Report urges engineering to concentrate on fresh materials

But niche learning may not play well in jobs market, expert warns

November 21, 2013

Engineering degrees need modules that deal with some of the “eight great technologies” trumpeted by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, a report has argued.

According to the report by the publicly funded UK Commission for Employment and Skills, undergraduates should be taught more about 3D printing, plastic electronics and advanced composite materials. Such content would teach them about the emerging technologies vital to the future of the aerospace and car manufacturing industries.

If provision in these areas is not stepped up, the UK risks skills shortages in areas vital to economic growth, it adds.

Matthew Harrison, director of education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, welcomed the recommendations but warned universities not to go too far and develop degrees solely focused on the three areas, as research suggested that graduates needed a broader skills base.

Employers recruited those who have studied the core disciplines of mechanical, civil, electrical and structural engineering, he said. The same was not true for graduates of specific niche courses.

“We have found that employment is more challenging for these graduates because they come out with a particular speciality and sometimes struggle to find the right job,” Professor Harrison said.

He added that all manufacturing and aerospace degree courses already contained materials modules, including work on composites. Engineering departments should work with their industrial advisory boards to extend and enhance that content, he said.

The UKCES report also suggests that specialist master’s courses in the three fields could be developed.

Professor Harrison said that such courses already existed and argued that engineering departments had a good track record of reacting to employer needs by establishing specialist postgraduate courses in new areas.

“That solution is nothing new,” he said.

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