Conversion courses developed to address the perennial worry of recruitment to engineering degrees have eased the problem, says a report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
The one-year Higher Introductory Technology and Engineering Conversion Course was introduced in 1987 by the National Advisory Body, the planning body for the polytechnic sector, in response to falling enrolments and the declining number of students taking maths and physics A levels - standard requirements for entry to engineering degrees. The programme was taken on by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and then HEFCE when it took responsibility for the sector.
From 1995/96 the Pounds 1.8 million annual HITECC allocation was incorporated in institutions' core funding. Evidence of the programme's success is that 30 of the 31 participating institutions intend to continue HITECC-style courses. One institution said: "Increased reliance on successful foundation year students for recruitment to higher level courses is a national trend across the new university engineering departments and also in some 'old' universities."
The one significant disappointment of the programme was a failure to attract women. The highest proportion in any annual intake was 18.6 per cent in 1989/90, falling to a low of 11.4 per cent in 1992/93. There was much greater success with mature students, with those over 21 consistently accounting for around half of the annual intake.
Every institution said that the initiative had increased enrolments into their engineering programmes, providing significant opportunities for those unable to enter by traditional routes. Students were as well prepared for degree and higher national diploma courses as those who entered by the traditional route, and have had similar progression rates. Some progressed to masters and doctoral programmes.
Statistical analysis in the report shows that in the six academic years between 1989/90 and 1994/95 enrolments vastly exceeded funded numbers. Over this period there were 4,430 funded numbers, but a total of 11,399 enrolments. Of these 9,400 completed the courses, 7,566 passed and 6,837 progressed to further courses.
The majority of participating institutions felt that the programme had been successful in promoting a positive image of engineering.