 4, 1996

Richard Barry argues for axing engineering faculties that accept students with low A-level points. I disagree. The purpose of education is to change minds, and the purpose of engineering is to change the world. Few people have a natural liking for education, and few people prefer to undertake engineering when there are so many easier ways to lead a nice life, for instance, in finance.

The evidence from today's market that there is a smaller requirement for engineering education than the provision for it in higher education is unsurprising. It would be unwise to argue that we should reduce that provision based on mere numerical market data, as Barry does. I would rather contribute to improving the country, even if this means working against market preferences.

By taking students on to our engineering courses we certainly enable them to make a positive contribution, in all sorts of ways.

Barry's own evidence suggests that many faculties across the country are doing this. They should be applauded. Inevitably, the more students who are educated, the weaker some students' entry grades will be.

Rather than see this as reason to "cull" courses, as Barry does (from his mixed metaphors of Michelin stars, Chateau Lafitte, headhunting and engineering apprenticeships), we should surely undertake the greater obligation to support wide access to education, and see even greater dividends. One could hope to get engineers who could argue more substantially about things more worthwhile.

Harold Thimbleby Director of research Faculty of technology Middlesex University

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