Engineers try to stop the rot

December 14, 2001

There is no case for further mergers or closures in London universities' engineering departments, despite a recruitment crisis in traditional engineering subjects, according to deans of engineering.

Instead, departments across the capital should step up collaboration, sharing facilities, transferring staff and students and initiating joint marketing campaigns.

These are the recommendations of a group of 12 deans from across London sponsored by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The group was chaired by City University vice-chancellor David Rhind.

He set up the group after realising that universities were reacting individually to the downturn in engineering applicants without talking to each other to ensure the balance of regional and national provision.

"Once the members of the group had gained confidence, all sorts of ideas came out," Professor Rhind said.

The low proportion of women on engineering courses, the complexity of the many academic units and a lack of collaboration were identified as weaknesses in London's engineering provision.

Over the past five years, seven London universities have closed courses or scaled down engineering provision and most have changed their course offerings.

The group argued that further mergers and closures would be unnecessary. Most duplication had been shaken out and more cuts could threaten the diversity of London's offering.

The group also said that most engineering departments had intimate links with other groups in their institution and that large-scale reorganisation involving 12 institutions was not feasible.

"We can't have a single masterplan for the whole of London, it would be too complex," said Professor Rhind. "We want to encourage people to work with appropriate partners, not necessarily all 11. They have to find the synergies themselves, we can only set the context through a framework."

The group called for a standing body of engineering deans to facilitate collaboration. It suggested that London engineering departments offered an ideal ground for nurturing niche areas.

As a result of the meetings, two groups are submitting bids to Hefce to work on joint projects and reshape their engineering departments. City and Queen Mary universities are planning a joint matching section to upgrade engineers from incorporated to chartered.

The group consisted of the deans of engineering or equivalent from Brunel, City, East London, Kingston, Middlesex, North London, South Bank and Westminster universities and Imperial, King's, Queen Mary and University colleges, London.

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