Teaching poll: Budding engineers ill-prepared

May 23, 2003

The department of engineering and applied science at Southampton University is one of the largest in the country, with 5*s across the board in the 2001 research assessment exercise, writes Claire Sanders.

But academics in the department firmly believe that students are less well prepared for an engineering course today than they were in the past. In The THES survey, engineers are one of the groups most concerned about falling standards. Some 78 per cent say that students are less well prepared for higher education today than before and that they have had to adapt teaching to respond to the diverse student population.

Joe Hammond, dean of engineering and applied science at Southampton, said:

"The standard of the students is as good as it ever was, and their breadth of knowledge has increased; however, they are less well prepared for traditional engineering courses than they once were."

In particular, Professor Hammond singled out deteriorating mathematics skills. "Students' mathematical manipulative skills and their ability to construct a multistage solution to a complex problem is less developed," he said. "Topics that were once an integral part of A-level maths and/or physics are no longer there. They have been replaced with topics that, while perfectly valid in their own right, are sometimes not directly relevant to our courses."

But he said that students' information technology skills was "helpful and improving".

The department provides support for struggling students on an individual basis, including a drop-in maths workshop and Easter masterclasses for students who have accepted offers there.

"For students with non-standard qualifications we offer a foundation year, which is an integral part of our degree course," he said.

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