Universities adapt to support more engineers

Press/Media: Teaching


For engineers, learning and doing are symbiotic. Creating the right environment to allow this natural process to flourish requires universities and industry to pull together, as Dr Kate Sugden, Undergraduate Programme Director, Electrical, Electronic and Power Engineering, Aston University, explains.

Graduation historically marks a watershed moment in a young person’s life; the moment they pass from being a student in to, hopefully, gainful and rewarding employment. In recent years this image has been discoloured by the difficulty some UK graduates now face in finding employment.

While this challenge spans the breadth of degree courses on offer today, the need for engineering graduates continues to grow. Every aspect of modern life depends on engineers and has done since the industrial revolution: technology doesn’t make jobs disappear, it creates them.

Universities are beginning to embrace this dynamic. In reality, the nature of engineering means engineers are on a lifelong journey to continue learning new skills and develop existing ones; they remain students long after their graduation. Similarly, students must be encouraged to appreciate the commercial reality of engineering as part of their decision making process when entering university; it’s never too early for students to embrace the commercial world.

At Aston University, this dynamic is being encouraged through new initiatives that encourage the entrepreneur in students to surface while they’re still studying. In the Electronic Engineering department, teams of first year students are coached in developing products that have commercial potential, then to further develop their projects in their own time with a view to turning them in to real products.

Another example includes a company formed and operated by Computer Science students, which develops commercial software; Aston Active Software Engineering (AASE) has already developed and deployed one system and is actively working on another with a local SME. 

Both these activities are designed to encourage early engagement with the commercial side of engineering, and demonstrate the accessibility of converting engineering ability into commercially successful products and services.

Innovation doesn’t only happen in the classroom; Aston University is also pioneering a ‘fast track’ MEng course, developed to meet the needs of both students and employers.

Securing and maintaining a place in any university today is becoming more challenging; student fees and visa rules for overseas students present real barriers to some students.

This is likely to have a disproportionate impact on post-graduate studies, where the extra cost will be too difficult to bear; typically MEng courses with a placement year extend to five years. Understandably this extra cost may prove too high for many.

However, at Aston University, the value of a MEng placement is seen as particularly significant, students returning from an integrated placement year are invariably more motivated and re-enter their studies with renewed vigour following their exposure to the real world of engineering. We need to encourage this and as a result Aston University is pioneering the 4-year ‘fast-track’ MEng course.

By taking some level 6 (final year BEng) engineering modules at the end of their second year, and completing some engineering business modules during their one-year industrial placement, students are able to incorporate a one-year placement and align with the traditional Masters track to complete their MEng in just four years. This can significantly lower the student’s total fees, without sacrificing the invaluable experience that MEng students gain through work placement.

Aston was one of the universities on the Pedal4Innovation 750km charity cycling marathon which staff from Silica completed last week. Soem  of the money raised will be awarded to students to help pay for university fees.

Period29 May 2012

Media coverage


Media coverage