Engineers crave a bit of art and creativity

September 20, 2002

Engineering degrees in the UK should place more emphasis on creativity, design and the arts to produce the graduates needed by industry and to encourage people to study engineering.

A survey to be presented to the Engineering and Technology Board and science minister Lord Sainsbury found that almost half of those who had graduated with UK engineering degrees since the 1960s felt there had been an imbalance between art and science on their courses. More than a fifth complained that the teaching focused on a maths "nuts-and-bolts approach".

More than 1,300 graduate engineers from 82 countries responded to the survey, which asked: "Do you feel that the balance between art and science was correctly achieved in your engineering undergraduate course?" Just over a third of respondents were educated in the UK.

Those educated in Europe and the US were least likely to be satisfied with the balance. Those from Africa and Asia were most likely to be satisfied. Those who graduated in the 1960s were least satisfied, with 90 per cent saying the balance was wrong.

Many respondents suggested that a more balanced undergraduate experience would increase motivation and fulfilment. Several said that the emphasis on mathematics was at the expense of creative aspects of engineering.

The survey was carried out by the Ove Arup Foundation, set up by engineering consultancy Ove Arup in 1989 to advance engineering education while emphasising "the multidisciplinary nature of design in engineering".

Foundation chairman Richard Haryott called on decision-makers and course designers to highlight the creativity of engineering.

"Engineering education in this country is brilliant," he said. "But the courses are too dry. Courses should be more studio based, with workshops, brainstorming and teamworking. They should be more akin to architectural training. Engineering is an art form."

Ove Arup has set up a creativity school for graduate recruits.

The latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show slight increases in the numbers of students accepted for places to read engineering.

Production and manufacturing engineering was up 11.6 per cent, and engineering combinations with social science, business studies or languages saw significant increases.

Software engineering and electrical and electronic engineering saw slight drops in student numbers.

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