Latitude to develop along the meridian

June 22, 2007

Greenwich tailored a new engineering course and resurrected an old one with a collaborative hand from industry

Greenwich University has a good record of working with employers to design courses that plug skills gaps in industry. Its engineering department has worked with professional bodies and companies to set up new courses. It recently won approval for a degree in public health engineering, and it has worked with a local firm to develop another undergraduate programme, in electrical engineering.

The public health engineering programme was designed after the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers approached the university for help. There are no degrees in public health engineering in the UK, only a certificate, and the institute, whose members are deeply involved in the sector, felt that a higher-level qualification was needed to tackle a senior skills shortage. The institute, along with the Society of Public Health Engineers and the university, set up a steering group to design an academically rigorous degree that would also address the industry’s needs.

Designing a course with employers can be difficult because some companies have specific skill needs that are irrelevant to other firms in the industry. Stuart Ashenden, director of academic planning at Greenwich, says: "It is the academic’s role to take a balanced view and assess core knowledge and skills. You sometimes get a situation where industry thinks it knows best and so do academics. You have to resolve these issues and talk around them."

Because the programme was the first of its kind, the university could not be certain of demand. So the institute and the society agreed to underwrite any losses for the first cohort, which needs nine or ten students to be viable. About a third of the course was written particularly for the public health engineering degree; the other modules are taken jointly with the department’s other engineering programmes. "The benefit of an element of commonality is economies of scale," Ashenden says.

The department has also revived its electrical engineering degree, which had closed because of a lack of applications, to help out a local company. Cummins Power Generation was finding it difficult to attract qualified staff to its remote corner of Kent, so it decided to train

its own senior engineers by sending promising apprentices on degree courses. The firm guaranteed that it would supply enough students to make the course viable. Its involvement reignited electrical engineering at the university, and now there are students from overseas and other companies on the course, as well as a masters programme. CS

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