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Electronics Production | December 07, 2006

Alarming report about supply of UK engineers

New research of UK engineering academics and students paints an alarming picture of a skills crisis brewing in the UK engineering industry.

A survey of 100 engineering heads of department and 250 undergraduate engineering students highlights the very real dangers facing the once mighty British engineering industry, including the challenge of enticing teenagers to study engineering then, crucially, retaining graduates within an engineering career. The research was conducted in November 2006 by Loudhouse on behalf of C-MAC MicroTechnology, a leading British provider of high-reliability electronic systems, modules and components, which is committed to reversing the UK's declining young engineering population. These findings back up fears that the UK's engineering industry could be in terminal decline unless urgent action is taken to attract and recruit more students, as well as to encourage more engineering jobs in the country. Unless steps are taken, there will be a negative impact on the UK economy, according to 86% of the academics questioned. Key findings are highlighted below. * 45% of universities report a drop in course applications over the past three years - schools a root cause The majority of academics (76%) believe that this trend is due to the demanding academic nature, which is not unusual for many science courses, but a huge 58% also find blame with schools for not promoting engineering as a career option. 75% of academics admit that engineering also suffers from a serious image problem. It is perhaps a reflection of universities desperation to attract students that 63% of respondents stated that course entry requirements have decreased over the past three years: unsurprisingly, 45% of academics believe that the calibre of students has decreased. With a quarter of respondents stating that engineering courses at their university have had to be closed in the past three years, the effect of declining applications is apparent. * Two out of five engineering students have no intention of becoming engineers when they graduate 94% of lecturers believe that no more than half of engineering students will go into careers in engineering. Moreover, despite the fact that 90% of students consider engineering to be their first choice of degree, only 60% of them actually want to become an engineer. By their final year this has reduced further, with only 53% of students committed to an engineering career. When asked what would encourage more people to opt to study engineering in the first place, the top four suggestions from students were: higher employment rates after graduating (57%); industry sponsorships (49%); better promotion of engineering careers in school (47%); and less theoretical and more practical course content (47%). * Lecturers blind to real reasons for student drop-outs There exists a worrying disconnect between lecturers and students about the reasons for dropping out, with an overwhelming 86% of lecturers attributing it to financial hardship. This is in stark contrast to students own thoughts, with the top four reasons being demanding course content (66%); heavy mathematical content (62%); course is boring (46%) and students have been 'put off' since beginning the course (44%). Only 32% attribute it to financial difficulties. This finding comes despite departments altering course content over the past three years, with measures introduced such as the inclusion of more business content (73%); inclusion of more design/media content (61%); and offering inter-disciplinary courses e.g. engineering with languages (30%). It is encouraging that 73% report that they have forged stronger relationships with industry, for example via placements, but the perception or visibility of this among students is clearly low: 49% believe that industry placements will encourage more people to study engineering, so more efforts to raise awareness of this at a grass roots level is urgent. Indro Mukerjee, CEO of C-MAC MicroTechnology, commented: “As the head of a company with a long and proud British engineering and manufacturing heritage, I am extremely concerned about the future of British engineering if the apparent decline of engineering studies is not combated. There are two main challenges; attracting engineering students in the first instance, then retaining them within an engineering career. Industry, academia and schools urgently need to do far more to encourage our young talent and C-MAC, for example, is about to embark on our own education programme, visiting local schools to talk about engineering careers and hosting open days at our Great Yarmouth manufacturing base. “While the academic rigours of engineering will not, and should not change, we must find a way to inspire the next generation of British engineers to choose relevant degrees and nurture them as students to ensure they go on to realise a fulfilling and rewarding engineering career."
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