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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

We won't get more engineering students by lowering tuition fees by Kel Fidler

Photo: Kel Fidler
Professor Kel Fidler, chairman of the Engineering Council and former vice-chancellor of Northumbria University reports, "Outreach in schools isn’t working either – engineering needs a rebrand that shows how valuable and exciting the subject really is."

‘Despite the huge school outreach activity encouraging more young people into engineering, there has been no significant effect.’ 

You’ve heard the call – the UK needs more engineers. Our economy needs at least twice as many engineering workers, apprentices, technicians and professionals – high quality graduate professionals who can lead businesses and industry. But we won’t get these by lowering fees for engineering degrees, by taking the cap off student numbers or promoting engineering through schools outreach.
Eight ways to encourage more students to study engineering

The key issue facing engineering is none of these. As stated repeatedly over the years, and recently by Lord Browne, chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering: “People think they know what engineering is but the evidence is they don’t – and in the UK the evidence is that we are very, very bad at telling them.”

Engineering needs a makeover – one that reveals its excitement and true value to society.

Discounting fees will not work; successive fee hikes attempting to produce a differentiated market have failed because lower fees spell second-rate degrees.

No vice-chancellor will accept reduced fee income for one of higher education’s most expensive subjects without a guaranteed government refund - one that would not be rolled into the block grant and forgotten. The answer is to offer scholarships, but applicants need to be convinced that they want to study engineering.

Uncapping student numbers will not increase the number of good quality engineering students, who will apply anyway. It will simply open the gates wider and court mediocrity.

Schools outreach has been going on for years, but with no significant effect. The graph shows UK university applicant numbers in recent years together with engineering course applicants (upscaled by 10 for comparison). Both traces vary similarly reflecting demographic trends and the effect of changes to fees. The numbers are not clearly heading for a timely doubling, particularly since universities are fighting a 14% reduction in 18 year-olds numbers over this decade.
The graduate engineer challenge can only be met by increasing the proportion of all university applicants that choose engineering.


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